Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that in the past couple of weeks, Netflix and Hulu released dueling documentaries about the now-infamous Fyre Festival, the most beautiful failure the internet has ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
Once intended to be a luxurious, exclusive music festival on a Bahamian island full of models and social media influencers, Fyre turned into the laughing stock of the internet when news of the event’s apocalyptic state broke as attendees arrived at the site.
The dinner that @fyrefestival promised us was catered by Steven Starr is literally bread, cheese, and salad with dressing. #fyrefestival pic.twitter.com/I8d0UlSNbd
— Tr3vor.sol (@TrevorDeHaas) April 28, 2017
The cheese sandwich heard ‘round the world.
If you’re reading this, though, I assume I don’t need to go into too much detail about the never-ending list of calamities that marked the event’s failure. (But if you want a refresher, head here for a full timeline, including background on Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, the two “business partners” who made the whole thing happen.)
Y’all want it to be me sooo bad it’s crazy… kinda sad!!! the crazy shit is I’m watching the docs in awe myself…
— Ja Rule (@jarule) January 20, 2019
Ja Rule’s response as he watched the documentaries…
I too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hood winked, lead astray!!!
— Ja Rule (@jarule) January 20, 2019
…and the conclusion he apparently reached at the end.
Before I started this blog, I polled my coworkers about which documentary they preferred (and made it clear that they were only to vote if they had watched both). Even though every digital publication out there has weighed in on the great cultural debate of which documentary is superior, I figure one more can’t hurt.
Here’s how we broke it all down.
Fyre Fraud (Hulu)
Directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, Hulu’s documentary immediately came under fire (heh) for allegedly paying McFarland, the villain and master-frauder behind the festival, $250,000 for an interview. Many critics immediately denounced the decision on ethical grounds—the man did, after all, scam thousands of people, including his own employees, for millions of dollars. (According to Netflix, McFarland was willing to do an interview for their documentary, but only if he was paid. Netflix turned him down.)
I agree that it absolutely sucks that McFarland was compensated to talk about his schemes. But I also get it. I hardly find it surprising that the filmmakers would do just about anything to interview the person at the center of their film. On what planet would they not want that?
Ethics aside, let’s talk about the film’s merits. Here, according to me and a few fellow Blasters, is what Hulu’s documentary did right:
- Pro: The film started from the beginning of McFarland’s so-called career, essentially painting a portrait of the type of individual that would allow something like Fyre to happen. Netflix, however, didn’t bring up McFarland’s past endeavors, including Magnises, a black-credit-card-slash-clubhouse for rich millennials, until much later. Had I not watched the Hulu documentary first, I would’ve been confused as to who this Billy McFarland was and how he came into (financial) power.
- Pro: The film included extensive insight from Oren Aks, a then-employee of Jerry Media (the agency offspring of fuckjerry) who was more or less in charge of promoting Fyre Festival on social media. Considering the fact that social media, particularly Instagram, was basically responsible for creating the event’s hype and credibility—if Kendall Jenner advertises it, it must be legit!—this was an invaluable perspective into the festival’s buildup. (Though the Netflix iteration was produced by Jerry Media, Aks’ former employer, the documentary thoroughly ignored him minus a few nameless appearances in some behind-the-scenes footage in the Bahamas.)
- Pro: In my opinion, this documentary was more critical of both the fiasco and McFarland in general. It also made it clear that parties besides McFarland himself—like Jerry Media—were complicit in the scam, especially since their inside knowledge of the event’s endless problems made it clear that the festival was not going to be what was advertised. (Here lies the crucial problem with Netflix’s documentary: Even though Jerry Media expressed plenty of criticism toward McFarland and his conspirators, can we really trust that they were properly critical of their own involvement?)
Moving on: let’s talk about documentary number two.
FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Netflix)
Although Netflix’s version of the events was directed by Chris Smith, he’ll likely never be the same of it; it’ll always be known as the documentary produced by Jerry Media, the problematic ethics of which we’ve already discussed.
Perhaps the best thing about Netflix’s documentary: It gave us MDAVID.
To the film’s credit, it doesn’t suffer at all from its lack of an interview with McFarland. It’s clear that the man almost always had a camera rolling during the development of the festival, so his personal commentary and point of view is never absent.
- Pro: Without a doubt, the Netflix’s film standout asset is its behind-the-scenes footage. From the days leading up to the festival when the full team gathered on the island, to McFarland’s video conference meeting with Fyre employees on the Monday after the disastrous event, Netflix beats Hulu by a mile in this area. In my opinion, the footage and audio of that post-failure team meeting is the documentary’s holy grail that is hard, if not impossible, to beat.
- Pro: The Netflix documentary featured interviews with a couple of non-influencer, non-celebrity festival attendees. Despite my initial desire to serenade them with a symphony of the world’s tiniest violins, it was interesting to hear what they had to say, especially since their breed of super-rich-yet-still-fairly-average-millennial was a foreign species to me, and I’m guessing, most viewers. (Hulu, in contrast, only interviewed a couple of big-name influencers such as Austin Mills and Alyssa Lynch, who didn’t actually buy tickets in order to attend.)
- Pro: The Netflix film included a great deal of interview footage with event producer Andy King, who emerged as a crucial player in the story (and as the chief executioner of some of McFarland’s craziest decisions). It’s safe to say that no one who watched the film will ever forget the horror of watching King’s account of the Evian water situation. His insight into the demands made of Fyre Festival employees was invaluable, if not disturbing. (This is the counterpart of Hulu’s Oren Aks situation: Both Aks and King were key players in the event, but they were each absent from one of the two films.)
Explain a time where you encountered a problem, and describe how you solved it.
Andy King: pic.twitter.com/tItvZKUIKv
— Hadley DeQuillettes (@hadley_riann) January 27, 2019
I’ll just leave this here.
The Crucial Missing Ingredient
Neither documentary paid enough attention to what I think is the most disgusting part of the whole Fyre debacle: the colonialist attitudes that lead individuals in our society to do things like throw a luxurious music festival on an island where a great deal of people live in poverty.
Yes, both documentaries dedicated plenty of screen time to detailing the many ways in which Bahamian locals were screwed over by McFarland and co—not receiving pay for the strenuous work they did, falling into debt themselves in the case of restaurant owner Maryann Rolle, whose GoFundMe you can donate to here—but I wanted more. The word “colonialism” was never uttered, and it should have been.
A GoFundMe campaign setup for Maryann Rolle, the restaurant owner who lost her life savings when Fyre Festival organizers failed to pay her, has exceeded its $120,000 USD goal. https://t.co/UcLbG3Xk96
— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) January 21, 2019
The Fyre Festival paradigm reflects just about every colonialist endeavor throughout the world’s history: Rich, powerful people invade land occupied by a less advantaged society, rich, powerful people exploit and cast harm upon members of that society, rich, powerful people bask in their glory while the land’s original inhabitants suffer. Sound familiar? Yeah.
So which streaming service is going to give us the documentary about how race and colonialism factored into Fyre Festival? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/0DleFD95GZ
— AM2DM by BuzzFeed News (@AM2DM) January 22, 2019
Sure, the festival was originally intended to last only two weekends, but McFarland made it clear that his original goal was to make the festival an annual occurrence. If all had gone according to plan, that would have most likely involved a permanent base camp set up on the island. Sounds like a very 21st century version of invasion to me.
The majority of my coworkers said that they preferred Netflix’s documentary, mainly out of disgust that Hulu paid McFarland. Most people noted, though, that both films have clear merits. Hulu’s iteration is a bit more interesting for marketers; Netflix’s version provides better insider access. We could go back and forth all day on the pros and cons.
So the verdict, of course, is that there is no verdict. How could there be? Despite the overlap, each documentary has something to offer, and honestly, they’re both funnier than any other comedy you could watch on either platform. Most importantly, they are best watched together. If you only watch one, you’re missing out on a crucial component of your understanding of the most hilariously absurd manifestation of “millennial nonsense” that we’ve ever witnessed.
Here’s the thing about getting two Fyre Festival documentaries: Now I want six more.