CNN will air The Hunting Ground on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. The documentary tries to examine sexual assault on American college campuses, interviewing victims about their stories. Buccaneers fans will know it because it features Erica Kinsman, the woman who accused Jameis Winston of rape.
Initial reviews for the film were very positive, with Rotten Tomatoes "critics consensus" noting that "the movie's powerful message more than trumps any technical weaknesses." The backlash was always going to be there, and picked up some extra steam this week.
FSU president John Thrasher denounced the film, Emily Yoffe examined a few of its claims and seemed to find some factual problems, and a group of Harvard Law professors signed a letter to denounce the film. Meanwhile, Jason Bailey deconstructed Yoffe's argument against the film and another Harvard professor involved with one of the investigations profiled in the film took issue with their colleagues' letter,saying that "the signatories [..] represent only a minority of the faculty." If you read those accounts, you're likely to come out of this with a view of the film that conforms with your pre-existing views on campus rape.
For many Bucs fans, much of this is beside the point. They'll want to see the film to see Erica Kinsman, Jameis Winston's accuser, describing her version of events. Reviewing the film in March, Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times noted that the film contained little new information, but it does give the allegations a face and a voice. Her story is presented uncritically, as the documentary aims to give victims a voice.
More than that, the film is also a reminder that the rape accusation continues to be a factor for the Bucs' starting quarterback. He is facing a civil suit from Kinsman, and has filed a counter-suit. As those cases progress over the coming years, they'll continue to come up in the media. And every time they do, there is unlikely to be any definitive word on what happened that night. This documentary is no different.
Bucs fans can attempt to make their own judgments, weighing all of the available and incomplete evidence, but that is not a realistic task. There is a mountain of documentation relating to the events, and few people are going to read through those hundreds and hundreds of pages. Those who do quickly figure out that there are a lot of unanswered questions, and that it is easy to find inconsistencies and evasions to paint either side as dishonest. This should be no surprise: inconsistencies in accounts of violent trauma are common and even expected, resulting from the way the human mind works.
The unanswered questions and inconsistencies mean we'll likely never know what actually happened, although many would disagree with me there. Some are convinced that Kinsman is a liar who is waging a war on Winston. Others are convinced that Jameis Winston is a rapist. Ultimately, I don't know which answer is correct, but I am pretty sure that we don't have the evidence to make any definitive statements.
This documentary won't bring anyone closer to the truth, either. It simply puts a human face on the allegations. The uncertainty is just something Bucs fans are going to have to learn to deal with.