Netflix is set to release a docudrama retelling the college admissions scandal next week. The film, entitled “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal,” will mix fact and fiction, re-enacting real life conversations between parents and mastermind William “Rick” Singer, played by Matthew Modine.
USC, among other schools such as Georgetown and UCLA, was implicated in the March 2019 scandal. Now, two years later, the documentary will bring the events back into the spotlight.
Students are eager to see the reenactment of the scandal that shook their beloved school.
“It’s actually kind of exciting to kind of get the inside scoop on what was going on, because a lot of people know about the scandal and they know the big picture, but they don’t know the specifics,” said Oswaldo Morales, a junior majoring in communication.
The scandal, which has been nicknamed “Operation Varsity Blues,” involved celebrities such as Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, both of whom spent time in prison for their involvement. Loughlin was recently released from her two month stay in the Federal Correctional Institution in Doublin, just east of downtown San Francisco.
The documentary’s release offers students the opportunity to rehash the scandal and learn more about the specific details. Morales, who was a freshman when the scandal broke, said he hopes the film takes USC out of the spotlight and shows how this was a nationwide problem.
“I just hope that also that kind of just shows how much it was, you know, an outside job, and USC shouldn’t be as associated with it as it is,” Moales said. “I hope that this documentary can kind of shed light on the fact that this was like a nationwide thing.”
Over the past few years, Netflix has capitalized on the production of dramatic documentaries, including “Don’t F*** With Cats” and “Athlete A.” Director Chris Smith, one of the creatives behind “FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and the quarantine favorite “Tiger King,” is directing this upcoming film.
The almost glamorized retelling seen in the trailer has brought to question the real intentions behind the film: Is its purpose to educate or to entertain?
Amanda Pope, a professor in SCA who specializes in documentary production, believes the trailer is “hyping up the drama” to get the audience excited about its release.
“I just saw the trailer of [the documentary] and there seem to be a number of re-enacted scenes,” Pope said. “The minute you bring in actors, you become very close to fiction, and you’re really pushing the emotional response of your audience.”
Pope emphasized that there are no “specific lines” between fact and fiction, but there are documentary filmmakers who earn different reputations within the industry regarding their ethical standards.
“If you have an important subject, the less you manipulate, the more powerful your story is,” Pope said.
Former USC student and Annenberg Media editor Austin Peay said it’s “a Netflix thing to do” to capitalize on any recent pop culture event with dramatic reenactments.
Peay was very involved in Annenberg Media’s coverage of the scandal, working with the inaugural class of the Beacon Project that was founded in 2019. He read the FBI transcripts that are reenacted in the documentary, however, he thinks that playing the original audio would have been just as effective.
“It’s two years since the event. I know there’s like a few people who are still very passionate about Operation Varsity Blues, but like with most things, I think most of the community at USC has kind of moved on,” Peay said.
The documentary will be released on Netflix March 17.
The USC school administration declined to comment on the upcoming documentary release, but directed attention to their initial statement from the school made in 2019.
Annenberg Media reached out to Netflix for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.