What Jennifer Did | Netflix crime documentary appears to use AI to fake images of its subject

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Netflix true crime documentary What Jennifer Did, about a murder case in 2010, appears to use AI to generate images of the convicted killer at its centre.

An otherwise typical Netflix true crime documentary has sparked controversy over its alleged use of AI to generate images of its subject.

Released on the 10th April, What Jennifer Did relates the grim case of Jennifer Pan, a Canadian woman who was eventually convicted for her involvement in the deaths of her parents. Directed by Jenny Popplewell, the documentary uses interviews with the law enforcers involved in the case, news footage, and clips of Pan herself being interrogated by officers.

More perplexingly, though, the 86-minute film also appears to have used AI to fake images of a younger, happier Pan before the crimes took place. These images are used prominently in both the trailer (which you can see below) and the documentary itself: in one, in which Pan is shown wearing a red dress, her hands are mangled almost beyond recognition. There are also other strange artefacts around the eyes and in background details, such as wonky framed photos seemingly floating in mid-air.

In another image – actually used in the thumbnail to promote the film – Pan’s teeth are odd lengths, while the subject’s hair appears to vanish into her right cheek.

We watched the documentary for ourselves last night, and noticed that the images are used more than once – they appear on a mobile phone which is supposed to belong to Pan in a reconstructed scene, and physical versions of the photographs are shown on a shelf.

The possible use of AI in the film was first noticed by Futurism, and as the outlet points out, use of the technology in this context sets a worrying precedent. Using AI-derived images to promote a movie, or to save money on an indie horror are one thing; to tuck them away in a true-life documentary about a real person is something else entirely. At best, it’s ethically murky; from a viewer’s standpoint, we were left scrutinising the rest of the documentary and wondering what was real and what wasn’t.

We’ve contacted Netflix for comment on the matter. If we get a reply, we’ll update this post accordingly.

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