Netflix’s Jeffrey Epstein Series Is a Different Kind of #MeToo Documentary

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy RichNetflix’s new four-part documentary, isn’t really about Jeffrey Epstein. It’s about the lives he left behind, many of them marred by trauma and grief, reeling from residual feelings of guilt and complicity, and scarred by a justice system that conspired against them. What villains there were are dead or off screen or (thanks to the deal brokered by U.S. Attorney and future Trump Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta) immune. In their place are witnesses who didn’t always do what they should have, journalists whose reporting got buried, minors who recruited other minors while they were victimized themselves. There are some newsworthy bits here and there: Epstein’s former IT contractor Steve Scully says he once saw Bill Clinton on Epstein’s island, although he says no other guests were there at the time, and Clinton continues to deny he was ever there or that he ever knew anything about Epstein’s crimes. (“This was a lie the first time it was told, and it isn’t true today, no matter how many times it’s repeated,” Clinton spokesman Angel Ureña told the New York Post.) But Filthy Rich is more interested in untangling webs of complicity than in unearthing bombshells. “The truth is, I was there for six years,” Scully, who finally quit working for Epstein, has said of his time there. “I really started seeing things weren’t normal in the first year. … I wear shame and guilt,” he added. “Because you know what? When you allow money to dictate your moral consciousness, you’ve lost all idea of moral consciousness. It’s not about the money. It can’t be.

Focusing on the effects of Epstein’s crimes means that the mystery of who he was goes unsolved. With the possible exception of Alan Dershowitz, who reaffirms his admiration for Epstein’s intellect, no one seemed to hold the once-popular Epstein in high enough esteem to agonize much over his downfall. This sets the series apart from the rest of the recent wave of documentaries about alleged abuse by powerful men. Whereas Surviving R. KellyLeaving Neverland, and the new Russell Simmons film On the Record can’t help but engage with the stardom whose nastier facets the documentaries expose, Filthy Rich doesn’t grapple with its subject’s cultural importance. In this sense, the documentary is aptly named. Epstein didn’t have fans or iconicity. He had money.

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