The Staircase Documentary Makers Feel Betrayed about Their Portrayal on HBO Show 

The Staircase Documentary Makers Feel Betrayed about Their Portrayal on HBO Show 

The team of filmmakers who made the 2004 docuseries, The Staircase, has recently spoken up against their alleged inaccurate portrayal in the new HBO Max drama series of the same name. The Staircase, directed by Antonio Campos, premiered on HBO Max on May 5 and is slated to have eight episodes.  

The series is about the Katherine Peterson murder case of 2001. She was found dead at the bottom of her house’s staircase. After her husband Michael Peterson is accused of her murder, the trial goes on for a decade.  

The 2004 docuseries received immense critical acclaim for their coverage of the murder. The HBO Max series also features the making of the documentary along with a dramatization of the case.  

According to Vanity Fair, the original team involved with the documentary has claimed their portrayal in the HBO Max series to be misleading, inaccurate, and falsified. Particularly, upcoming Episode 5, “The Beating Heart” has faced criticism from the team. 

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, Oscar-winning director of the docuseries, went on to say Campos “crossed the line” with the episode. The episode implied that de Lestrade and editor Sophie Brunet appealed for Peterson to be portrayed sympathetically in the series. Apparently, Brunet re-edited the eight-episode docuseries while being involved romantically with Peterson.  

The Staircase Documentary Makers Feel Betrayed About Their Portrayal on HBO Show
Jean-Xavier de Lestrade | Source: IMDb

Brunet claims that her romantic relationship with Michael Peterson had no effect on the editing process. Rather, her work on the series was completed by the time she got romantically involved with Peterson.  

Reportedly, de Lestrade had to demand a disclaimer be put before each episode confirming that the events depicted have been dramatized. Producer Stevenson said,  

Documentarians are a lot like journalists in that we’re trying to preserve a certain degree of integrity and ethical behavior. While we obviously have to edit material, wade through hundreds of hours of footage, and make choices to tell a compelling story…there’s a process of doing it in a way to preserve integrity…. Jean is a man of principles and ethics. To spin it any other way takes away from all of us, him, and this series in particular.

Scott Stevenson

Stevenson thus acknowledges his team’s editorial hand in the making of the documentary but makes it clear that there has been no fictionalization. Campos might have taken too much creative liberty in his portrayal of the Staircase team.  

The Staircase Documentary Makers Feel Betrayed About Their Portrayal on HBO Show
The Staircase | Source: IMDb

I feel, again, really uncomfortable. But I have to protect my work. A series on HBO like this will get huge attention. And if people think what they’re watching is true, that’s really damaging for us. I’m really sorry, because I don’t want to damage the career of a talented director like Antonio. Because he is a very talented director. But in this case, he did something wrong. 

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

HBO Max may have to face severe losses due to widespread backlash on their latest series involving such a “betrayal”. It is now a matter of time that we discover whether HBO will consider de Lestrade’s request of using disclaimers in upcoming episodes. 

Watch The Staircase on:

About The Staircase

The Staircase is an upcoming dramatic limited series adaptation of a docuseries of the same name, to be co-produced by Annapurna Television and HBO Max, as announced in March 2021.

The series is set to star Colin Firth as Michael Peterson and Toni Collette as his wife, Kathleen Peterson, with Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn both attached as writers and showrunners.

On December 9th, 2001, novelist Michael Peterson’s wife Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of the staircase at their home. Michael claimed she perished after falling down the stairs but the medical examiner determined that she had been beaten with a weapon. Peterson became a suspect in what would become a murder investigation.