Netflix says it will not remove a documentary series that participants say was edited to make them appear crazy. Afflicted, which began streaming in August, chronicles the lives of patients who suffer from rare chronic diseases. Interviews with relatives and psychiatrists in the film suggest that the patients are imagining their symptoms.
The filmmakers used manipulative editing and ignored medical research to push that narrative forward, according to an open letter signed by the film’s cast, several medical researchers, doctors and celebrities such has Monica Lewinsky, who is now an anti-bullying advocate. The group is asking Netflix to take the series offline.
The people featured in the film say they were misled about how they would be portrayed and say that they're now being bullied by strangers.
A Netflix source tells ConsumerAffairs that they have no plans to remove the documentary. In a prepared statement through the Netflix press team, the film’s producer Dan Partland says that the filmmakers were trying to evoke compassion for their subjects.
He did not address the specific claims that the cast made about manipulative editing. Participants claim, for instance, that they were instructed to repeat interviewers’ questions back to them before answering each question. They say footage was later edited to make it appear as though the words were their own. They also say that the filmmakers personally arranged visits with questionable doctors in some cases. Other doctors depicted speculating about the patients’ conditions never actually treated them, the participants say.
"Our intention was to give the world a compassionate window into the difficulties of patients and families suffering from elusive and misunderstood illnesses, to humanize their struggle and to show that struggle in all its complexity,” producer Dan Partland said in his statement responding to the controversy.
Participants said they were told the same thing before filming, but they disagree that the final result was sympathetic.
“Afflicted was introduced to participants as a series that would ‘compassionately’ represent their experiences with diseases that lack proper diagnostic tools and effective treatments,” the open letter from participants, doctors and celebrities says.
“But rather than authentically depict these participants’ experiences and the biomedical research that might explain their illnesses, Afflicted used every creative tool and untenable journalistic practice to advance a narrative that suggests these patients’ problems are primarily psychological, a theory that is not supported by the evidence.”