When I first heard about the botched Fyre Festival via Twitter in 2017, I laughed along with pretty much everyone else. Rich people were conned for their outlandish rich behavior, and the pictures of the cheese sandwiches were hilarious. However, after watching both Netflix’s and Hulu’s documentaries that were released about two weeks ago, all I can do is feel horrible for the local Bahamian workers who were exploited during the process of creating this awful festival. It’s no longer funny to me.
Each platform approached the Fyre Festival from different angles, which may be why Hulu felt comfortable releasing its documentary around the same time as Netflix did. Netflix told the story of the development and failure of the festival by interviewing a variety of people who were directly involved, including the various marketing staff, the man responsible for booking the music acts, the restaurant owner, the local connection named JR, etc. Their stories paint a very concrete picture of Billy McFarland, the Fyre Festival founder, without his ever being interviewed. The tone of the documentary is more dramatic, and it labels McFarland as the villain and everyone else as victims. It also breaks down the process of planning the festival by people giving the exact instructions they got from McFarland to complete various tasks such as designing luxury villas or getting unauthorized water through customs.
Hulu’s documentary, on the other hand, puts more emphasis on interviews with journalists, McFarland’s girlfriend and McFarland himself, even though it does include some of the same faces from the Netflix version. Although Hulu does give McFarland a chance to defend himself, the interview doesn’t make you feel sorry for him, and the interviewers are pretty blunt. There’s also the added layer of him not being open about his actions because of his tendency to lie and because of the ongoing criminal proceedings and the interviewer calls him out on that. This version gives you the financial side of the Fyre Festival and it goes into more detail about the aftermath of the festival, including McFarland’s indictment, his next attempted con and the class action lawsuit. Another interesting factor in comparison to Netflix is the tone was much less serious in Hulu’s version. People laughed during interviews like the whole situation was still comical, which was interesting compared to the somber story of the exploited restaurant owner told in the Netflix version. Another factor that took away from the seriousness of the issue was the random clips from TV shows and movies that were edited over interviews like it was a YouTube video (like when you reference something and then you insert a clip), and the fact that all of the legal documents were read in a robotic, computerized voice. Those two things were in poor taste and didn’t add anything to the documentary. I feel that I learned more from Hulu’s documentary, but I preferred the production of Netflix’s documentary more.My takeaways:
One theme that comes through after watching both documentaries is exploitation. It seems very clear to me that McFarland exploited particular people because he thought he could get away with it. He was strategic in using those local Bahamians as his main labor force and he may have had plans to con them from the beginning because he knew that they didn’t have the resources to fight back with legal action. While two of the actual festival attendees sued Billy McFarland and were awarded $5 million dollars, the Bahamians were able to do no such thing. They worked extremely long shifts for nothing when they could’ve been doing something else and getting paid. He also put the local guy JR, a sort of liaison between the Fyre Festival employees and the Bahamians, in a tough position when he skipped town without paying the workers and because JR was left to face the anger of the unpaid people. On a more positive note, the GoFundMe set up by the restaurant owner in order to recover after paying her staff out of her personal savings has exceeded the original goal and that restored a little bit of my faith in humanity. Maybe that extra money could go to the other workers.
From both documentaries, you learn that McFarland has been sentenced to six years in prison with a forfeiture of approximately $26 million. Now I’m no legal expert, but after looking up what a forfeiture is and what it entails, it seems like that money often turns into revenue for state law enforcement agencies. I think that instead of it being revenue for agencies that probably don’t need it, it should be distributed to anyone who worked on the Fyre Festival that didn’t get paid, starting with the Bahamians. I don’t know if that’s legally possible without them directly suing him, but in a ideal world that could happen. Another question that some people have is whether six years in prison is enough for what McFarland did. I think that it’s not based on the fact that he did not show any remorse for the situation in the aftermath of the festival. He was still running another con (NYC VIP) while he was out on bail by using another guy as the face of it and it was also mentioned that he was thinking about creating another Fyre Festival in the Hulu documentary. You could say that maybe it hadn’t hit him yet that he was going to prison, but to me it seems like he just doesn’t care that he ruined people’s lives.
Lastly, as I was watching, I thought about the extent to which the Fyre employees and Ja Rule are complicit in these crimes. Ja Rule says he is the cofounder of the festival, but at the same time McFarland says he was making all of the decisions in his interview. However, in the documentaries, you see that Ja Rule is in the Bahamas off and on which was probably enough to see the festival going downhill and cancel it. As for the people like Fuck Jerry Media and the music organizers and logistics people who were brought in, why did they agree to do this within six months if they knew it wouldn’t work? Why didn’t they just decline the job? Fuck Jerry especially painted themselves as victims who were manipulated by McFarland even though they marketed this disaster to the very end and silenced people’s critiques and questions on social media. They could’ve possibly pushed back and said that as a marketing company, “we don’t do that.” We will soon find out to what extent the legal system thinks the Fyre Festival organizers are responsible for what happened because Fuck Jerry Media and Ja Rule were both named in the Geragos & Geragos class action lawsuit against the festival.
All in all, I think people will learn something from the Fyre Festival. Maybe it’s don’t go to something the first time it’s offered, don’t ignore red flags or don’t trust celebrities. Maybe they won’t learn anything and history will repeat itself sometime in the future. Hopefully those local Bahamians will get justice but if nothing else, at least both Ja Rule and Billy McFarland are banned from the Bahamas as they should be.