Will the Oscar Pistorius movie be the most tasteless biopic ever made?

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  • Much like the coverage of the trial, the film's trailer appears to be far more preoccupied with the story of Pistorius as a fallen hero than the woman whose life he ended

    The parents of Reeva Steenkamp have hit out against an upcoming film that will dramatise the events of their daughter’s 2013 murder. In a statement released today, Steenkamp’s family rejected claims that the film was made with their approval. ‘Any impression that this is June [Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother]’s view, or that the movie is endorsed by the Steenkamp family, is untrue and incorrect.’

    Reeva Steenkamp was 29 years old when she was murdered by her boyfriend Oscar Pistorius on Valentine’s Day, 2013. At his trial a year later, the former Paralympian was sentenced to just five years in prison for culpable homicide, with a three-year suspended sentence for ‘reckless endangerment.’ In 2016 – after Pistorius had been released on house arrest – Judge Thokozile Masipa extended this sentence to six years’ imprisonment for murder and he returned to prison. He is not expected to be released until 2022.

    Now, just four and a half years after her murder, a controversial Lifetime biopic – Oscar Pistorius: Blade Runner Killer – is set to be released, tracking Pistorius and Steenkamp’s relationship, Steenkamp’s murder and the trial that followed.

    It is hard to think of a way the trailer for the film, which was released on Monday by Lifetime, could be any more tasteless. The minute-long clip, starring Toni Garrn as Steenkamp and Andreas Damn as Pistorius, suggests a narrative that will present both the defence and prosecution’s presentation of events. The prosecution argued, with strong evidence, that Pistorius shot Steenkamp through the bathroom door after a row; the defence claimed he had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder and killed her by mistake.

    Much like the coverage of the trial, which generated a media circus around Pistorius, the film’s trailer appears to be far more preoccupied with the story of Pistorius as a fallen hero than the woman whose life he ended. ‘Heart of an athlete, mind of a killer’ flashes up towards the end as we see Damn as Pistorius, weeping in court.

    Days after the events of Valentine’s Day 2013, several tabloid newspapers chose to publish shots of Steenkamp in her underwear – reducing her to little more than a sex object, even as her family grieved. Likewise, in the one-minute trailer for the film, it’s telling that the longest shot we see of Toni Garrn as Reeva features her sashaying across a bedroom in white lace underwear.

    We have no idea how the full film will play out, but if the trailer is a reflection of what’s to come then Pistorius looks set to be presented as the tortured killer with the ‘heart of an athlete’ (a claim any athlete who hasn’t killed their girlfriend would surely dispute), leaving little room for the woman he killed. Steenkamp was many things – a successful law graduate, a loyal friend and a devoted daughter who supported her parents financially with her television and modelling work. She dated Pistorius for just three months before he murdered her. If the filmmakers had really wanted to present Reeva’s side of the story, to shine a light on domestic violence, they would not have named the biopic after her killer.

    Loyal fans of the former track star still find it hard to believe their hero could have murdered his girlfriend. ‘I was simply trying to protect Reeva’ Pistorius insisted at the trial, ‘I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved.’

    But domestic violence experts pointed at Pistorius’ telltale controlling behaviour. ‘[I’m] scared of you sometimes and how u snap at me and of how you will react to me’ Steenkamp wrote to Pistorius in a text before her death. And though Steenkamp’s death was tragic, it certainly wasn’t rare. Femicide in South Africa is estimated to be five times higher than that of the global rate (according to Africa Check) and around half of the women killed are murdered by their partners.

    It is horrifying enough for the Steenkamp family that the memory of their daughter has become so defined by the man who ended it. A sensationalist biopic dramatising her death will do nothing to change that.

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