Amanda Knox — who once spent almost four years in an Italian prison for murder — was long ago exonerated by Italy's highest court, which ruled that "stunning flaws" in the police investigation had inappropriately led to Knox's conviction for the murder of her roommate, British exchange student Meredith Kercher.
It's been 10 years since Knox was freed from that Italian prison. But, despite attempts to move on with her life, the "Amanda Knox saga" continues to follow her. The new film Stillwater, which fictionalizes elements of her story, has prompted Knox to speak out about how it feels to lose control of her own narrative.
"Whenever I encounter the world, I am constantly in conversation with a horrendous thing that happened, that I had no control over, that I had no agency," Knox told NPR's Sarah McCammon in an interview on All Things Considered. "And the identity of Amanda Knox is always, always, always viewed through that lens."
In the case of Stillwater, directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Matt Damon, the Knox-inspired character is reimagined as Allison, a college student abroad who is convicted of murdering — and indirectly responsible for the death of — her roommate who is also her lover. The choices made to establish Allison's character are reminiscent of how Italian prosecutors had presented their case against Knox when they called Kercher a victim of a drug-fueled sex game gone wrong.
"As a storyteller, I firmly believe that art is very much entitled to take from reality, and in fact it always does," Knox said. "That doesn't excuse the kinds of ethical considerations in choosing what stories we tell and how we tell them."
McCarthy told Vanity Fair that he was directly inspired by the Knox story, and couldn't help but imagine what it would be like to be in Knox's shoes.
Knox's story, the director and co-writer said, ultimately became a jumping off point for the movie.
"We decided, 'Hey, let's leave the Amanda Knox case behind,'" McCarthy told the magazine. "But let me take this piece of the story — an American woman studying abroad involved in some kind of sensational crime and she ends up in jail — and fictionalize everything around it."
But Knox says that McCarthy didn't completely fictionalize everything; he simply "chose to explicitly repeat the fiction that was invented by my prosecutor."
Nor did McCarthy "do the empathy and effort to reach out" to understand how his re-telling might impact her, she said.
"My story is not the sordid trial and saga and the murder, but it is the experience of a person who is swept up in something way bigger than herself that she had nothing to do with, who survives a very harsh prison environment and then who enters into a world that has pre-defined her based on a false premise," Knox said. "That's an interesting story. And it's not the story that Stillwater told."
Representatives for McCarthy have yet to respond to NPR's request for comment. In an interview with Variety, McCarthy said he empathizes with Knox and what she went through. "She has platforms to speak her truth and engage with the media and she is exercising her absolute right to do so," McCarthy said. "But, by her own account, she has not seen 'Stillwater' and what she seems to be raising feels very removed from the film we actually made. 'Stillwater' is a work of fiction and not about her life experience."
In 2008, the Perugia resident Rudy Guede was sentenced to 16 years in prison for Kercher's murder. Last year, a court said he could finish the rest of his sentence by doing community service.
Tyler Bartlam and Natalie Friedman Winston produced and edited the audio version of this story.