‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’ and empowering the female voice

by Dan Bater |

a ‘story people had been too scared to tell’ | Flickr

‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’ is a gripping four-part Netflix documentary centred on the sex offences of the illusive financier. At the helm is director Lisa Bryant, a specialist of the true crime genre. Executive producer Joe Berlinger (Conversations with a Killer) was prompted to bring ‘Filthy Rich’ to the screen by James Patterson’s book, ‘Filthy Rich: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein.’ Epstein ‘procured women’ for his elite social circle, Federal officials identifying thirty-six girls, some as young as fourteen, who Epstein and his contacts had allegedly sexually abused. This series seeks to tell their story.

… the series continues two major themes of the ‘Me Too’ movement: the exploitation of power by the elite to evade the law, and the empowerment of the female voice …

The series is strikingly pertinent within the context of the ‘Me Too’ movement, which grew exponentially after allegations against Harvey Weinstein in 2017. ‘Filthy Rich’ stands in solidarity with the campaign’s condemnation of sexual abuse, particularly as it acknowledges how vital the movement was in setting the stage for accusations against Epstein to be addressed with the gravity they deserved. Likewise, the series highlights two major themes of the ‘Me Too’ movement: the exploitation of power by the elite to evade the law and the empowerment of the female voice.

Formerly named ‘The Florida Project,’ the show began production whilst Epstein was free from prison; thus, precautions were taken to keep footage and materials hidden. The covert name, a secret server and a locked safe demonstrates the sensitivity of the show’s content and the threat Epstein posed to its release. Perhaps a nod to these surprising precautions, and the sheer power Epstein wielded, within the documentary itself would have been beneficial to the show’s motif of fear.

It exposes an arrogant abuser’s wealth, namely five expensive residences…

Byrant begins the documentary with low-quality, gritty footage from a 2012 deposition, using a single shot centred on Epstein. Apart from a few cuts, which use a grainy transition to emphasise the rawness of this out-of-court testimony, there is no other editing or narration to the clip. Someone out of the frame asks Epstein questions, introductory at first, before cutting to the two counts of prostitution he had been convicted of. Byrant cleverly inserts an eerie backing track at this point, gradually increasing in volume as Epstein repeatedly refuses to answer any further questions about his conviction by “invoking [his] fifth amendment right.”

The footage and music end dramatically as Epstein’s attorney terminates the deposition early. Stripped of any commentary, Bryant forces the audience to judge Epstein themselves; however, the choice of video influences their perception. It exposes an arrogant abuser’s wealth, namely five expensive residences, and his wickedness, as Epstein can barely hide a smile when his crimes are questioned. Therefore, Bryant unveils a major theme of this series in the first few minutes: Epstein’s abuse of money and power, which enables him to look down on the law with contempt.

Netflix | Pixabay

The documentary employs a combination of various clips from old depositions, present day interviews involving an array of people, as well as past CCTV footage from police inquiries with young female victims. The combination of old and new footage, along with supplementary high-definition aerial shots, is successfully brought together by Bryant. The CCTV recordings, first embedded within the former Palm Beach Police Chief’s interview, are the best example of Bryant’s skilful arrangement. The clips are played from an old television in a low-lit office, consequently positioning the audience as lead investigators.

… the interviews expose Epstein’s “molestation pyramid scheme,” “paedophile… and orgy island” and sex trafficking…

Byrant constructs the documentary largely by arranging modern day interviews — guiding the audience, rather than imposing a definitive narrative. The range of interviewees include the victims of Epstein’s sexual abuse, law enforcement, and his past attorney, Alan Dershowitz. Once the interviews expose Epstein’s “molestation pyramid scheme,” “paedophile… and orgy island” and sex trafficking, it becomes clear why Dershowitz is the only interviewee that doesn’t stand with Epstein’s victims.

Bryant highlights Epstein’s lack of support in an interview with a journalist, Shannon Cake, which uncovers the multitude of powerful people that cut ties with the sex offender after his second arrest. This point is cleverly raised later when discussing the convenience of his alleged suicide for all of these influential contacts.

The financer’s highly suspicious death in prison took away the opportunity for every single survivor to have their day in court, and stopped Epstein from snitching on his conspirators. However, it is because of this frustrating outcome that ‘Filthy Rich’ is so successful; it centres the empowered female voice which had been previously suppressed.

Jeffery Epstein’s mug shot | Wikimedia Commons

Although the show provides substantial detail about Epstein himself, the moving accounts from the women that survived his abuse drive the documentary forward. The victims are given control of the series; instead of taking us through a chronological story of Epstein’s life, ‘Filthy Rich’ jumps back and forth in time to prioritise the lives of those he damaged. This process can be slightly confusing at times, but it appears to be necessary in providing a platform for the women to voice their suffering. Due to his death, Epstein’s victims did not have the chance to face him in the courtroom, yet this series empowers all survivors of sexual abuse by publicising and preserving their accounts.

For this reason, the conclusion of ‘Filthy Rich’ is incredibly powerful. In the final episode titled ‘Finding Their Voice,’ Maria Farmer, the first witness that came forward, presents an in-progress art project, in which she uses the portraits of Epstein’s victims. When it is complete, all of these pictures will be holding a paper doll to symbolise every survivor that has not come forward. It is a moving end to a harrowing documentary.

This art piece symbolises ‘Filthy Rich’ as a whole. The audience learns about Epstein’s crimes from the people who suffered them — listening to the impact of his abuse and the mountain of witnesses against him. The documentary stands in solidarity with these victims and is committed to their empowerment, instead of simply fixating on grander conspiracy theories or the abuser himself.