The Fantastic Lies of the Duke Lacrosse Case

March 21, 2016

I am just going to go ahead and say it: I do not like Duke.

As a UNC-Chapel Hill class of 2020 student, it feels almost obligatory to dislike Duke. I’ll be honest in saying that Duke is an amazing school with a lot of decent and bright people (barring a few people on the basketball team), and my “hatred” for Duke really just stems from the inherent rivalry my future school has with them.

However, in 2006, a lot of people hated Duke for different reasons.

The words “Duke University” connote privilege, elitism, wealth, and entitlement, even though a majority of Duke students do not fit into any of these categories. When news broke of white Duke lacrosse players allegedly gang-raping a black stripper, the media, including the The News & Observer, went gung-ho in accusing the lacrosse team without much concrete evidence, making up their minds before the facts came out. They saw a group of white, privileged students at an elite university taking advantage of a minority community member. It was the perfect juxtaposition highlighting the vast economic and cultural divide of the wealth and power of Duke students and the citizens of the impoverished sections of Durham.

As it turns out, the lacrosse team was innocent, and both people and media organizations had some explaining to do.

In the meticulously curated ESPN 30 for 30, entitled Fantastic Lies, Marina Zenovich explores the Duke lacrosse case, going in-depth into many of the complex issues that arose from the case, including reverse-racism, a flawed judicial system, media biases, and the disproportionate wealth divide in Durham. Throughout the film, Zenovich incorporates player and parent interviews to highlight the handling of the controversial case and how it affected them personally. This provides a sympathetic viewpoint of the case. The interviews from lawyers and legal experts reflect how the media and justice system tried, and subsequently failed to railroad these young lacrosse players at Duke. The story that unfolded concerning how everything transpired in this case and how it affected real people is abhorrent.

As the show concluded, I felt an overwhelming sense of disgust. Most of all, I was absolutely appalled by the actions of Mike Nifong, the Durham District Attorney who was hellbent on getting a guilty verdict for these lacrosse players despite the evidence. He firmly believed in the “guilty until proven innocent” maxim; he was seeking re-election for office, and this case was meant to boost his position in the polls in order to maintain his power.

Many other people could take blame for how the case spiraled out of control, including several Durham police officers who violated protocol in order to pick out the alleged rapists. Many were complicit in the case that ultimately ruined people’s lives. And this documentary captures the story of everyone involved, good or bad.

Fantastic Lies is a powerful production that surpassed expectations, through the careful exploration of controversial and taboo subjects.

For residents of the Triangle area though, this movie especially hits close to home. That something of this magnitude could happen locally only serves to intensify the cultural importance of this complex case. Nine years have passed since this case, and a lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same as well. It has been hard for Duke and its lacrosse team to shake off the publicity; even now, if someone around the Triangle mentions the words “Duke Lacrosse,” the rape case immediately comes to mind, not the highly successful and competitive NCAA team. Many of the problems presented in the film, including the clash of the culture of Duke and Durham, are still apparent today. While the case still remains relevant in the area, it serves as an important case nationally as well. It is the perfect example of why everyone, including the justice system and the people within it, should follow “innocent until proven guilty” directive and wait until all the facts of the trial have been presented.

The movie not only serves as an entertaining and engaging retelling of the case, but also as a warning sign to the media, the justice system, not just locally, but nationally as well.

Fantastic Lies ’ deep exploration of the case and its current relevance in the social and political atmosphere of 2016 is why this “30 for 30” is one to remember.

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The Fantastic Lies of the Duke Lacrosse Case