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Wounds reopened – A&E Network profits off Petito family 

Photo credit: Unsplash

After A&E Network Lifetime, announced their October film “The Gabby Petito Story” only a couple months after the death of Gabby Petito, viewers were shocked with how close the movie would be to her death. The public was even more horrified when Petito’s family announced that they did not consent to the film. 

 Nicole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, released a statement through the AWARE Foundation.  

“We thought our followers should know that the Lifetime movie on Gabby Petito has no connection to the Petito family nor did they give their approval…Lifetime took it upon themselves to make the movie,” Schmidt said. 

No one could have predicted that “van life” vlogger Gabby Petito’s murderer would be her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. Petito went on a cross country trip with Laundrie in July of 2021. Everything was going well until about a month later when the couple had the police called on them by a bystander who saw Laundrie hit Petito. No arrests were made, and the couple continued with their trip. Almost another month after the incident, Petito’s mother reportedly received a strange text from her daughter. A few days later, Laundrie returned home without Petito.  

Laundrie went missing once word got around that Petito was not with him when he returned. The search for Petito turned into a search for Laundrie as well. In September, Petito’s remains were found in Wyoming, and the remains of Laundrie were found weeks after. Petito’s death was declared a homicide and Laundrie’s was death by self-inflicted gunshot.  

The tragic story came to closure in January 2022 when the FBI’s final report claimed that Laundrie took responsibility for Petito’s death in a notebook he left.  However, not even a couple months after this case was laid to rest, streaming network Lifetime announced in May that they would be recreating the events in the film, “The Gabby Petito Story.” The film would air Oct. 1, 2022, for the beginning of domestic violence awareness month. 

When this announcement first came to light, people on social media tore into Lifetime. The biggest criticism was the studio’s inability to let Gabby rest in peace and allow the family to grieve.  

“In terms of grief, whatever solace they have come to…the wounds would reopen,” Jack Peltz, Professor of Psychology at SUNY Brockport, said. “As a parent, I certainly have no idea how awful of a situation they must be going through. Anything that is going to disrupt this process of working through the loss of their daughter is going to take time.”  

The outrage from social media only grew from this tragedy. Many believed that Lifetime only viewed Petito’s recent death as a profit by ignoring the very real and raw grief from the families involved. The ethics of Lifetime as a film production company are being called into question, especially with how recent the events were. Film director and Professor of Journalism, Broadcast and Public Relations at SUNY Brockport Carvin Eison is just one of the many who is questioning the ethics of Lifetime. 

“A story of an ethical breach so deep that it’s almost impossible to give it the full volume that it deserves. As a film maker, I think that we are still bound by ethics and by decent and human responsibility,” Eison said. “Did they get the permission of the family? Does the family benefit in any way from the sale and/or distribution of the film? Should they have made it in the first place with wounds so close to the surface?”  

There are many questions that go unanswered with this story. Most of the cast members defended the film in saying that this was an opportunity to fill a role in a film that would be a reminder to those about domestic violence. But at what cost?  Films such as “The Gabby Petito Story” and the recent “Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffery Dahmer Story” are continuing to receive massive amounts of backlash for allegedly retelling a story at the costs of reopening old wounds of the survivors. Are these companies actually trying to make a point, or are they only looking at these murder mysteries from a profit standpoint? 

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Graciella Dressler, Managing Editor
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