‘Unbelievable’ True Story: Resources To Learn More About the Show’s Accuracy

Marie Adler

Netflix Marie Adler

The new Netflix TV series Unbelievable is, tragically, all too true. Although many of the names in the series were changed, the details about what happened are very close to being accurate. But if you want to delve deeper to learn more about the story, there are a number of resources that can help.


It All Began with an Investigation that Won a Pulitzer Prize

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The first resource you’ll want to read is an in-depth article, written by ProPublica and The Marshall Project. The story won a Pulitzer Prize and it was this article that inspired the creation of the Netflix series. According to Hollywood Reporter, Armstrong and Miller began pursuing the story separately, and then decided to team up.

The award-wining article is called “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” The article won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting in 2016. It was written by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. It was part of an in-depth package by ProPublica and The Marshall Project about rape investigations. There’s also a story about an FBI database to catch rapists that almost no one uses.

Trip Eggert of The Marshall Project told Heavy: “The Marshall Project and ProPublica created ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape’ in partnership: we each started reporting independently and decided to team up, with a journalist from each newsroom on the story, which was published on both sites. The Pulitzer Prize for the piece was awarded to both The Marshall Project and to ProPublica.”

T. Christian Miller also wrote a story about why victims may not report their rapes. Miller wrote an article about how police can improve how they handle rape cases. Also in 2015, ProPublica and The Marshall Project hosted a Digg Dialog with a retired San Diego police sergeant who leads End Violence Against Women International. The dialogue discussed best practices for law enforcement, and Miller and Armstrong joined the discussion.

You can read an article about how they reported Marie’s story and investigated the details here.

Susannah Grant wrote the screenplay for the Netflix series after digging into the ProPublica and Marshall Project piece. She had already written Erin Brockovich, so she had a strong background for approaching this, Hollywood Reporter shared. Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman reached out at the same time to produce the series, and they all ended up teaming up. They fictionalized some of the character’s traits and changed their names since the real people “hadn’t signed up” for the TV series.


Armstrong & Miller Followed Up with a Book

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Following the publication of the ProPublica story, Armstrong and Miller followed up in February 2018 with a book about the case that’s available on Amazon. It’s called “A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America.” It’s 304 pages long, so the book is much more in-depth than the original article.


A Podcast Also Investigates the Story

In February 2016, This American Life had a three-part podcast on the same topic that you can listen to here. It’s called Anatomy Of Doubt. The first part is a prologue by Ira Glass that’s four minutes long. Then Act One is by Ken Armstrong and Robyn Semien, where they retrace the steps of the investigation. It’s 35 minutes long.

Then Act Two is by Ken Armstrong and Robyn Semien again, where they continue the story two years later, following the Colorado detectives in four neighboring towns. This part is 20 minutes long.

If you want to dig deeper into the story, all three of these sources are good to use. The book, the ProPublica piece, and the podcast provide a look at the story without fictionalized names or character traits changed in order to fit better with televised treatment. The series is still very true to the story, but these sources can round out what might be missing.

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