Unique story-telling

To begin with, let’s immerse ourselves in the world of true crime. What makes a compelling true crime story? By watching a true crime documentary, we will give ourselves the opportunity to find the answers. For this module, I’d like you to watch the documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door. Some of you may be familiar with the story of American Christopher Watts who was found guilty of killing his pregnant wife Shanann and their two small daughters in August 2018. Watts initially claimed that his family had gone missing, and he begged for their return on national TV. When the police turned their attention to him he changed his story, claiming that he saw his wife strangle their daughters and that he had then strangled her in a rage. In November 2018, Watts was sentenced to five life sentences without the possibility of parole. 

The link above will send you to the UK version of Netflix. If you're accessing this course outside of the UK, or you don't have access to a Netflix account, I've suggested an alternative in the next chapter.

I chose this documentary because it found a unique way to tell a story that had already been covered extensively by the media: it centred the victim, rather than the culprit and it used using digital footage from Shannan’s phone—texts, stories, emails—to show us what she was thinking and feeling in the final days of her life. The documentary is a reminder that true crime is as much about life as it is about death. It is an opportunity to chronicle and examine the world around us. “It’s her heartache, her achievements, it’s her recognizing her shortcomings in order to make her marriage work,” director Nancy Powell said in an interview.

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