The new movie Stillwater stars Matt Damon as an American father trying to exonerate his daughter, who’s been charged in Europe with the murder of another young woman. Director and co-writer Tom McCarthy told Vanity Fair his film was directly inspired by the story of Amanda Knox, an American college student imprisoned for eight years in Italy over a murder of which she was ultimately exonerated.
But Knox had no role in making the film. Instead, she says she found out about the movie the way a lot of people did: When the trailer came out. She told Today, Explained host Sean Rameswaram that the Stillwater filmmakers told a fictionalized version of her story without any input from her or regard for the actual outcome of her case.
“The way that Stillwater has chosen to represent my story in their story is that the Amanda Knox character has special knowledge and was at the very least indirectly involved in the killing of the Meredith Kercher character, which is a myth,” says Knox, who now co-hosts a podcast called Labyrinths. “It is the false narrative that was presented by the prosecution that has been debunked by evidence and yet is the ongoing myth that is an obstacle towards me reintegrating into society in a successful way and being taken seriously as a person.”
To hear Today, Explained’s full conversation with Knox, listen to the episode above or wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. This episode was produced by Will Reid with help from Emily Sen. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
I thought, wow, they’re telling the story of my dad. And my dad has an incredible journey that he went through to try to save me from wrongful imprisonment over in Italy. Once again, art is turning reality into art. That’s just what art does. And fingers crossed, they do a good job. But at the same time, I thought, well, how are they going to be doing this story? And then I did some research and found out that they were not doing it in the most ethically responsible way.
So no disrespect to Matt Damon, but we’re going to spoil his movie a little bit here.
Yeah, I feel I’m allowed to spoil his movie a little bit. I’m sorry, but I feel a little entitled to that at this point.
Sure. So unlike the reality of what happened with your story, this movie has the sort of Amanda Knox character, Matt Damon’s character’s daughter, actually hire someone to do something bad to her roommate? Is that accurate?
So, yeah, the way that they present it in the film is that she, first of all, had a sexual relationship with her roommate, which was, you know, I was accused of having a sexual — at least forcing a sexual relationship upon my roommate, of raping her. I did not do that. And I had no sexual relationship with her. And furthermore, in the Stillwater story, she asked some guy to get rid of her roommate for her, but did not intend murder. But that person took it upon himself to commit a murder.
So she, in a way, is indirectly responsible for this crime that happened to her roommate and what they have done in that process of fictionalizing my story. You know, they say we decided to take the premise of the Amanda Knox story, but then, you know, change it in a whole new direction. It’s like, well, that whole new direction fictionalized away my innocence and furthermore was not a new imagining of this story. That is just the case that the prosecution brought to court.
It’s the same sort of story that I encounter in the real world where people go, you know what, there’s just something about her. I bet she’s guilty, kind of, sort of, somehow. I bet she knows something. She was somehow involved. Even if she didn’t plunge the knife, even if she’s technically innocent, she’s probably in some way responsible somehow for this crime. And that’s what is presented in the film.
And that is to the detriment of my character and my reputation. And that has a consequence. It’s not a new imagination. It’s not like they decided to, like, go off in a completely new direction. They didn’t. They reinforced a false narrative that I have been battling for over a decade now.
Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote and directed this movie, told Vanity Fair, I believe, in an interview that he was inspired by your story and that, quote, “He couldn’t help but imagine how it would feel to be in Knox’s shoes.”
That being said, he did not try to contact you to find out what it is like to be you. Is that right?
Yes. In no way was I ever approached to better understand what it was like to be in my shoes or to be in my father’s shoes. And that, I think, speaks a little bit to the problem of true crime, where there’s a sense of kind of entitlement to sit back and do this like armchair not just detective work, but also empathy work, where we just say, “Oh, I’ve heard of this person in this context, and I don’t really remember them as a person. They were just kind of this character.” I feel a little bit like Dracula, where everyone gets to have their own spin on it.
And I’m just an idea of a person that everyone just gets to have their own take. And what’s odd about that is if I were completely off the grid, say, if I came back from my wrongful conviction and totally disappeared and rebuked any opportunity to speak to my experience, I would better understand the creatives not thinking, “Oh, maybe Amanda Knox is going to have something to say about the fact that we’re taking her story as like the kernel and the heart of our story.”
But I’ve actually been very, very vocal since I came back about, like I said, how my own narrative was stolen from me, how this story has been misrepresented in the media, how the very fact that this is like when people think of “the Amanda Knox saga,” and there’s been a lot of recycling of this mistaken misappropriation of the story in even reviews of Stillwater as people refer to the Amanda Knox saga.
They’re referring to the murder of my roommate, Meredith Kercher, by this other person, Rudy Guede. And yet my name is the name that is associated with that story. And my own story is one that sort of is like pushed off to the side as not being as important as that story. My own story is a very different story. It’s tangential, but it’s me being an innocent person who is trying to fight for my innocence and get my life back for what I am accused of, something that I didn’t do.
But I had nothing to do with my roommate’s murder. I did not incentivize it. I did not have prior knowledge or any special knowledge of it. I did not participate in it. And the way that Stillwater has chosen to represent my story in their story is that the Amanda Knox character has special knowledge and was at the very least indirectly involved in the killing of the Meredith Kercher character, which is a myth.
It is the false narrative that was presented by the prosecution that has been debunked by evidence and yet is the ongoing myth that is an obstacle towards me reintegrating into society in a successful way and being taken seriously as a person.
And if people want to claim that they are just inspired by my story but that they are taking it in a new direction, then why is it that my name is perpetually used to promote these new imaginings? Like if your story really rests on its own merits, then let it rest on its own merits. And also, like, I think that Stillwater is so, so close to my own story that anyone who watched it ... if Tom McCarthy didn’t own up to the fact that it was based on my story, people would call him out on it. So he’s in this interesting position where he kind of wants his cake and he wants to eat it too.
Where it’s not Amanda Knox’s story, but it is Amanda Knox’s story. It’s Amanda Knox’s story when I’m selling it and when it’s recognizably Amanda Knox’s story and takes all those elements that we think are super fascinating and, like, the sex and the mystery and the twist. But it’s not Amanda Knox’s story when it has to do with what Amanda Knox feels about it.
Amanda, your story has been turned into entertainment over and over and over again. I’m guessing you’ve probably asked yourself and or a lawyer whether or not that’s legal?
I have asked myself that, particularly when the Lifetime biopic came out, which came out while I was still on trial and depicted scenes of me killing Meredith that they ultimately took out because I sued the crap out of them. I have seen it and I’ve wondered how is it possible? And the reason is because public figure laws do not protect people like myself from having a stake in their own story.
At this point, it’s less of a legal issue and it’s more of an ethical human conversation that we need to have because it has been overlooked. We should be asking those questions. And what is the impact of our art? The measure of art should be whether or not it’s a good story and it makes us feel things and whether or not it resonates as truthful to the human experience. You know, we’re having a cultural moment where we’re acknowledging cultural appropriation, where we’re acknowledging how broad swaths of people have been represented by others in art, right?
And whether or not that has been done in a morally humanizing, ethical, responsible way that’s based in reality. And ultimately, my position on that kind of thing is anyone should be allowed to tell a story. It just needs to be real and human and not at the expense of those people that you are representing.
And what we haven’t had yet is a conversation about individuals and whether or not individual identities like my own are being appropriated or misappropriated. And at whose expense are they? Is that it? Is that identity that you are recasting being humanized and ethically reimagined? Or are you just once again resting upon stereotype or mythology that is ultimately false and irresponsible?
And you wrote about this. First on Twitter, subsequently for the Atlantic. Have you had a chance to speak to, say, I dunno, Matt Damon or Tom McCarthy — the co-writer and director of Stillwater about this?
Uh, no. But I have extended the invitation for a conversation because ultimately that was my goal. My goal was not to do, like, celebrity bashing. If anything, I wanted to point out something that I felt was overlooked and extend the invitation to have a conversation about something that a lot of people have just taken for granted.
Meredith Kercher was murdered in, I think, 2007, and shortly thereafter your life was turned upside down by what became this global headline-grabbing scandal. One positive development between then and now, I feel like, is that you didn’t have a voice in that international scandal. It was perpetuated by a media that was drawn to a seemingly salacious story, but now you do. If Matt Damon or Tom McCarthy or Malcolm Gladwell or Lifetime had come to you and said, “Amanda, we want to tell your story,” what would that story be?
That’s a really great question, because there are lots of different entry points. One of the things that I felt like has not happened since the beginning of all of this is there hasn’t really been a story where I’m actually the peripheral figure in all of these events. Of all the people who were involved in the events and the actions that took place, I was one of the most peripheral people with the least amount of agency. So whatever I did ultimately didn’t matter. Things were just happening to me.
And a story that really hasn’t been told yet is one that centers on the people who had the most agency. So the person who did murder Meredith Kercher and the Italian authorities who made decisions about who to arrest and when and how and what story to tell to the media, these are all people who are making choices that have lasting consequences for innocent people. Meredith and myself and my codefendant included, like I’m totally peripheral to the murder. And I really had very, very little say in what happened to me. I’m kind of a boring character when it all comes down to it.
So what you’re saying is if all of these people came to you to tell your story, you’d say, like, there’s probably a better story to tell.
Or if you’re going to tell my story, it’s the story of someone who is processing the experience of going through something. It’s not me making things happen, right? A lot of my story is just me sitting in a prison cell reading a book hoping that that stuff is going to get worked out. Or, you know, one of the stories that I would love to tell, because it’s an interesting one that a lot of the exonerated face is the “Now what?” after you get out of prison after spending time in prison for something you didn’t do.
How do you reintegrate into society again after you’re processing the sort of collapse not just in, you know, your own life, but also your faith in society, your faith that society has your back and that what you’re going to do is going to matter and that you can plant roots. How do you carry on to do even just, like, the really simple things of meeting people and going on a date and getting a job?
These are all challenges that exonerees have a really interesting sort of surreal twist as they enter into the world. And that’s been a deep challenge for me of trying to reestablish my identity after it was stolen and after I couldn’t ever, ever get it back, because it’s not like I came back to a world where I got to be just Amanda Knox again.