What happened to JonBenét Ramsey? Netflix's 'Casting JonBenét' is more about our obsession
The 2015 Netflix docu-series about Steven Avery incorporated interviews, clips and other information important to the case. Netflix's latest true crime documentary isn't trying to solve the 1996 murder of child pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey. Instead, the new film dramatizes certain aspects of the story while hitting something deeper — how America became obsessed with the Ramsey family.
Netflix previously teased that the Kitty Green documentary "blurs the lines between documentary and drama." Colorado residents appear in Casting JonBenét hoping to land the roles of key figures — like JonBenét's parents, Patsy and John, or pedophile John Mark Karr. They recreate scenes that might have occurred leading up to or following the 6-year-old's death, and they give their own opinions on the case based on media coverage from 20 years ago. What plays out on screen is mainly speculation from people who have no connection to the murder.
Some of the actors have theories about who killed JonBenét and what really happened to her. One actress reading for Patsy believes the mother was the killer based on the handwriting analysis of the ransom note left behind. An actor reading for John speculates that Patsy's ovarian cancer could have been a factor in the murder. Another actress reading for Patsy suggests that Patsy walked in on John sexually abusing JonBenét and tried to hit him with a golf club — but struck her daughter instead. No one has proof about who killed her; it's all speculation based on the media circus that consumed the case. But that's the point of the film.
"Casting JonBenét presents audiences with a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction filmmaking that examines the macabre legacy of this tiny starlet," Netflix's official synopsis reads. Legacy is an interesting word to use here. The film is basically holding up a mirror and accusing people of rubbernecking.
A young girl's death consumed the nation and left people gossiping — to this day. The murder occurred 20 years ago, but JonBenét's face keeps getting plastered on magazine covers and the news. People are still obsessed enough with the case that they want to make themselves a part of it by trying to get cast in a documentary about it.
"Let me see where I was in '96," actor Gary Foster, who auditioned for the role of John, says. "Uh, actually I was selling cars in Utah. I hope that doesn't hurt my chances here."
The actors and actresses auditioning all wear the same outfit — a red, short-sleeved shirt for Patsy and a blue, button-up shirt for John. But one actress decides to go in a different direction to prove she knows her facts, wearing a blazer with a blue blouse and pearls.
"For me it's the pearls that make who Patsy was," she says. "In every interview she did, she always had the pearls on. So when I was researching her over the past couple days I made sure that the pearls were on."
The actors try to connect to those involved in the Ramsey story, talking about death that has affected their own lives or issues that they had with their own children. In one minute, they're happy to point fingers and put the blame for the crime on JonBenét's parents. But in another, they're looking back at their own lives and defending decisions that the Ramseys may have had to make.
Does JonBenét deserve justice? Yes, but Casting JonBenét is not the documentary to watch if you want an in-depth exploration of the murder case. Rather, it's more of a guilt trip about society's obsession with the grim and gruesome.