There’s over five hours and 40 minutes of this documentary series, and no quicker is the name of the murder victim, Reeva Steenkamp, mentioned is it brushed under the carpet with a ton of idolising compliments for her killer.
On February 14 2013, aged only 29, Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed by her boyfriend in his home. Her boyfriend, world-famous athlete Oscar Pistorius, claimed it as an accident, but it wasn’t long before concerning details emerged from the woodwork that would place their picture-perfect relationship into question. Now, seven years after her death and Pistorius a convicted murder behind bars, the BBC has decided to release an insight – a loosely applied term – into the case.
No less than 20 minutes into the opening episode of The Trials of Oscar Pistorius is the eponymic blade runner already established as a figure to be admired, with interviewees noting him as an “inspiration” and a “hero”.
With continuous words of respect and commendation, backed up with what felt like the mentioning of the paraplegic’s sob story at any given chance by director Daniel Gordon, the condescending tone proves hard to ignore, and, much to my surprise, persisted throughout. A heavy focused was paid to the Olympic gold medalist’s troubling upbringing in South Africa, a time which is offered to us as nothing more than a time of brutal civil unrest, the death of his mother in his teen years and the trauma that followed, and the extensive medical history of fibular hemimelia and amputation, in what I can only view as a desperate attempt to justify his actions.
Over 2,700 women were killed last year in South Africa as a result of gender-based violence (GBV), and despite the recent murder of pregnant 28 year-old Tshegofatso Pule, the BBC promoted a two-minute trailer for the four-part series and did not once let the name of the law graduate-turned-model, Reeva Steenkamp, fall on the ears of its viewers.
At a press interview for the series, Daniel Gordon stated he was “still flip-flopping” on the matter of Pistorius’s guilt, though it appears he has already made up his mind, with a large proportion of interviewee time wasted on Oscar’s family, including his brother Carl, uncle Arnold, and cousin Maria. The three rarely advanced the plot, but instead posed as reminders of Oscar’s tears, something that they seem to believe equals innocence. In one confession, Pistorius’ former girlfriend Samantha Taylor described how she had to hide his gun during an argument, but with no mention of the other forms of abuse she endured in their relationship, it begs the question, was this an editorial move?
The cramming of the court trial, testimonies, verdicts and sentencing into the last half hour of the final episode diminishes the justice Reeva deserved, and misses an opportunity to spread awareness about gender-based violence to millions of the BBC’s viewers. Her name was Reeva Steenkamp. Say it. Shout it. Scream it.
Words by Paul McAuley