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The filmmakers behind the original ‘The Staircase’ documentary aren’t the only ones feeling betrayed by the new HBO Max series. Members of Michael Peterson’s family say they're feeling retraumatized by the new show.
“I’m 78. I really don’t give a damn about my own portrayal,” says Peterson told Vanity Fair. “Is it really ethically acceptable to take a living person, like my child, and then create this fantasy and fiction about them? [...] It should not be this way that filmmakers can do whatever they want with your lives [onscreen].… In this case, he’s destroyed my family. Just lied with fabrications.”
He added this his family is not full of public figures and that the depicting them so vividly is "reckless."
His daughter Margaret Ratliff told Vanity Fair that she is upset that her relatives were not involved in formal conversations about the project. She said that her sister Martha Ratliff watched a trailer for the new HBO Max series and that alone “traumatized” her.
Peterson adopted Margaret and Martha Ratliff after their mother Elizabeth “Liz” Ratliff died in 1985 in Germany at the age of 43. She was neighbors with Peterson and his ex-wife and they adopted the girls after her death.
"The Staircase" revolves around the death of Peterson’s wife Kathleen Peterson, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their Durham, North Carolina home in 2001. Peterson has always maintained that Kathleen, 48, must have fatally injured herself in a fall.
The filmmakers began filming Peterson and his family shortly after he was indicted for murder. He was convicted of her murder in 2003, but there were long questions about his guilty. After a lengthy court battle, he earned a new trial. He was released in 2017 after entering an Alford plea — a guilty plea whereby a defendant does not admit to the criminal act — to manslaughter charges to avoid having to endure a second trial..
Peterson sent an enraged email to Variety last week, stating “We feel that Jean pimped us out — sold OUR story to Campos for money — what word other than pimped describes what he did?”
HBO Max told Vanity Fair, “The Staircase is a fictionalized series based on true events. Each episode is accompanied by a disclaimer that states it is ‘a dramatization based on certain facts.’ With respect to the facts that formed the basis for the series, Antonio Campos and [co-showrunner] Maggie Cohn relied on extensive source material, including firsthand accounts of the people involved in the events that took place.”
Margaret told Vanity Fair that if she had a chance to reconsider whether to be included in the original documentary, she would have chosen not to be.
“At that time, we were afraid he was facing the death penalty,” she told the outlet. “I thought, Okay, this is going to help my dad.”
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