Director Amber Sealey, who helmed the new film about Ted Bundy, “No Man of God,” has responded to Joe Berlinger’s email accusing her of attempting to discredit his two films centered on the serial killer to gain attention for her release.
“It felt like he was trying to silence me, to let me know that his films and his work were more important than mine could ever be and it felt a little mansplain-y,” Sealey wrote to Variety in an email.
Berlinger directed the docuseries “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and the film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” starring Zac Efron, both of which debuted on Netflix. Sealey’s film, “No Man of God,” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday in advance of its theatrical debut this summer.
In an email to Sealey obtained by Variety, Berlinger wrote: “Forgive the unsolicited advice, but after reading some of your interviews about your Bundy movie, I feel compelled to tell you that tearing down my work to promote yours is a slippery slope and intellectually dishonest and deeply offensive. How did my film glorify Bundy? Do you know anything about me and my 30 years focusing on criminal justice issues in my work, from wrongful conviction to victim advocacy.”
Though it is unclear which interview Berlinger is referring to, Sealey has made comments in the past about how other movies about Bundy have tended to glorify him.
“I don’t personally believe that any of the movies that have already been made up until now have really shown the real Bundy,” Sealey told Refinery29. “They always glorify him. They make him out to be a male model — so smart, so charismatic, a master of disguise. I don’t see that. When I look at him and I watch interviews and I listen to the tapes, I see a deeply insecure, needy — almost like an incel — kind of guy who just wants accolades and wants people to tell him how great he is.”
In her email to Variety, Sealey claims that she has not mentioned Berlinger’s specific films in any interviews.
“I have never mentioned his name or his films in any of my press interviews so it was dishonest of him to state that I was trashing his films,” Sealey says. “His name came up one time in a podcast that I don’t even believe he’s heard, but never in the trades or press interviews did I say anything about his films specifically. There have been 20 films made about Bundy and it was surprising to me that he took my comments so personally.”
Sealey shared Berlinger’s email on her Instagram account on Friday, inviting him to come to “No Man of God’s” Tribeca premiere.
“We have an extra ticket for you to the #NoManOfGod premiere tonight if you’d like to see the movie for yourself and we can discuss more in person openly?” she wrote. “Cuz this felt like you were just trying to make me feel shitty right before my screening. Have a great day. #femalefilmmakerfriday #bundyisdivisive.”
In regards to why she posted Berlinger’s message on her Instagram, Sealey said she felt that Berlinger was trying to “shame and silence” her.
“It felt like he wanted to let me know that he was big and important and he wanted to ‘educate’ me,” Sealey says. “I felt like this was a bigger conversation than just him and I, and I wanted to invite him to actually see my movie and then talk with me openly.”
She also took offense to Berlinger’s suggestion that her film about Bundy might be reviewed differently due to her gender.
“It felt like Joe was trying to tell me he owned the subject matter of Bundy, pointing out how esteemed he is and how his film was No. 1 on Netflix,” Sealey says.” It also felt like he was saying if my film was to be positively reviewed that would only be because I am a woman and could avoid, in his words, the ‘vitriol’ that his movie got in his reviews. I felt like his anger at the way his movie was received was being pointed at me, when I am just one person making a movie about the same subject matter that he has made a movie about.”
Sealey tells Variety that she considers herself a fan of Berlinger’s work, which includes the “Paradise Lost” trilogy, but believes it is important to remember that “this is a subjective business.”
“I have never ‘torn down’ Joe’s work, that is not how I classify any of the comments I have made, nor any other filmmaker who has made a film about Bundy,” Sealey says. “I simply have a different take on Bundy than he does and answered the question about what I thought was different about my Bundy film and why it deserved to be made when there have already been so many others. Is it not okay for me to like some films and not others? Aren’t we all allowed our differences of opinions?”
In response, Berlinger tells Variety that he stands by his original email. Read Berlinger’s full statement below.
“I stand by everything I said to Variety when they saw Amber’s Instagram post and decided to make a news item of it. If one reads the full original email, I think one will see it was a clearly a message about not taking down other people’s work to promote your own, not anything about her unique and necessary point of view in taking on this subject matter, which I am excited to see.
“The only thing I wish I had made more clear is that my discussion of my past work in the email was not about patting myself on the back, but rather in my three decades of nonfiction criminal justice filmmaking, I have spent considerable time with real victims and their families advocating both personally and filmically for them. Therefore, a fellow filmmaker dismissing my work as ‘glorification’ is deeply hurtful because victims are always front and center in all of the work that I have done in this space. I am surprised that she posted my private email and thus escalated this debate into a public attack, which suggests that she misses the irony that by making a private email public to gain attention by casting someone else in a negative light illustrates the very point I was privately making to her.
“It feels disingenuous to me for her to say she was not talking about my films, as anyone who reads the Refinery29 article and other interviews can see for themselves. As I said in my email to her, she does make a great point that a female point of view helming the Bundy story makes for a necessary and interesting evolution in the long history of telling this or any serial killer story — but taking it to the next level and invalidating the work of others to promote hers is what prompted the email. I am not sure how an email letting her know that her words were hurtful to me is an attempt to silence her… what control do I have over another filmmaker? As to the veiled references to misogyny, I will let my record of those who know and work with me, from to the number of women I have personally helped get into the DGA to the number of women show runners I hire, to speak for itself.
“To say I wanted to keep the email private because I am embarrassed by its contents is the opposite of the truth… to have made my comments publicly to her would have been self-promotional and indeed shaming. Shaming works both ways — it is Amber who published the email in an attempt to shame me. However, gender equality issues are indeed very sensitive and very important, so I appreciate seeing my words reflected back to me through that lens and I wish her the best with the film. As far as I am concerned, the lessons of Bundy cannot be repeated enough for a new generation.”