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The ethics of documentaries and films and tv series based on true stories

For many people, true stories are far more compelling than fiction and so there is an ever growing market for documentaires and tv series based on true stories. However, there are some ethical considerations that need to be taken into account.

Firstly, when filming documentaires, do producers have an obligation to represent information as wholly and accurately as possible? We can see the simple of nature documentaries wherein the lion eats the zebra, but the event can be seen as either a victory or a defeat depending on whether the documentary focuses ont the lion or the zebra. Do those who make documentaries have a responsibility to represent both perspectives?

Secondly, what kind of obligations should be held in regards to the subject of a documentary or a film based on a true story? Especially in the case of a tragedy, it is possibly for filmmakers to take advantage of a person’s grief for the sake of the story.
Finally, does the dramatisation of true stories in some way glorify the event? This is an especially pressing issue when it comes to films about serial killers, for example ted bundy when he was portrayed by Zac Efron, or Jeffrey Dahmer who was protrayed by Evan Peters. Following the release of Dahmer in particular, there have been complaints from the families of victims and a response from viewers that was shockingly unempathetic. Extremely wicked shockingly vile and evil even garnered fan girls for the serial killer Ted Bundy. Do dramatisations of tragedies create a warped discourse surrounding these tragedies?

  • This is a brilliant and relevant point. In the onslaught of "based on a true story" kind of entertainment, I think there should be requirements for creators to go through to green-light certain projects. An example is Dahmer's father never giving consent to release tapes or create any of the documentaries surrounding his son. Blonde is a great example of the fetishization of Marilyn Monroe's trauma to the point of fabricating traumatic events while using her name to push a narrative that is only tangentially related to her. They knew that if they created a fictional starlet as the vehicle for violating and violent sexual assault, people would be horrified and it would never be cleared. There is an ethical issue at the heart of this topic. It would be crucial to provide equal examples of when it's done right in honoring the topic and when its simply glorifies one side. – LadyAcademia 2 years ago
  • This is still so relevant today. Every time I see a serial killer documentary or a series like Dahmer, it kind of annoys me. I wish people would stop glorifying these killers because every time they're released it only creates new crazed fans of these killers as seen in the aftermath of Dahmer. It also most definitely is disrespectful to the victims and their families who have actually have to live through these events and now have to relive them because of these fans. – farhana1102 2 years ago
  • This is a great topic and can innovates many thinkings around ethical storytelling. I think it is important to give distinctions on documentary, film and TV series. For documentary, the producer is looking to approach the true story as close to reality as possible. Hence, it requires less drama and more objective view. For film and TV series, I think producers must respect every person who involved in the true story. That means they should not misinterpret and over glorify the evil. The script or screen writer is also important when discussing this topic. They also have the obligation to know the story thoroughly and not making the script sounds silly. – Eddie 2 years ago