Review by Cole Groth
As distrust in the police rapidly grows, documentaries about the failures of the people we’re supposed to trust are becoming more critical than ever before. Victim/Suspect, Netflix’s latest documentary, shows how false reports of rape — which are so actively broadcast throughout the nation — are frequently the result of rampant abuse by police officers. It’s a film that will make your blood boil, and although it sometimes misses its own point, audiences of all kinds would do well to educate themselves by watching this.
Victim/Suspect is led by reporter Rae de Leon, who is seeking to uncover the truth of why many women who were raped and went to the police about it were instead arrested for making false accusations. Her journey starts with Emma Mannion, a woman berated by Investigator Jared Akridge into recanting her case.
Jared Akridge is one of the many despicable police officers responsible for ruining women’s lives. Throughout the documentary, we’re painted a picture of the rampant abuse police officers take and how they so frequently let the accused rapists off. We’re also shown many people who help these women when they have no other options.
One of the most significant issues with this documentary is that it dramatizes the investigative process too heavily. There are moments when de Leon makes the film more about her journey than the women’s. I can’t blame deLeon, for her story took years of her attention to uncover, but it sometimes distracts from the overall story. As a piece of investigative media, there are times when the documentary doesn’t go deep enough or force the audience to ask tough questions. It could be much more of an indictment than it chooses to be.
At one point, de Leon gets a very fortunate interview with Detective Walberto Cotto Jr. Like Akridge, his abuses of power are exposed throughout the documentary. Unlike Akridge, however, he’s foolish enough to give an interview. He’s grilled on his failures as a police officer, and his conversation with de Leon reveals that although he went after the woman who accused another man of assault, he overlooked that he was accused of another assault just a month prior. His mix of confusion and fluster is a fantastic moment of entertainment and shows top-notch reporting skills from de Leon.
Victim/Suspect shines when it reveals the uncomfortable truths of sexual assault survivors. The most tragic story is that of University of Alabama student Megan Rondini, who took her life after being charged with false reporting of sexual assault. The documentary powerfully showcases the combination of incompetence, aggression, and laziness that many police officers show to victims of assault and can hopefully shift the conversation in the right direction.
Make no mistake — this documentary is not easy viewing. It is, however, a powerful combination of important storytelling and gripping narrative focus. Change needs to be made in the accountability of police officers, and films like this must put a blazing focus on many of the specific people involved. Officers like Jared Akridge and Walbert Cotto Jr. are just two cogs in a machine of injustice. They will hopefully face consequences for their actions after the publication of their cases.
Victim/Suspect releases on Netflix on May 23.