Casting JonBenet, a 2017 documentary recently released on Netflix, follows the casting of local Colorado actors for the roles of the Ramsey family, as well as other major players involved with the titular, real-life murder case. Between reading lines and screen testing for the parts, the various actors talk about their real theories and thoughts behind the death of JonBenet Ramsey in almost dinner table like fodder.
However, because these are just regular people who were living locally during the time of the investigations, the investigation is vastly different than a series of experts chiming in. Their sometimes-passionate expressions about who they believe really committed the crime are akin to water cooler discussions in the aftermath of a widely covered news story. In this way Casting JonBenet shows how this case has found its way into pop culture and into relevance.
The doc comes at the perfect moment in time, too, as The People vs. O.J. Simpson, another study of a sensationalized case, recently brought a new perspective on how we process this kind of media (although it was a dramatic take, rather than a documentary). While The People vs. O.J. Simpson captured more of the feelings, depictions in the media, and speculated on various behind the scenes shenanigans, it nevertheless breathed new life into a trial that happened 23 years ago.
Both Casting JonBenet and The People vs. O.J. Simpson tap into our long-running fascinations with these cases that have solidified their place in history. For instance, O.J. Simpson was an all-American athlete, the perfect specimen of human performance and an inspiration to those who wanted to achieve a similar status. This juxtaposition of his status to the brutal crime scene of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, along with the series of bizarre events that followed, struck a chord with the American People.
How could someone that was on their child’s Wheaties boxes every morning commit this crime? Widespread disbelief and questioning circumstances have led to years of fascination with the case and infamous monikers such as “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” Anyone who was following the case at the time will typically have their own version of events based on the evidence presented during the trial, and the theories thrown about afterwards.
The case of JonBenet Ramsey parallels to O.J. Simpson in almost every aspect mentioned above. The Ramsey family was the pinnacle of success, they had two beautiful children, they were cherished in their community, and they were just living the middle class American dream. The report of the graphic nature of the murder and the odd details surrounding JonBenet’s death contributed to a fixation that remains to this day.
Like in the case of O.J. Simpson, many of those still living in the community have their own ideas about what happened that night and their own analysis of the events that followed the murder. Casting JonBenet captures these speculations and passionate theories in an entertaining way, such as how John and Patsy Ramsey should have conveyed their emotions on television, various disagreements on the ransom note, and of course, lavish presumptions on who really killed JonBenet.
Â Each actor has their own opinion and theory, some of which are based on their own personal experiences. This also extends to each actor’s interpretation of the characters they are playing, which brings more of their opinions to light. For example, there are several Patsy Ramseys captured by starkly different actresses with varying degrees of experience and interpretations.
But, it is through the combination of these actresses playing Patsy Ramsey that you get a myriad of what a mother may go through in the aftermath of losing her daughter. Some of the actresses cry, some show quiet resolve, some look distraught, but they all visualize their interpretation of what they impose on what Patsy Ramsey should have felt in those moments. Each of the parts casted have this same experience and placing their screen tests alongside their theories of the murder was brilliant.
Casting JonBenet is an interesting piece of film that seeks to analyze the cultural attitudes and opinions on the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. While it is mostly thoughtful and respectful, there are times where the documentary takes a break to ease the intensity of certain, real-life moments. One of these such breaks surrounds the fascinating actor that is eventually chosen to play the police chief, but I won’t spoil it for you (you will know it when you see it). This documentary captures something that is lost in most coverage of sensationalized murders–and that’s arguably it’s biggest selling point—the effect it has on regular, everyday people.
Casting JonBenet is available now on Netflix.