What to Expect: ESPN's 30 for 30 'Fantastic Lies'
Editor's note: Lacrosse Magazine was provided an advance review copy of Sunday's ESPN "30 for 30" documentary on the Duke lacrosse scandal. This is a review about what to expect, and does not intend to spoil the documentary for viewers.
The first five minutes of "Fantastic Lies" might make lacrosse fans cringe. White privileged athletes. Partyers. A de facto frat house. The labels thrown out, true or not, will likely lure a mainstream audience into watching the two-hour documentary, the latest in ESPN's critically-acclaimed "30 for 30" series.
But the lacrosse community should be thankful for what follows: a down-the-middle, fair and compelling telling of the story that is commonly referred to as the Duke lacrosse scandal.
By the end of "Fantastic Lies" — which debuts at 9 p.m. Eastern Sunday on ESPN, 10 years to the day of the ill-fated party that started it all — it's clear what this was all about: the party, yes, then a sequence of events that included a miscarriage of justice by a district attorney seeking re-election, a town-and-gown rift between the city of Durham, N.C., and Duke University, statements on modern media and society, and how an institution's decision-making perhaps made things even worse.
The documentary, directed by Marina Zenovich ("Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," "Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic"), includes interviews with 35 people with direct or indirect involvement in the scandal. The parents of Reade Seligmann, one of the three members of the 2006 Duke team falsely accused of rape by a stripper, and the father of another, Collin Finnerty, share their story, although Seligmann, Finnerty and the third wrongly accused, team captain David Evans — like many others — declined to be interviewed.
Zenovich said she found it tough getting anyone to agree to an interview, and an early rough-cut of the film did not include any players from the team or even parents. "The story was still alive for so many people involved in a way that you or I don't really understand," she said in the March issue of Lacrosse Magazine. "Across the board what I found was that people just wanted the story to go away."
[RELATED: Q&A WITH DIRECTOR MARINA ZENOVICH]
But two players from the 2006 Duke team, Rob Wellington and Tony McDevitt, did sit down for the camera after a preview screening was held in New York, so that should tell you something. Also included are many lawyers, journalists, Duke professors, city and community officials, the mother of Duke player Kyle Dowd, the campaign manager for eventually disbarred Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, and ESPN basketball analyst and Duke alum Jay Bilas, who provides one of the more powerful takes in the film.
It takes a little while to get to the "Law & Order" drama of the story. The first 50 minutes set the scene and background needed, but for those that think they know everything already, there are some revealing and riveting moments in the back half as the case against the trio of players unravels. At the very least, they are startling reminders of the reality of the situation.
For those who don't appear in fresh interviews, like former Duke and current Bryant coach Mike Pressler, the accuser Crystal Mangum (who agreed to be interviewed, but was declined by prison officials where she is now incarcerated on a murder conviction), or anyone from the past or current Duke administration or Durham police department, archived footage is used to piece together the narrative that captivated the national news media for more than a year.
It left deep scars and consequences with the characters involved. They were, in fact, real people, as sometimes we forget.
Watch "Fantastic Lies," and hope that we all learn from it.
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