(Written by Allison Brown)
Although some may have good intentions, true crime podcasts are an ethical grey zone. Director Chris Kasick chooses to follow Emily Nestor and the explosion of her show, Mile Marker 181, in Citizen Sleuth to expose the balance between entertainment and truth. With zero college education or audiovisual, journalism or forensics training whatsoever, Nestor is surely not the right person to be investigating a potential murder. The internet gives folks like these a larger platform and community to uncover the truth without verifying one’s background. With the modern distrust of the police and their integrity, people are more willing to believe conspiracy theories than trust professionals.
Emily claims, “you can hire me, but the one I’m working for is the victim.” Her behavioral evidence shows this is a lie. Once she accepts there may be no foul play at all, she continues to fan the flames towards the believers of wrongdoing solely for the purpose of entertainment and profit. Starting podcasting as a hobby prior to pursuing the career full time allowed the luxury to decline advertising and sponsorships at the initiation of her journey for the sake of morals. Upon increasing the time devoting to this pursuit, Emily explains away her original intention to avoid profiting from death by stating she needs the income to survive. Who’s to say Emily deserves compensation for her work when the case has not progressed?
By the end of the film, I was almost angry I invested the time to watch her journey. Learning about Jaleayah Davis’ traumatic story without resolution for the family will leave one frustrated that her case was even returned to the public eye. Just because one is a fan of true crime and serial killer films, does not mean one should suddenly decide to take on the same endeavors with no qualifications. Emily even goes as far as to get tattoos related to murder, which is distasteful beyond belief.
The barriers to entry for true crime podcasters, and even film criticism, are so low that anyone can one day choose to call themselves a professional if they act like one. However, is one really a professional if they don’t have the credentials to properly analyze cases (or film)? I started writing movie reviews with a decade of experience in publications, but my repertoire of skills in film production and scholarly analysis were initially nonexistent aside from years of passion for cinema. The invaluable education from experienced peers in the industry helped get me to where I am today. I think the stakes are higher with cold cases, as a podcaster may tarnish the memory of real victims and put suspects’ real lives at risk. Conversely, a poor review might negatively affect a budding director’s career. This is definitely food for thought to ruminate on.
Citizen Sleuth scrutinizes the truth when it premieres at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival on March 11th.