‘The Act’: Hulu’s controversial hit
Nina Bartlomiejczyk—Copy Editor
Upon accessing the Hulu site, an automatic preview video began, showing a bald and bespectacled Gypsy Rose Blanchard, portrayed by Joey King, smiling broadly as she is wheeled through a hospital hall. Pushing her along in the wheelchair was her frizzy haired and conservatively dressed mother, Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard, portrayed by Patricia Arquette. However, this mother-daughter duo’s life was far from as lighthearted as they may want you—and everyone else who was shocked to find out about the truth behind their lifelong con, which ended in murder—to think.
“The Act,” a Hulu exclusive series based on real-life events, follows the infamous and shocking story of Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard through the events leading to Dee Dee’s murder in Green County, Mo. in 2015.
The Blanchard case is just about the most well-known case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a condition characterized by a situation in which someone creates the appearance of health problems in another without clear motive.
In the Blanchard’s case, Dee Dee asserted that her daughter had a slew of health problems, ranging from severe allergies and sleep apnea to muscular dystrophy and cancer.
Dee Dee fooled everyone, including doctors, and her daughter was subsequently confined to a wheelchair, consumed food with a feeding tube, and underwent numerous surgeries. All were unnecessary and forced upon her along with extreme emotional, and sometimes physical abuse.
Gypsy Rose entered a secret online relationship with a man named Nicholas Godejohn from Big Bend, Wis., portrayed in the series by Calum Worthy. After Blanchard made several futile attempts at rebelling against her suffocating mother, she asked Godejohn to murder Dee Dee, which he agreed to. Godejohn then traveled to Missouri and proceeded to murder her mother, and he and Gypsy Rose escaped back to Wisconsin. The two were arrested after a series of incriminating Facebook posts and are currently incarcerated.
The series has just reached its culmination at its eighth and final episode. Fans are buzzing about the outrageous events dramatized in the show and debating how well “The Act” translates the real-life events onto the screen.
Critics, including the Blanchard family, dislike how the series makes it seem Gypsy Rose had a choice to leave her mother at one point. Though she attempted escape, but was always found and faced unspeakable consequences afterwards, there was no point at which she had the choice to leave her mother’s tyranny freely.
There are other inaccuracies abundant in the series that seem to minimize Dee Dee’s abusive behaviors.
In one scene she ties her daughter to the bed with a ribbon and is met with resistance; in real life, the family states, she would have never done so and Gypsy Rose was instead chained to the bed. Gypsy Rose, who is now serving a ten year prison sentence and says being incarcerated is the most free she has ever felt, has stated in many interviews that she would never have hurt her mother personally and was deathly afraid of her.
More inaccuracies include a fictionalized phone call from Godejohn to Dee Dee revealing his relationship with her daughter and Dee Dee’s jail time due to check fraud being lengthened in the series from one night to six months. Their relationship itself was also skewed in the series, and according to the family and friends, Dee Dee was normally seen as ‘the favorite’ out of her mother’s children.
The Blanchard family plans to sue the creators of “The Act” because of the inaccuracies in the show as well as their unrightful use of the story and depiction of the Blanchard’s image. Gypsy Rose claims she was never asked for permission or consulted about the show whatsoever.
The family has been planning a rival series, “By Proxy,” and even the Godejohn family is involved, as they too are unpleased with the Hulu series. Godejohn himself was recently interviewed while serving his life sentence, and said he dislikes the series for the same reasons as the others, but also feels he never got to share his side of the story and how he was manipulated by Gypsy Rose.
Godejohn feels that he was depicted as the villain, and he only ever meant to help get Gypsy Rose out of her abusive situation and into a better one with him. He and his family state that he is highly “suggestible” and susceptible to persuasion. Gyspy Rose may have used this to her advantage to free herself from her situation. However, the Blanchard family argues the opposite, and feels Godejohn was humanized too much, and was more in control of the situation than depicted in the series, which portrayed him as a well-meaning, bumbling fool.
Despite the overarching problem of inaccuracy, the series is absolutely captivating and beautifully filmed. An exact copy of the Blanchard house made by Habitat for Humanity was constructed for the series, and certain scenes are taken directly from home video shown in the 2017 documentary based around the case, “Mommy Dead and Dearest.” The series specifically does an exceptional job at depicting Gypsy Rose and Godejohn’s internet BDSM pseudosex, in which Godejohn takes on an evil persona he calls “Victor.” The lighting switches to a dark red, creating a sort of dreamscape with the couple completely alone in a sadomasochistic fantasy, and the atmosphere feels just as uncomfortable and haunting as it should.
The actors in the series play their characters with an eerie accuracy. Each character has a very distinctive speech pattern, such as Gypsy Rose’s high pitched, babyish voice, and the actors evidently did their homework on perfecting them. The Hulu series, while ripe for shock value entertainment, is a well-made piece of media based on a magnetizingly bizarre and disturbing case—but not a case file or a documentary. It is nearly impossible to develop a full understanding of the case from the series, and new viewers’ eyes may be clouded by the enrapturing qualities of the dramatization and fail to see this. More information on the facts, though presented in a manner less entertaining in nature, can be found in the documentary, which explains the family history, the Blanchard’s life and the court case.
Watching the series after watching the documentary or reading about the case feels akin to reading a book before watching the movie adaptation, and nitpicking every scene. Though the acting and production value shines, the series is brimming with downfalls in its inaccuracies and failure to consider the real people involved. While it is acceptable to take creative liberties with an author’s permission, this is not a fictional narrative. The dramatization works to deceive viewers in regards to the real story, and in the process hurts the people closely involved.