Netflix has found a niche with its original true crime series like Making a Murderer and The Keepers. Both series deal with unsolved murders and the rippling effects each has had on the communities and individuals affected. Both series have also led to public calls for re-investigations of the cases each series explores. In what has become the latest Netflix controversy, the streaming giant’s most recent true crime documentary The Keepers has led to an online petition that is gaining serious traction in its call for the release of files concerning a Baltimore priest accused of murder.
The Keepers details the mysterious death of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a Baltimore-area nun who was found dead in 1969. The series complies interviews with friends and family, journalists, and former students of Sister Cathy’s who all feel that there is more to the mystery than meets the eye. Specifically, many people close to the case allege that Baltimore priest Father Joseph Maskell might have murdered Sister Cathy for speaking out against abuses she witnessed. While the priest himself denied the allegations and was never charged for any crime, the archdiocese of Baltimore has paid nearly a half a million dollars in settlements to his accusers since 2011.
Due to what many see as overwhelming evidence laid out in Netflix’s The Keepers, an individual named only as “concerned citizen” has launched a petition on change.org to urge the Archdiocese of Baltimore to release its files on Joseph Maskell. The petition has gathered over 15,000 signatures thus far. In response, the archdiocese issued a statement claiming “Archdiocesan policy and state law would preclude us from disclosing much of the information in them as they include confidential personal information (e.g. names of alleged sexual abuse victims), personnel records, health records, attorney-client communications, personally identifying information (such as social security numbers), etc.” Netflix has been silent on the matter, although the release of The Keepers likely implies which side they’re on in the matter.
Netflix is no stranger to controversy. Several of the streaming service’s recent original releases have stirred up debates in many public circles. The teen drama 13 Reasons Why angered many parents and educators who felt that the series glorified suicide, while Bill Nye Saves the World addressed heated political debates head-on with its no-holds-barred defense of the scientific proof of man-made climate change. Can streaming usher in a new era of activist filmmaking? By the looks of Netflix’s recent examples, it seems it already has.