Unbelievable Showrunner Explains What Was Changed from the Real Rape Case

Eric Todisco

When creating Netflix‘s powerful new series, Unbelievable, showrunner Susannah Grant was determined to stay true to the facts from the real-life tragic rape case that inspired the show.

The eight-episode series, based on T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2015 article from ProPublica and the Marshall Project, entitled ”An Unbelievable Story of Rape, follows a teenager named Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) who is raped in her own home in Washington and reports it to the police, only for the detectives — and her own family — to accuse her of lying.

Marie is charged with filing a false police report, and the case is closed… until years later when female detectives Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) in Colorado begin searching for a predator who sexually assaulted dozens of women, including, it turns out, Marie.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Grant explained the details she felt necessary to change when translating the real-life case into television.

“We were very conscious from the get-go about respecting the privacy of everybody involved as much as possible,” she explained. “Ken and T. had changed the names of all the women who were survivors of this rapist, so we went further and changed a lot of identifying features about them because there’s no reason to let this enter their world in a way they don’t want it to.”

Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) | Beth Dubber/Netflix

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In the real-life case, the detectives that successfully catch Marie’s predator are named Det. Stacy Galbraith of Golden, Colo. and Det. Edna Hendershot of nearby Westminster, Colo. The women teamed up after they realized they were individually tracking the same rapist, who happened to be Marie’s attacker.

Grant continued to EW: “We also decided to change the names of everybody – I didn’t think it compromised our storytelling at all to say this is inspired by true events rather than shine a light on private individuals who made what they think now are very bad mistakes. I just didn’t see the point in rubbing salt in that wound, so we kept privacy across the board.”

“But we were very true to the facts of the case and to the work those detectives did and the journey Marie went through,” added Grant, who explained that “creative license wasn’t taken at all” when creating the show.

“It was such an incredible story that it didn’t need any enhancing,” she noted.

Grant also spoke to EW on how the “credibility” of Marie’s experience and the ongoing investigation that took place was the most important aspect to show viewers through the television screen.

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“To me, that meant being truthful to the experience of everyone involved,” she said. “And then also right alongside that was how we depicted sexual violence was really important. There are so many examples of it that end up being exploitative and that feels like nothing I want to do in my work at all, but especially not when you’re talking about the real experiences of real people.”

Added Grant, “In thinking about the subjective way things were written and subsequently shot, that was really important, so your experience of the act is 100 percent with the woman, the victim in the case.”

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One week since the series began streaming, Grant has hopes for what her hit series can accomplish in the world.

“I just hope that it inspires a conversation at all,” she said. “If you look at the statistics around sexual assault, somewhere between five and 20 percent of sexual assaults are reported and of those, the number that gets prosecuted is somewhere around five percent, so you’re talking about a crime that is absolutely devastating and massively under-addressed.”

“So bringing that issue out of the dark shadows of our culture and pulling it into the light is really important,” she added.

Unbelievable is streaming now on Netflix.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.