As audiences have had their fill of OJ and JonBenet, the next logical step in 90s murder nostalgia is the story of Erik and Lyle Menendez, with Lifetime announcing a new project featuring Courtney Love (a Law & Order anthology is happening this fall, and ABC and HLN have aired specials). Kitty and Jose Menendez were murdered in 1989, but all of the trial action happened in the 90s, weirdly lumping it in with the other high profile cases of its time, even though they are in no way interconnected.
People of a certain age (like me!) know these sensational stories very well; the symbols (OJ’s Bronco, JonBenet’s pageant photos, Erik and Lyle’s downcast posture) are emblazoned into our collective memories, spurring on a generation of armchair detectives hooked on SVU reruns.
I recently watched ABC’s Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers – American Sons, American Murders and it certainly piqued my interest with new details. I knew that Erik and Lyle had alleged their father sexually abused them, but I didn’t realize that they testified about a looming rape spurring the murders. I didn’t know how detailed they were in their testimony.
Hindsight and shifts in cultural attitudes on sexual abuse are certainly at play here; their allegations were mostly met with callousness and no one took a second to consider that two grown men could possibly be suffering abuse from their parents. The dismissiveness, at the time, came down to the “if they are being abused, why didn’t they run away?” argument. Or “fight back” (that’s how boys are victim-blamed, it’s like the “short skirt” excuse).
I wonder if the Menendez brothers would have found more support if they were tried today. Would their intensity and awkwardness still be interpreted as a sign of guilt and arrogance, or would it be read as a signal of trauma? Would the Armani suits have meant that much? Who would they have hired as their defense attorney?
There’s a lot to explore here, which is why the announcement intrigues me. Courtney will be playing Kitty Menendez, and the project’s “focus will reveal the extreme abuse the brothers endured at their father’s hands, while their mother looked the other way.”
During the trial, Kitty was described by the defense as both callous to and sometimes part of the sexual abuse – particularly in the case of Lyle. Since the conviction, people have come out to confirm some abuse allegations (in various forms). Clearly, there was a lot of darkness in the Menendez home, and I think Courtney is a creative and spot-on casting choice. And the fact that she was cast first indicates that this project will center around her portrayal of Kitty and probably not the drawn out trials.
I’m also very much looking forward to the press Courtney will have to do, and her thoughts on the case after she’s done the research. She’s blunt and provocative and gives really, really great soundbites. (In 40 years, young women will be quoting Courtney on Instagram the same way Marilyn Monroe and Coco Chanel are quoted.) According to people close to them, Jose was a formidable man-- who are we casting? My early pick: Andy Garcia.
Attached - Courtney at an event in LA on the weekend.