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The Ghislaine Maxwell Documentary Examines the Making of a Female Sex Predator

"Epstein's Shadow" looks at the socialite who helped lure young women into sex work. Nina Burleigh, an executive producer, fills us in on the surprising revelations.

Has there been any other woman in modern history who has fallen farther than Ghislaine Maxwell? Glamorous and vivacious, she was once one of the beautiful people—the daughter of a billionaire, friend to royals, movie stars, business icons. Now, she is in jail, completely reviled and despised for being a sexual predator; a woman who did the dirty work of finding young victims for a pedophile.

“Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell,” a new documentary on the Peacock Channel, lays out the incredibly steep trajectory of the 59-year-old Brit’s fall, and tries to understand the mind of this woman who is fascinating for all the wrong reasons—for her treachery, her monstrosity, her self-inflicted wounds.

We picked up some hints that maybe she was abused as a child.

Just as she groomed young women to serve the carnal desires of the notorious Jeffrey Epstein and an array of powerful men, she seems to have been groomed to go to any lengths to please narcissistic, shadowy men. She served as a facilitator and hostess for her father, Robert Maxwell—who was likely a spy, but certainly a dishonest businessman—and then after his death, for Epstein, the disgraced financier.

The three-part documentary is riveting, but after watching it, you will certainly crave something wholesome, like a glass of cold milk, as an antidote for the sleaze of Maxwell’s world. And you’ll probably have some questions. Fortunately, Nina Burleigh, a frequent NextTribe contributor, was an executive producer on the documentary, so we contacted her looking for answers.

Read More: All Hail Julie K. Brown, the Reporter Who Brought Jeffrey Epstein to Justice

What was your role in the documentary?

Executive Producer Nina Burleigh

I signed on as an executive producer, invited in for my journalistic skills. I helped find sources, interviewed them on and off camera and worked with the team to shape the story. The director and I spent many late nights texting each other about developments and theories. All this was happening during lockdowns of varying severity. It was very exciting and while also challenging; I rather miss those days.

What kind of reporting had you done on Ghislaine Maxwell before working on the documentary?

I wrote at least two stories for Rolling Stone. The first was published a few days after the August 2019 unsealing of 2,000 pages of depositions and other documents in a defamation case one of the trafficked women had filed against her. The documents contained extremely damaging details and allegations from a wide variety of people—not just girls but butlers, chauffeurs, pilots, and also contained a few new boldface male names. I scoured the pages at speed from an apartment in Norway where I was teaching, just completely absorbed and fascinated. That’s how I first got involved with/became obsessed with the story of Ghislaine Maxwell. Epstein died less than 24 hours after the document dump, and I believe the events are related. I did a later Rolling Stone story about the case, interviewing one of the victim’s lawyer.

The documentary was in the works before Maxwell was arrested; what are the origins of the project? 

Our director Barbara Shearer got interested in Ghislaine all the way back in 2016. She proposed the series to Blue Ant Media, and that company brought me on in summer 2020. We pitched a lot of big streaming companies (all pitches on Zoom) during the early summer, and when Ghislaine was arrested, Peacock and Sky teamed up and bought it right away.

Women can be psychopathic and lie and behave just as badly as men.

Is it significant that “Epstein’s Shadow” was produced by a team of mostly women?

Yes, I believe so. There was a lot of camaraderie, first of all, and not too many power games. We spent hours on the phone hashing out scenarios of what this woman’s role was, and how she got where she is. I think maybe as women, we were able to understand her better. I certainly felt that my voice and opinions were heard and considered, and that’s not always the case with big swinging dicks in the room.

Why do you think a woman would betray her own gender by recruiting and grooming young women in this way?

Ahh, that is the big question, right? I would start with correcting the premise that women are naturally “sisters.” Women compete and women can be psychopathic and lie and behave just as badly as men. We picked up some hints that maybe she was abused as a child, certainly her upbringing as Robert Maxwell’s daughter warped her. A lifetime lived in touch with enormous power, money, access, the world of borderless wealth—all that set her up to perhaps look at other human beings in terms of hierarchy, too.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Ghislaine Maxwell?

The most surprising thing was watching the videos of her giving speeches about her oceans rescue project—Terra Mar—which was, in essence, a reputation rehabilitation effort launched after Epstein went to jail the first time. For someone with a social reputation as charming and witty, she was shockingly inarticulate, almost checked out. We use some of the footage in the doc, and it’s worth watching. Very telling.

It’s reasonable to assume that she might unload what she knows to the Feds.

What kind of bombshells do you think will be revealed at her trial in November? Are powerful men nervous right now? 

Absolutely! The unsealed documents are still filled with black slashes—court redactions of names. We know a lot of super-famous or moneyed “John Does” have been fighting for years in court to keep their names out of the public eye with regards to this woman. I don’t know if they will lose, and be exposed, in the trial. I doubt it, but surprises remain. Maxwell desperately wants to get out of jail; she has made at least four bail attempts, upping the financial offers each time. So, it’s reasonable to assume that she might at some point, unload what she knows to the Feds, as part of a deal.

Do you think she’ll ultimately be found guilty or will her money and position somehow get her off?

The Federal prosecutors are going to do what they can to get her, because they failed so badly with Epstein, first in Florida, letting him off to return to his private jet and trafficked teens, and second, letting him die in one of the greatest fortresses under their control. But she has pled not guilty, and the cases involve very old incidents, and only, I think, three of the many, many girls with whom she is alleged to have interacted. So, the narrowness of the case against her, and the time passed, is a big challenge for the feds.

Read More: My Therapist Sexually Abused Me—Here’s Why I Waited So Long to Speak Up

By Jeannie Ralston


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