Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, June 7: FANTASTIC LIES
Marina Zenovich’s look back at the infamous 2006 Duke lacrosse sexual assault case made its debut at SXSW this Spring. The ESPN 30 for 30 doc was then broadcast on the 10th anniversary of the team’s party that resulted in the scandal.
Zenovich lays out the particulars of the case as they were initially understood: During a house party held by Duke University’s champion lacrosse team, there was an argument being the white players and the African American strippers they hired for entertainment. Racial slurs were levied against the women, and, according to some reports, threats of sexual violence. Hours later, one of the dancers reported to the police that she was sexually assaulted by three of the team members while at the party. Against a backdrop of tension between the affluent, Northern, white Duke University community and its working-class, Southern, black local neighbors, the accusation set off a firestorm. Fanned by the media, public outrage denounced the culture of privilege and supposed impunity among the lacrosse players and demanded swift action from university officials against the athletes, before any charges were brought against them. When the district attorney finally did name three players party to the crime, Zenovich shifts gears, and, with the cooperation of the parents of the accused, as well as others involved with the case, demonstrates how they were exonerated, and that, eventually, the accuser recanted, at least at the time. More recently, she has affirmed that she was assaulted that night, but due to an unrelated case that finds her imprisoned and unable to appear on camera here, the filmmaker instead paints a not entirely convincing picture of mental instability through third person reports. Regardless, what Zenovich’s cautionary film does demonstrate successfully is the prosecutorial misconduct that led to the DA being disbarred, and, more importantly, the dangers inherent in the presumption of guilt in the court of public opinion.