Tom McCarthy’s new drama Stillwater stars Matt Damon as the Midwestern father of a college student (played by Little Miss Sunshine star Abigail Breslin) who is in a European prison after being convicted of murder.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the movie is inspired by the real-life case of Amanda Knox, a University of Washington student who spent four years in an Italian prison in a story that captivated the world.
“I followed that case very closely when it was playing out,” McCarthy told Yahoo Entertainment recently. “I mean, how could you not? It was really gripping.”
But the real Knox isn’t pleased by the comparison. In a blistering series of tweets, the journalist — who was freed from prison in 2011 and fully exonerated in 2015 — accused the filmmakers of profiting off of her lived experience. “Does my name belong to me? My face? What about my life?” writes Knox. “I return to these questions because others continue to profit off my name, face, & story without my consent.”
Knox points to a recent Vanity Fair article as an example of how McCarthy has discussed using her life story as a starting point for his film. The director made similar remarks in his Yahoo Entertainment interview, saying: “When I starting thinking about [Stillwater] in terms of a movie almost 10 years ago, all I wanted was that bit of the story: American woman — a student even — in jail for a crime she may or may not have committed. That was compelling to me.”
“Beyond that there’s not really much comparison that I know of to the Amanda Knox story,” McCarthy added. “I want to focus on the father-daughter relationship … this very strained and dysfunctional relationship.” In the film, Breslin’s Allison Baker is serving a multi-year sentence in a French prison after being convicted of murdering her roommate and lover. Her estranged father, Bill (Damon), comes to visit her, and winds up taking her case into his own hands by trying to track down the young man she claims actually committed the crime.
In her Twitter thread, which she also published as an article on Medium, Knox chides McCarthy for never reaching out to her during the decade-long process of crafting the Stillwater screenplay. “Director Tom McCarthy tells Vanity Fair, ‘he couldn’t help but imagine how it would feel to be in Knox’s shoes.'” she wrote. “But that didn’t inspire him to ask me how it felt to be in my shoes.”
Knox also takes issue with the ways that McCarthy chose to “fictionalize” story, particularly as her name is still being repeatedly linked to his invented scenario in the press. Her thread notes how the writer-director’s specific narrative choices — like the information that Allison provides to her father in prison — obscure or contradict the real circumstances of her case.
“Tom McCarthy’s fictionalized version of me is just the tabloid conspiracy [guiltier] version of me,” Knox writes in her thread. “By fictionalizing away my innocence, my total lack of involvement, by erasing the role of the authorities in my wrongful conviction, McCarthy reinforces an image of me as a guilty and untrustworthy person. And with Matt Damon’s star power, both are sure to profit handsomely off of this fictionalization of ‘the Amanda Knox saga’ that is sure to leave plenty of viewers wondering, ‘Maybe the real-life Amanda was involved somehow.'”
Knox rests her case by extended an invitation to McCarthy and Damon to appear on her podcast, Labyrinths, for an extended conversation “about identity, and public perception, and who should get to exploit a name, face, and story that has entered the public imagination.” And based on the Twitter reaction to her thread, many others would like to see that happen, as well.
Stillwater is currently in theaters.