What Viewers of The Hunting Ground Should Know
The Hunting Ground is being marketed as a documentary. Its creators have repeatedly stated that the film is a carefully-vetted, accurate depiction of the stories it tells. The film bears the imprimatur of CNN, a network that calls itself “The Most Trusted Name in News.”
But an admission by one of the film’s top producers makes clear that this project’s intent was to advocate a position, not to provide a balanced story. In an email encouraging Erica Kinsman, a Florida State University student who accused former FSU football star Jameis Winston of rape, to appear in the film, one of the producers wrote the following:
“We do not operate the same way as journalists—this is a film project that is very much in the form of advocacy for victims, so there would be no insensitive questions or need to get the perpetrators’ side.” Amy Herdy, investigative producer for Chain Camera Pictures, Nov. 11, 2013. Click here to read the entire email, and another regarding the FSU case.
There are critical omissions and distortions in the The Hunting Ground’s depiction of what occurred between Kamilah Willingham, her friend, and Brandon Winston on the 14th and 15th of January, 2011. The filmmakers ignored key facts that no responsible journalist would have overlooked. Among them are the following:
- The filmmakers never made a serious attempt to hear Mr. Winston’s story. They did not contact him until after the film premiered at Sundance. Mr. Winston referred them to his attorney, Norman Zalkind, who was never contacted by them. In an interview on CNN following the film’s broadcast, director Dick Kirby acknowledged that producers did not attempt to contact the alleged perpetrators until the film was already being shown.
- A condom that Ms. Willingham said that she found in her wastebasket the morning after the alleged assault and gave to police as evidence is never mentioned in the film. The condom was tested for Mr. Winston’s DNA at his and his defense attorney’s insistence; it contained DNA from Ms. Willingham and an unknown male; it contained no DNA from Mr. Winston. At the trial, Ms, Willingham said she did not know the condom was hers when she gave it to police. The judge ruled that the jury could use this evidence in assessing Ms. Willingham’s credibility and bias against Mr. Winston. (In Limine Order on DNA)
- In the film, Ms. Willingham clearly implies that Mr. Winston drugged her and her friend. There was never any evidence that Mr. Winston drugged the women, and at the trial the prosecution agreed to exclude any such allegations. (See order below) Despite her alleged suspicions, Ms. Willingham, a third-year law student, waited five days – until Jan. 19th – before getting medical attention.
Quotes from film:
Ms. Willingham: “He continued to buy us both drinks…and more drinks…Half an hour into it I noticed my friend seemed wasted…People started to comment on how drunk my friend seemed.”
“Almost instantly after we got into the taxi I felt this extremely heavy feeling…come over me.”
“Neither Ms. Willingham or REDACTED perceived anything that would indicate that Mr. Winston put drugs in their drinks. There is no physical evidence of drugging, there are no toxicology or medical reports, there is no eyewitness evidence. Their allegations are mere speculation based on the alleged effects from the alcohol they drank and are therefore irrelevant and not competent evidence.”
- There were drugs used by Ms. Willingham and Mr. Winston that evening that are not mentioned in the film: cocaine that Ms. Willingham provided and shared with her guests.
- The film has been edited since screening in theaters; Ms. Willingham’s characterization of Mr. Winston has been altered. In the in the earlier version, Ms. Willingham says, “This is a rapist, this is a guy who is a sexual predator, who assaulted two girls in one night.” The filmmakers released this accusation after Ms. Willingham appeared before a Middlesex County Grand Jury, which declined to indict Mr. Winston on any charge related to Ms. Willingham. Filmmakers altered those comments; in the current version Ms. Willingham calls Mr. Winston “a predator.” CNN and the producers of the film have never issued a retraction of the very serious charges of rape and assault on two women in one night — charges which have been heard and seen by thousands of audience members.
- None of the allegations Ms. Willingham made against Mr. Winston was ever substantiated. After extensive testimony from Ms. Willingham and Mr. Winston, both the faculty of Harvard Law School and a Middlesex County (Mass.) Grand Jury dismissed her accusations that he sexually assaulted her. A Middlesex County trial jury rejected all allegations that he sexually assaulted Ms. Willingham’s friend, convicting him of a single, nonsexual misdemeanor.