A viral photo featuring a pitifully catered cheese sandwich and side salad made the rounds on Twitter in late April of 2017. However, this wasn’t a #cookingfail — this was Fyre Fest. Hulu Original documentary “Fyre Fraud” examines how the festival, a publicity event for talent booking app Fyre, became one of the most famous examples of fraud in recent memory.
Led by rapper Ja Rule and his partner Billy McFarland, Fyre Fest defrauded millions of dollars from event promoters, staff and attendees by being a horribly planned event. McFarland squeezed a year-and-a-half worth of prep work into film timelines. Netflix has also released a documentary on the subject, “FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.”
Directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, “Fyre Fraud” is just about the same quality of a documentary as Netflix’s. This is largely due to the documentary’s concentrated focus on McFarland’s role as the founder of Fyre Media and main contributor to the defrauding of millions of dollars.
This is not to say that McFarland should not be featured prominently in a documentary chronicling the ways in which he defrauded thousands of people out of millions of dollars. But it should be done tastefully, which is not how Furst and Nason handled his interview. McFarland, in a brick-walled warehouse with dramatic lighting, should not have been given a chance to shift the blame to his team and coworkers.
Realistically, they only needed him there to answer the question of why he would do this to begin with and how he could possibly believe he’d ever get away with it. Instead, they supply ample opportunity for him to change the meaning of simple answers to simple questions that could have otherwise been obtained in an unbiased manner from public records. For instance, questions about money and history of large purchases could have been obtained from tax records included in the court case.
Overall, the documentary reads as more a story of an admirable genius. In reality, McFarland is a con who ruined the lives of many Bahamians who worked on Fyre Fest construction and went unpaid as well as the careers of his business partners and employees.
Attendees are given screen time and “media experts” (read: journalists, web content creators, people who had a twitter at the time) are brought in to explain how easily millennials can be scammed on social media. But they’re almost forgettable in the face of watching McFarland “deny deny deny” and the absence of Ja Rule in all of this. He had just as big of a role in Fyre Fest as the industry contact who allowed Fyre Media easier access to celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid. These celebrities were key to selling Fyre Fest, billed as a luxury vacation where swimsuit models and musicians would just be walking around casually.
A story without dialogue from its main character is not completely told. In Netflix’s “FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” the absence of Billy McFarland is glaringly obvious. However, Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” focuses too closely on Billy McFarland and paints him as a unique mastermind, rather than a con man born at the right time and exposed to the right technology.