In March 2022, Kim Devins received a Facebook message from a British producer named Rory Barker from Plum Pictures, asking if she wanted to take part in a documentary about her daughter, Bianca.
Devins has received a lot of messages like this over the years. Since the brutal murder of her then-17-year-old daughter in July 2019, images of which went viral on Discord and Instagram, she has spoken to a handful of documentarians and media outlets (including this one) about Bianca and her efforts to prevent social media platforms from profiting off of gruesome images of her death. Barker’s description of the project seemed fairly innocuous, with him telling Devins that the film would be “focusing on social media and the violence that has come from this world,” and that it aimed to “hold social media companies to account” for hosting violent content, according to messages reviewed by Rolling Stone.
But because Devins had signed an exclusive contract with another production company, she declined to participate in Barker’s project. “I get a lot of these messages,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Usually, once my family won’t participate, they just kind of let it go, and that’s what I assumed happened here.”
She was surprised when, last week, she received a follow-up message from Barker saying that the film had been made, and was set to air on UK’s Channel 4 — only it was nothing like what he had described in his March 2022 pitch to her. Instead, it was called Interview with a Killer, and it would feature a lengthy interview with the man who had killed Bianca, Brandon Clark, who is currently serving 25 years to life in prison for her murder. What’s more, it would be airing on Nov. 6, just a week and a half after Devins received Barker’s message informing her of the new angle for the project. (Note: Rolling Stone has not yet seen the project.)
Devins was staggered. It wasn’t just that the documentary was so different than how it had initially been described to her — it was also that it featured an interview with Clark. One of her stipulations in working with other production teams had been that those projects would mention Clark as little as possible, out of her desire for the media to “focus on the victims, not the perpetrators,” she says.
Though reaching out for comment to an accused criminal is a standard part of the reporting process, it is largely up to the discretion of individual journalists as to how much of their perspective they want to represent. And it was especially important to Devins that Clark’s voice not be highlighted in any coverage of her daughter’s murder, considering the highly public and dramatic nature of his crime. Immediately after Clark had killed Bianca, he posted a photo of her body on Discord with the caption, “sorry fuckers, you’re going to have to find somebody else to orbit.” According to police, shortly after he was arrested, he began inquiring about how many media outlets had covered the murder. To a large extent, it worked: the photo of Bianca’s body went massively viral, and to this day Devins receives harassing messages and threats from trolls taunting her with the photo, telling her her daughter deserved it.
“From the beginning, this was all set up for attention,” says Devins. “Our family doesn’t want to give him the attention that he wanted.”
In response to Barker’s message, Devins sent a letter to Channel 4 and Plum Productions, urging them not to air the documentary. “It is my belief that by airing an interview with Brandon Clark, your lack of duty of care during production will put women in danger,” she wrote in the letter, noting that the production would cause “immense emotional distress” to Bianca’s family members and friends.
A representative for Plum Pictures responded to Devins’s letter in an email provided to Rolling Stone, saying that while the company was “truly sympathetic to the unspeakable horror you have endured,” Interview with a Killer was not intended “to give Brandon Clark a platform….quite the contrary, we hope that the documentary will offer education and insight into the dangers of incel culture and the rise of violence towards women.” (Much early coverage of the crime portrayed Clark as an “incel,” a term used to describe “involuntarily celibate” men who harbor a great deal of irrational hatred toward women, though Clark did not appear to identify as such.) The email concluded that the program would be airing on Channel 4 as planned, as it had “an important educational message and addresses issues of significant public interest,” noting there were no current plans for the film to air in the U.S.
Devins was disappointed by the response — and even more so when she saw Interview with a Killer promoted on Channel 4’s website, which features a thumbnail of Clark in prison garb, staring directly at the camera. “The name and advertising looks like all the focus is on him,” she says. “[That’s] very different from the way [Channel 4] portrayed it in the email.”
When reached for comment, a representative for Channel 4 provided the following statement: “We appreciate this is very difficult subject matter. This case has been widely reported and the topic is extremely important and relevant as it discusses personal safety for young people who engage on social media.” The spokesperson added that Kim Devins had been contacted to participate and had declined on the basis of her exclusive contract with another production company.
Kim Devins’s dispute with the makers of Interview with a Killer echoes a larger cultural discussion about true crime coverage — both whether it is appropriate to highlight the stories of perpetrators rather than victims, and whether it is appropriate to cover crimes without family members’ participation or consent. This discussion has less to do with the legality of doing so — certainly, journalists and filmmakers have the right to cover whatever subjects they wish — and more to do with the potential ethical issues raised by such coverage, as critics increasingly raise questions about whether the genre at large skews educational or exploitative.
Devins is not the only family member of a crime victim to speak out about this topic. In 2021, Jordan Preston, the sister of Brooke Preston, who was murdered by her roommate in 2017, went viral on TikTok after launching a petition speaking out against Dead Asleep, a Hulu documentary about her murder. Like Devins, Jordan and her family declined to participate in the project when they learned it would prominently feature interviews with Randy Herman, Jr., Brooke’s killer, who alleged he had been sleepwalking while committing the murder, but was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
“They said it was something like, they were gonna be digging into the sleepwalking defense,” Jordan Preston said in 2021 of the producers of Dead Asleep. “They pretty much made it clear it was gonna be about him and not her. Why would we want to support anything about him? He took her from us. Why does he get to speak to the world and she doesn’t?”(Skye Borgman, the director of the film, did not respond to requests for comment from Rolling Stone at the time.)
Like Kim Devins, Preston acknowledged that the producers of Dead Asleep had not breached any legal issues, but she felt strongly that the film, and other documentaries about true crime, should not have been made without the family’s consent. “It’s wrong. We’re a grieving family,” she said. “Why do they want to exploit us? They’re putting our pain up on the screen. What they’re doing is hurting our family.”
Though the true crime genre has exploded in recent years, following the success of podcasts like Serial and series like Making a Murderer, critics have raised questions about the purpose such content serves for audiences and victims’ family members alike. Defenders have argued that the genre can promote advocacy for victims or perform a public service in educating vulnerable populations about safety and crime prevention. Yet many critics have countered that interest in true crime has gotten out of control, pointing to the popularity of armchair sleuths on platforms like Reddit and TikTok, where creators regularly report breathless conspiracy theories about real-life victims, as an example.
The advent of AI, which has led to TikTok videos going viral of deepfake versions of murder victims recounting the gruesome details of their deaths, has made ethical questions about the impact the genre has on victims and survivors’ families even more complex. “Something like this has real potential to re-victimize people who have been victimized before,” Paul Bleakley, an assistant professor in criminal justice at the University of New Haven, previously told Rolling Stone.
Because Interview with a Killer is set to air in just a few days, Devins has no illusions about her ability to stop its release. She is speaking out, she says, because she wants to “spread awareness about how the true crime genre affects victims’ families.”
“Plum Pictures could have told a powerful, educational story without giving a murderer a platform to spread his lies,” she says. “They could have focused on the victims and the damage caused to those of us left behind without interviewing the murderer.” Instead, “they gave my daughter’s murderer the attention he has been seeking.”