Can A TV Show About Kim Wall’s Murder Avoid The Pitfalls Of Other True Crime Docs?

As the 2017 murder of journalist Kim Wall is turned into a TV show, has our obsession with real life murder cases gone too far?

kim wall

by Katie Rosseinsky |
Updated on

From Serial and Making a Murderer to more recent hits like The Staircase and podcast The Teacher’s Pet to the slew of upcoming films that focus on the Manson murders, true crime stories have become big business. Now, the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall is set to form the subject of a new TV crime drama from Tobias Lindholm, the writer of Scandi hit Borgen. Whether you find this news exciting or troubling will largely depend on your thoughts on the ethics of this booming genre.

The Investigation will focus on the police investigation of the murder of 30-year-old Wall, who disappeared in August last year after boarding the submarine of Danish inventor Peter Madsen, who she was profiling for a magazine feature. Her body was later found in Copenhagen harbour; Madsen was charged with sexual assault and murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2018.

Whether they are based on true stories or purely fictional, films and TV shows all too often use violence against women – be that rape, torture or murder – as a useful or even titillating plot device; these women are almost always silenced and quickly erased from the story. True crime has, by its very definition, a particularly bad track record when it comes to this, fetishizing cases of missing or dead women and using them as an excuse to spend hours probing the ‘troubled,’ apparently more ‘complex’ psyche of the (almost always) male suspect. You’ll remember the name of Steven Avery, the accused in the Making a Murderer case, but you might not recall that of Teresa Halbach with such ease.

With the case of Kim’s murder still so recent, it seems particularly important that The Investigation is not hampered by these pitfalls and turned into a sensationalised story that loses track of her identity. Luckily, the Guardian reports that Kim’s parents Ingrid and Joachim Wall have worked closely with the show’s producers to ensure that her story is told ‘from the right perspective and with respect for all who knew and loved Kim.’ In a press release around the show’s announcement, they revealed that they see the show as a means of ensuring that ‘Kim’s fate should not be forgotten.’

But how can this be pulled off - how can The Investigation succeed to authentically and respectfully portray a gruesome murder case, when so many shows have failed? For writer and director Lindholm, removing the perpetrator, in this case Madsen, from the narrative was his starting point. ‘I don’t want to make a crime series that is beguiled by the perpetrator or the crime,’ he said. ‘It’s therefore a fully conscious decision that the perpetrator will at no time figure in the series.’ All we can hope is that his show will succeed on those very terms, and that it can present a new approach to true crime, one that is not in thrall to male abusers: as he puts it, a show that ‘cuts out all the colourful stuff and depicts the reality and the facts soberly and precisely.'

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