Updated: Aug 22, 2022
A quick google search reveals that there has been much backlash in the wake of Netflix’s release of the documentary Savile: A British Horror Story. Why, then, are newspapers such as The Guardian and The Telegraph giving it respectable reviews?
Many have argued that the documentary unveils the true horror of Jimmy Savile’s crimes, without sensationalism. Even if this were true, it does not excuse the fact that Savile is at the heart of this documentary, not the people he assaulted. What the piece fails to do is paint the victims as more than mere victims. I’m tired of seeing those who have been affected mentioned only in order to create a clearer picture of the rapist. Such directing dehumanises those who have suffered. It’s documentaries like these which are perpetuating a culture in which victims are not seen, heard, or respected.
Netflix doesn’t always get it wrong. The 2019 series, Unbelievable, was based on the true story of Marie Adler, whose accusations of rape went unheeded by everyone but two female detectives, who teamed up to track down the serial rapist. Unlike the Savile documentary, the drama closely follows the victim of the crime. As a result, it is the rapist, and not Marie, who is dehumanised. Too often, rape is portrayed as a singular event. It is only in shows like Unbelievable that the lasting effects of sexual assault can be seen. The trauma of rape, for many people, will reverberate in every part of their life; it is not an isolated experience. Unbelievable didn’t shy away from the realities of living with trauma, especially when the victims are forced to work with a justice system tainted by institutional misogyny. If explorations of rape can be done, and done well, by Netflix, why are they still producing documentaries like the one about Savile?
What is also concerning is the nature of some of the criticism the show has incurred. Many viewers have voiced frustration over the past being dragged up and picked apart. Netflix users have made claims such as: “This shouldn't have been made ever. We all read the news, don't revisit this. Pay respect to the victims. Nobody needs to know the worst extent of his abuse." Though I have no doubt that these remarks are well-meaning, the implication is that we should not talk about sexual abuse. That to do so is disrespectful to those who have suffered. This is the kind of thinking that has silenced victims for decades. We do need prominent media platforms to discuss sexual abuse. We just need them to do it thoughtfully and sensitively.
What is perhaps most frustrating is how hugely popular the documentary has been so far. It is no wonder that companies like Netflix are willing to fund programmes such as these; the result is almost guaranteed to be a success. How can we, as individuals, tackle an industry that remains so willfully ignorant of the needs of victims? The only action we can take is refusing to watch the show. It’s a step that may seem insignificant but, if enough people did the same, we could alter the perspective of series like these. We are the consumer, and the power is in our hands.
- Emily Handel