Alumnae Netflix Series Making a Murderer is a Massive Hit

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Moira Demos ’08 and Laura Ricciardi ’07 have achieved enormous success with their Netflix series Making a Murderer, which has been watched by millions of viewers since it became available for streaming on the site on December 18.

The 10-part documentary follows Wisconsinite Steven Avery as he is exonerated in 2003 of a 1985 rape conviction and subsequently charged with murder in 2005, after he launched a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the county for wrongful imprisonment. The documentary’s intimations of significant legal oversights, manipulations and corruption in the case have sparked impassioned conversation across the country about Avery’s legal treatment and the state of the U.S. justice system.

The film and Avery’s case have since been extensively covered by the press, with Avery’s trial and conviction receiving renewed interest across the country and abroad. More than 300,000 people have signed petitions asking President Obama to pardon Avery, amateur online sleuths have flocked to Reddit to pour over the details of the case, and the celebrity likes of Alec Baldwin, Ricky Gervais and Mandy Moore have expressed their support for Avery and the series. “Never mind an Emmy or an Oscar,” tweeted Gervais. “@MakingAMurderer deserves a Nobel Prize. The greatest documentary I've ever seen.”

Numerous news organizations, among them the New York Times, Rolling Stone, the Today Show and NPR, have covered the ten-year effort that Demos and Ricciardi put into making the film. They began in 2005, while both were still students at Columbia, after reading an article about Avery’s murder arrest. “We rented a car and we borrowed a friend’s camera,” Demos told the Times. “It was really to test the waters and see if there was a story.” Ten years later, the series “properly hijacked” the 2015–16 holiday season, “filling newsfeeds and social media streams with the shocked, angry, and outraged reactions of viewers making their way through Making a Murderer,” Jen Yamato wrote in a profile of the filmmakers for the Daily Beast.

Avery is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his 2007 murder conviction in the death of Teresa Halbach. Unless new evidence is revealed, he is unlikely to have his conviction reconsidered. “We’re all hoping the attention to this induces somebody who saw something, who heard something or who has been carrying a secret to come forward,” his defense attorney Dean Strang told the New York Daily News.

Update: The White House responded on January 7 to two petitions started by Making a Murderer viewers that ask President Barack Obama to pardon Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, for their convictions in the murder of Teresa Halbach, saying that the president does not have the authority to pardon either.

“Thank you for signing a … petition on the Teresa Halbach murder case, currently featured on the ‘Making a Murderer’ documentary series,” the White House said in its responses to the petition, which has received more than 350,000 signatures, and the We the People petition on the website, which has received more than 129,000 signatures. “Since Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities.”

A petition asking that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pardon the two has received more than 6,400 signatures. Walker has offered no pardons since being elected, and his office has indicated that he will not do so in Avery’s and Dassey’s cases. "These events took place before Governor Walker took office. Governor Walker has not watched this documentary," Walker press secretary Laurel Patrick said in a statement. "As you may know, early in his administration, Governor Walker made the decision not to issue pardons.”

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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.