Even if everything else about the case passed you by, you probably saw, somewhere, those four little words: ‘Epstein didn’t kill himself’. This referred to the shady demise of the equally shady billionaire and convicted child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, whose cause of death is, officially, listed as suicide – but the camera outside his cell just so happened to go on the fritz when this happened.
Later this month, Netflix will be releasing a four-part documentary, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, directed by Lisa Bryant, a veteran of many other such true-crime documentaries, and produced by “Conversations With a Killer” director Joe Berlinger. The trailer is quick to question the idea that Epstein killed himself, but his death is of course not the only point in his life that still bears closer examination, it is the tip of the iceberg. Epstein had previously been convicted of sex trafficking charges in 2008, only to receive a gentle 18-month sentence – the prosecuting attorney Alexander Acosta claims he was encouraged to “leave it alone” and told that Epstein “belonged to intelligence”.
The first accusation against Epstein dates back to 1996 – that is to say, he was trafficking children for at least 12 years before the forces of law and order did anything about it. This is by nature not merely a story about Epstein’s own misdeeds, but about the other people in positions of power who allowed them to happen. It’s an incredibly juicy (albeit foul-tasting) subject for a documentary, but one likely to confounded by the air of secrecy which permeates the whole affair.
Whether the documentary will touch on the suggestion that Epstein “belonged to intelligence” remains to be seen. Other than Acosta’s initial statement, the most publicised of these claims comes from the former Israeli spy Ari Ben-Menashe, who bluntly asserts that Epstein and his lover Ghislaine Maxwell were assets of the Israeli intelligence services – although reports of his account are quick to sprinkle in the word ‘allegedly’. Beyond the publicly documented facts, any such documentary will by nature be reliant on individual claims like those of Ben-Menashe: according to the synopsis, “Epstein’s accusers are the leading voices” of the show, and “the sisterhood of survivors intend to stop predators — and the American justice system — from silencing the next generation”.
The show is based on the book “Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal That Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein”, by James Patterson, who is on the record insisting that Presidents Trump and Clinton, possibly the highest-profile of all Epstein’s celebrity friends, didn’t know about Epstein’s interest in underage girls, stating “Nobody knew. You can’t do something like that…I have friends in town right now. They live on the street. They didn’t know. They lived two houses away.” A claim which doesn’t exactly tally with Trump’s well-documented remark that Epstein “likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side”, or Trump’s own suggestion in 2015 that Bill Clinton had “a lot of problems coming up, in my opinion, with the famous island with Jeffrey Epstein”. Muddying the water further is the fact that Patterson is in fact an associate of Clinton – the two co-wrote the critically panned political thriller “The President Is Missing”.
The issue is that a Netflix documentary will have to err on the side of caution, for fear of being sued into oblivion for libel. Which would explain why it’s coming out now, almost a year after Epstein’s death, to give the creators time to get their facts in order and check with their lawyers to see what they can and can’t get away with.
Further, despite the flight logs of Epstein’s private plane (pungently nicknamed ‘the Lolita express’) being a veritable who’s who of politicians, businesspeople, and power brokers, the trailer limits its coverage of Epstein’s web of associates to two people already well-known for their links to him: Ghislaine Maxwell, currently in hiding, and the UK’s Prince Andrew, who denied any wrongdoing in a roundly mocked Newsnight interview. Put simply, most people will be hoping the documentary will name names and expose wrongdoers rather than provide a lurid account of already well-established facts – and the question is whether Netflix is willing and able to do so.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich premieres May 27th, exclusively on Netflix.
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