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Michael Peterson Accuses The Staircase Documentarian of 'Pimping Us Out' to HBO

"I have no sympathy for him," Peterson said of filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade.
  • The Staircase subject Michael Peterson (Photo: Everett Collection)
    The Staircase subject Michael Peterson (Photo: Everett Collection)

    Michael Peterson is speaking out against HBO Max's The Staircase and documentary filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, who sold director Antonio Campos materials related to Peterson's story for the limited series.

    On Thursday night, Variety published an email from Peterson in which he slams de Lestrade and accuses the filmmaker of betraying him and his family. De Lestrade was paid for allowing Campos to use Peterson's story for the series, and he received a co-executive producer credit on the adaptation. However, Campos allegedly made it clear to de Lestrade that the series would have been made with or without his approval, reminding the filmmaker that Peterson and his case were in the public domain.

    "I have read about Jean de Lestrade's sense of betrayal by Antonio Campos and HBO Max's presentation of The Staircase, but what has been forgotten or overlooked or simply ignored is his betrayal of me and my family,” Peterson wrote in his email to Variety. "We feel that Jean pimped us out — sold OUR story to Campos for money — what word other than pimped describes what he did?"

    "He released his archive to Campos who then created a fictional account of events, most of which trashed me (which I really don't care about) and my children — which I really do care about," Peterson continued. "There are egregious fabrications and distortions of the truth in the HBO series, well beyond what may be considered 'artistic' license."

    Peterson claims de Lestrade never told him or his family about the HBO series in advance of its release, a fact de Lestrade disputed but later walked back, saying he doesn't recall. He added, "If I didn't, I should have."

    "Jean should have known that when you sell your ass/property, you assume the risk of getting f*cked/betrayed," Peterson continued. "Every hooker knows this. So he got betrayed/f*cked. Why should he be surprised? He was compensated — paid off. But we didn’t sell our story to Campos — were never even consulted or informed that Jean had done this. We are the ones who were betrayed, falsely depicted as fighting among ourselves (which NEVER happened), and with made up story lines that denigrate all of us in the eyes of millions."

    Peterson also took issue with de Lestrade's complaint that The Staircase implies he and his documentary team hid incriminating footage of Peterson to make him look innocent. "It is disingenuous and hypocritical for Jean to talk about his integrity being challenged when he sold himself to Campos and showed no integrity or sense of responsibility to us," he said.

    In addition, while de Lestrade claims that he was only paid €7,500 ($9370) for the materials he sold to Campos, Peterson claims that de Lestrade actually received $75,000 for selling the rights to the docuseries materials — a fact that de Lestrade disputes.

    While Peterson was critical of Campos for stealing from his book, "Behind the Staircase," which Peterson claims is "the only source for his prison scenes, and for which I of course was not compensated," he mainly blames de Lestrade for allowing the HBO series to be made in the first place.

    “I am angrier at Jean who should have had our interests in mind when he sold our story," wrote Peterson. "I have no sympathy for him, any more than I would for a hooker who contracted an STD after peddling her a**. Sounds harsh—but look at the result to our family for what he did."

    Peterson plans to be in New York this weekend for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Subject, a film exploring documentary ethics. Peterson and his daughter, Margaret Ratliff, who is also a documentary filmmaker, are both participants in the film.

    "I intend to bring up the matter of documentarians' ethic in selling their documentary to others who might exploit them, as Antonio and HBO did to us," Peterson said.

    The series finale of The Staircase aired Thursday. The full season is currently streaming on HBO Max.

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    Deena ElGenaidi's writing has been featured in Nylon, MTV News, Insider, The AV Club, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @deenaelg.

    TOPICS: The Staircase (2022), The Staircase (2004), Antonio Campos, Colin Firth, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, Michael Peterson