On the morning of December 26, 1996, six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was found murdered in her family's basement. In the aftermath of the young girl's tragic death, it was impossible to turn on the TV or flip through a magazine without seeing her photo. Two decades later, the unsolved case remains a source of public fascination — and that's the focus of Casting JonBenet, which premieres on Netflix on April 28. Unlike the flurry of TV specials and docuseries that were released late last year, this film doesn't seek to solve the case. Instead, it examines what's changed since 1996 and why the child's death made her an overnight celebrity for such a tragic reason. But first, let's talk about that title — what exactly are they casting for in Casting JonBenet?
The premise of Kitty Green's movie is an intriguing and somewhat eerie one. According to its Netflix synopsis, "Local actors from JonBenét Ramsey's hometown offer multiple perspectives on her 1996 murder as they vie to play roles in a dramatization of the case." But, no actual film is being made so the actors aren't really auditioning for anything. According to The Atlantic, Green isn't interested in their performances — rather, she wants to gather their opinions about the case, their memories of the media frenzy that descended upon Boulder, and their own theories about who took JonBenét's life.
She also delves into why each actor wants to play a certain character — especially John and Patsy Ramsey, who found themselves at the center of media speculation following their daughter's death. John, Patsy, and JonBenét's older brother Burke were officially cleared of any suspicion related to the case in 2008 via DNA evidence, two years after Patsy passed away from cancer.
In an interview with The Frame, Green said the film is meant to tell audiences more about ourselves than about the case itself:
"[W]e would sit people down and say, 'What do you know about the JonBenét Ramsey case?' And they would immediately launch into not only what they think about the case, but their own backgrounds ... immediately they're on their own trajectory. So that became really interesting to me — how people deal with an unsolved crime and [how] they go emotionally inwards in order to comes to terms with something."
There have been countless specials, documentaries, and docuseries about JonBenét Ramsey's murder — but the vast majority focus on theories and attract viewers with tantalizing promises of "new evidence" and "never before seen footage." Casting JonBenet takes a new and thought-provoking (if not somewhat unsettling) approach. Out of all the murder cases over the years, why has this one captured and sustained our attention for over 20 years? As Green says, it's an opportunity for viewers to reflect on our own fascination with the JonBenét's murder.