Author Archives: Stephen J. West

When it Comes to a Murder Conviction, More Facts, Less Fiction Please

The hook of Sarah Koenig’s podcast Serial  is her (and her production team’s) meticulous investigation into the details of the state of Maryland’s story of how Adnan Syed murdered Hae Min Lee in 1999. Koenig lets the facts–or the mushiness of them–complicate the story to the point that her audience is unsure of who murdered Lee, confident only that the prosecution’s case against Syed is less than conclusive.

I have to think that Adnan’s being granted an appeal just this week has at least something to do with Koenig’s thorough scrutiny of the details of the story at the heart of Serial. If breathing new life into a murder trial long since adjourned isn’t an indication of the power that the presentation of research in nonfiction can have on an audience, then I don’t know what is.

What do we owe history?

It’s awards season in Hollywood! I wish I could say I’ve watched any of the films that will be nominated for best picture this year, but I haven’t. The only movie I saw in the theater this year was X-Men: Days of Future Past, and not surprisingly, there is no Oscar buzz surrounding it.

I’ve never been a movie buff, and a large percentage of the movies I watch feature someone dressed in a superhero get up. Case in point: I recently chose to stay home and re-watch X-Men: First Class over going to the theater with a friend to see a film nominated for a Golden Globe. While X-Men movies will always be irrelevant to discussions of what will win best picture, watching X-Men: First Class reminded me of the ethical questions about historical accuracy it raised the first time I watched it, questions that will always be relevant to writers of creative nonfiction. Below are some thoughts I wrote on the topic a few years ago after watching it in the theater…

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