Analysis: Netflix Documentary Brings The Maryville Rape Case Back Into Focus

Sep 23, 2016

Daisy Coleman, sitting on her family's front porch in Albany, Missouri, in a still from the documentary "Audrie & Daisy."
Credit Courtesy of Netflix

KCUR’s Peggy Lowe reported on the Maryville Rape Case in 2013 and has this analysis of a new documentary on the story, which premieres on Sunday on Netflix.

The good news about “Audrie & Daisy,” a new documentary focusing on Daisy Coleman, the girl at the center of the Maryville rape case, is that it documents how Coleman survived and found her tribe.

The bad news about the Maryville rape case, vividly brought to light in this film premiering on Netflix on Sunday, is that the local sheriff continues to toss blame at Coleman for the crime and the controversy. Sheriff Darren White tells filmmakers that there were people involved in the case “running around, telling a lot of stories.”

“It serves to benefit people’s causes by making a lot of things up that really didn’t happen and really doesn’t exist,” he says. “But don’t underestimate the need for attention – especially young girls.”

The documentary also shows that White has apparently changed his definition of “crime” since KCUR broke this story in July 2013.

When we interviewed him in 2013 about the alleged rape of the then-14-year-old Coleman by the local football star, Matthew Barnett, White replied: “Did a crime occur? Hell, yes it occurred. Was it a horrible crime? Yes, it was a horrible crime.” He blamed Coleman and her family for “harpooning” the case.

Still sheriff in Nodaway County today, White responded differently when questioned by the filmmakers.

“Nothing that occurred that night ever, ever rose to the level of the elements of the crime of rape,” he said.

The case became a national sensation after local law enforcement officials dropped charges of sexual assault against Barnett and his friends. They were accused of taking advantage of a very drunk Coleman and her friend Paige Purkhurst, just 13 at the time. The cell phone used to videotape Coleman and Barnett, who admitted to having sex with Coleman, mysteriously vanished.

Coleman and her family, who had just moved to Maryville from Albany, Missouri, were the target of social media slurs, bullied at school and their house burned down under suspicious circumstances. They ultimately returned to Albany.

“Audrie & Daisy,” directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, which was an official selection at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, chronicles rape in the modern age, when young victims must deal not just with the sexual assault but with the never-ending echo of shame from social media. (See the trailer here.)

The film opens with Audrie Pott, a California high school sophomore who was assaulted after getting intoxicated at a party, only to come to and discover the many photos of her online and circulating around her school. After posting “My life is over,” on Facebook, she committed suicide. The retelling of her story by her parents and her best friend is heartbreaking.

In an interesting twist to the documentary, it opens with testimony from the boys who assaulted Pott, their identities concealed with animation, who so flatly tell of the experience they sound drugged. Their interviews for the film were part of a plea deal they negotiated after Audrie’s parents filed wrongful death lawsuits against them.

The story of the Coleman family is well-documented, including the backstory of losing her father in a car crash. Described as a daddy’s girl, Daisy Coleman was still reeling from the loss when the family moved to Maryville in hopes of a new start.

“After the charges were dropped, it was just one thing after another,” Coleman says. “Like, all the drama of the social media and then I was getting in fights. I hated going to school. I hated going out in public. I couldn’t handle any more. I wanted to fight back … and I wanted them to believe me.”

Coleman tried to commit suicide several times. Melinda Coleman, Daisy’s mother who fought to get her daughter’s case some attention, was more specific, saying Daisy went to “a really dark place.”

“She started to really feel like it was her fault and feel like she should have done something different and she just internalized all the negativity,” Melinda Coleman says. “She died her hair black. She shaved part of her head. She burned herself. And every door in the house, upstairs, is broken because we’ve had to kick it in to try to save her when she’s tried to overdose.”

Ultimately the film is hopeful, with Daisy Coleman finding other girls with similar experiences and becoming involved with a group called Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment. The documentary shows footage of her graduating from high school in 2015 and her mother tells of her winning an athletic scholarship to Missouri Valley College.

In addition to showing the shaming on social media, the film also sheds light on how Coleman was viewed by local law enforcement.

After complimenting the boys involved in the case for “moving on,” getting jobs and going to college, White says, “Girls have as much culpability in this world as boys do. So everybody has to take their part of it.”

Off-camera, the filmmaker points out that in this case, the crimes were committed by the boys.

“Were they?” White asks.

Peggy Lowe is investigations editor at KCUR and Harvest Public Media. You can find her on Twitter at @peggyllowe.