innocence-files

Courtesy of Netflix

April 28, 2020

‘The Innocence Files’ — The Shining Example of Netflix Docuseries

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There is one Netflix docuseries that everyone in America should be watching right now, and no, it’s not Tiger King. It’s The Innocence Files.

That doesn’t mean watching Tiger King wasn’t a good use of all this extra free time we’ve been given; it was entertaining, absolutely insane in a way that was just far away enough from today’s reality and it was undoubtedly a cultural moment (the memes alone are a reason to watch.)

That being said, as entertaining as Tiger King is, we are not left with a resolution or a call to action. Instead Tiger King pits a bunch of horrible people against each other in a way that feels unsatisfying. There are no real good guys or bad guys, there are just bad people, worse people and the animals they abuse.

On the other hand, when watching The Innocence Files, the message, intent and characters are all clear. This docuseries should be just as popular as the gaudy Joe Exotic centered series, if not more popular, because it sheds light on the flaws within our justice system and gives faces to the victims of these systematic issues.

In its nine hours of screen time, The Innocence Files follows several stories of wrongful incarcerations and shows how the Innocence Project, a defence team that was founded by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, attempts to fight for these people. The series attempts to break down the systematic flaws within our justice system that allow convictions to side with unreliable evidence and eventually put the wrong person behind bars.
The show is broken up into sections, each three episode block focusing on a different aspect of the justice system that could lead to a wrongful conviction: faulty evidence, flawed witness accounts and shaky prosecution procedures.

The first three episodes, which are arguably the most compelling, follow the story of two men from Mississippi who were wrongfully convicted of rape and murder on account of faulty evidence. At first, it is almost impossible to believe that in modern day America two innocent black men could sit in prison for crimes that they didn’t commit, with sentences based almost solely on faulty bite-mark evidence.

However, as the story unfolds, and eventually the entire series, case by case, it is revealed how the intersection of classism and racism have given way to not just a flawed justice system, but a systematically racist society.

The Innocence Files does not need to rely solely on the entertainment factor and the instability of its main characters in order to remain shocking. It is powerfully eye-opening in its ability to reveal the truth about systemic flaws in our justice system and our society in a way that no meme about Carol Baskin feeding her husband to the tigers could capture. For that reason alone, The Innocence Files deserves to be watched, praised and talked about as one of the best docuseries on Netflix right now.

 

Jean Cambareri is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at jcc444@cornell.edu.