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Kim Kardashian's new crime documentary is both compelling and wildly problematic.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

Just like every other pop culture offering wrapped up in a business plan, Kim Kardashian’s new true-crime documentary is as eye-opening and revolutionary as it is self-serving and problematic.

Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, which was released in Australia this week on hayu, chronicles the 39-year-old reality TV star’s road to advocacy as she begins to campaign for criminal justice reform and studies to become a lawyer.

In the two-hour documentary, the entrepreneur and mother-of-four highlights the fact that there are currently 2.2 million men and women behind bars in the United States – more than any other country – and she makes it her personal mission to address the criminal reform crisis and “make an impactful change”.

All by using her own profile, assets and legal team to attempt to secure freedom for Americans she believes have been wronged by an inadequate justice system.

The documentary’s biggest strength is that, no matter how you may feel about Kim Kardashian on a personal level, she’s got the receipts to back up her involvement in The Justice Project.

There’s no hint of the fact that she is simply attaching her name or face to a concept outside of her own advocacy experience or that it’s a case of voice-over stunt casting.

In the words of Kim’s legal mentor and co-founder of #cut50, an organisation working to cut crime and incarceration in the US, Jessica Jackson, “Kim has a very good track record of actually being able to help people get out”.

She’s referring in part to the Keeping Up With The Kardashians star’s first foray into criminal justice reform when in 2018 she lobbied President Donald Trump on behalf of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who was jailed in 1996 on a non-violent drug charge and who was then granted clemency after Kim’s intervention.

Take a look at the trailer for Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project below. Post continues after video.

It’s true that Kim Kardashian has a unique ability to garner attention and headlines by leveraging her millions of followers to action. In this case, by shining her particular cultural spotlight on numerous incarcerated prisoners, there is no doubt that she has made a difference to their individual lives by helping to secure them a chance at freedom that would have otherwise gone unoffered.

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But the truth is that as much as Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project is a compelling documentary that covers important subject matter, at times it is also wildly problematic.

Despite its noble intentions, The Justice Project still reads as a vehicle for Kim Kardashian to continue the public image make-over she’s been rolling out over the last few years, cleverly transitioning herself from a reality TV star to a formidable businesswoman, activist and cultural icon in her own right.

But in this documentary, her own need to be be taken seriously bleeds all over the stories of the incarcerated people she is trying to protect.

In the documentary, Kim talks about receiving and reviewing letters from incarcerated individuals who are seeking her help to expose the injustices in their convictions or sentencing.

By choosing the stories that “break her heart” Kim narrows down her efforts to four separate cases that provide the main fodder of the documentary.

The cases include Dawn Jackson, a mother-of-seven who was found guilty of stabbing her step-grandfather to death after he repeatedly raped and abused her from the age of five, and Momolu Stewart, who was a teenager when he was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in a 1997 shooting death.

Also included in The Justice Project is David Sheppard, who was convicted of second-degree felony murder for the 1992 shooting death of a pharmacy owner and Alexis Martin, who was arrested for aggravated murder and is serving out a minimum 21-year sentence.

Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia’s daily entertainment podcast, The Spill, below.

Each of these stories would make a valid documentary in their own right, but the whole endeavor becomes increasingly problematic when the storytelling lens is not placed on the incarcerated individual, but more on the emotional response Kim has to meeting them and learning about their histories.

Seemingly more care is given to her education, emotional compassion and advocacy journey then to the person who is sitting behind bars.

A particularly difficult case to watch unfold is that of Alexis Martin, who was 15 years old when she was arrested for the murder of her pimp in 2013 along with three other co-conspirators, with the prosecution painting her as the mastermind of the robbery and murder.

As she sits across from Kim, who is visiting her  in prison with a camera crew in tow, Alexis becomes visibly more anxious and unsure of herself in front of the cameras, as she answers Kim’s question of “where did you grow up and like, what was your childhood like?”

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It’s an obvious prompter for Alexis to share her personal trauma, which is in equal parts relevant to her case but also provides a series of emotional soundbites for the documentary.

Alexis explains to Kim that her mother lost custody of her children multiple times before she herself went to jail for drug trafficking, she then says that she was raped multiple times during her childhood and started looking for work to help feed her family from the age of 11.

After a man who raped her from when she was nine until she was 11 was found not guilty, even though his semen was found in her underwear, Alexis felt like no one would ever believe her or believe in her ever again.

It’s hard to listen to her story of how a man named Angelo, who she saw as a father figure, introduced her to drug trafficking and later raped and sold her for sex.

The friends Alexis had tipped off to rob Angelo’s house ended up killing him and she was tried as an adult for the crime, a story made even more disturbing when she tells Kim that she was being raped by Angelo’s brother while the murder took place.

During Alexis’ story, which is punctuated by somewhat cheesy ‘reenactments’ just like all the other cases explored in the documentary, a true sense of unease creeps over the viewer.

While it’s important for Alexis to be able to share her story in any way she wishes, you cannot help but wonder how much of this footage is for her benefit and how much is actually for the benefit of delivering The Justice Project increased ratings?

Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project is guilty of two things.

On the one hand, the work going on behind the scenes is more important than ratings and publicity make-overs, as Kim’s legal team really is working to facilitate releases. A complete game-changer for those who reach out to her for help.

On the other hand, it’s one more step forward in a culture that glorifies the narrative of crime and those who sensationally seek to tell these stories, over the people whose lives have changed because of it.

Either way, Kim Kardashian is a woman who knows how to make compelling TV and that’s just what The Justice Project is here for.

You can watch Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project on hayu from Monday, April 6 .


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