imagineNATIVE 2017: Indictment: The Crimes of Shelly Chartier
NBA star Chris Anderson claims that he had no idea that the aspiring model that he met online was 17 when he flew her out from California to spend the weekend with him. The even bigger surprise came when the pair realized that they had never in fact spoken to each other before meeting face to face. It turns out that they had both somehow been catfished by a mysterious third party, who had been orchestrating and directing their entire online flirtation.
The third party in question was Shelly Chartier, a 28 year-old living on a small Manitoba reserve. The details of the crimes of Shelly Chartier as recounted in this short 44-minute documentary, and in pretty much every article I’ve read about it, can be pretty hard to follow. What’s clear is that Chartier approached both parties with fake Facebook accounts in each other’s names, collected and passed on naked photos of them, and threatened (as Anderson) with violence and revenge porn.
I had never heard this story before but, according to the film, the media had a field day with this story. Chartier, branded “Manitoba’s Master Manipulator”, proved to be an easy target and was quickly dismissed as “crazy” or “sick”. The insults and the anger that fueled them are understandable in that she came close enough to ruining the lives of two strangers. Still, it’s hard not to wonder about Shelly’s side of the story.
We don’t get to Shelly until the second half of Indictment. The first 20 minutes is spent quickly, and sometimes clumsily, tries to bring the audience up to speed on the complicated facts of the case by interviewing various psychologists, journalists, sociologists, and lawyers. Once we finally meet Chartier and her loving husband Rob, the filmmakers spend most of the remaining 25 minutes with footage of the couple talking about how they met and how much they love each other. We also hear a lot about some of the tragedies she’d experienced in her youth.
The fact that Chartier was isolated and hurting is significant, but answers very few of my lingering questions about the motivations behind her unusual crimes. The filmmakers go on to discuss systemic racism towards First Nations in Canada, specifically the Residential School system and economic hardships in Chartier’s community. For those unfamiliar with the history of Residential Schools, it is absolutely worth learning about. But for those of us who know the story, it’s hard not to ask “Yeah, but what about nearly 100% of those affected by the same system who didn’t engage in Chartier’s unique brand of fraud?”
Indictment feels like a missed opportunity. It’s commitment to exploring the personal and social context that affected its subject is admirable, but it never seems to know the right questions to ask. It’s focus on easily googled history leaves little time for a much-needed discussion about the challenges that we face moving forward, especially as it pertains to the internet and cyber-bullying? Indictment succeeded at arousing my curiosity, but offers little in the way of satisfying answers.