The new Lifetime movie, Oscar Pistorius: Blade Runner Killer, airing November 11th, has been something of a controversial project from the beginning.
It's drawn the disapproval of Pistorius' family, who object to their namesake being branded a "killer" and other depictions in the movie, centered on the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of February 14, 2013. Steenkamp's family and friends are said to be none too pleased with the production as well.
It's understandable that this is a sore subject for some, as legal proceedings are still ongoing and the jarring memory of the event remains relatively fresh. But it may be that the discomfort also stems from the film's attempt to answer some of the more difficult questions that linger: What was the nature of the relationship between the two South African celebrities? Was Pistorius really a killer just waiting to crack? And could this tragedy have been prevented somehow?
The story of Oscar Pistorius is well known: Born with a congenital absence of the fibula (calf bones) in both legs, he underwent the amputation of his legs below the knee at 11 months old, but soon was getting around just fine on a pair of prosthetics. After discovering track as a teenager, he became a Paralympic champion on his specially fitted carbon fiber blades, and in 2012 the "Blade Runner" made history as the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied runners at the London Olympics.
On Valentine's Day 2013, Pistorius' bright future came crashing down when he fired four bullets through the bathroom door of his Pretoria home, killing his girlfriend inside. Claiming he thought he was shooting at an intruder, he sobbed throughout the 2014 trial, which ended in a relatively light sentence for culpable homicide, before he was retried and found guilty of murder in 2016. The case continues to make its way through the courts, with prosecutors currently appealing for a longer sentence.
Steenkamp's story is lesser known: Raised on a farm outside of Cape Town, she earned a law degree before turning to a modeling career in her 20s. Her drive and beauty led to prominent print and commercial spots, and Steenkamp was in the process of making a strategic transition to television personality. She also had plans for using her celebrity to advocate for female victims of abuse and violence.
Pistorius met Steenkamp in November 2012 at a party for a mutual friend. The Olympic hero asked her to be his date for the South African Sports Awards that evening, and they reportedly saw each other every day over the following week.
The two had several things in common, from surface interests to a deeper connection. They both liked cars. Both went through the divorce of their parents, and were devoted church goers. Both had careers that required a devotion to optimal fitness. Most notably, Steenkamp had once fallen off a horse and sustained a serious injury that forced her to learn how to walk again, so she likely empathized with her boyfriend to a degree that few others could.
The true nature of their relationship is difficult to gauge, in part because they were together for only three months. Some friends described the two as being "in love" and "very happy together." Others dispute that account, saying that Steenkamp was hesitant to take things to the next level. Her ambivalence may have been rooted in accounts of the Blade Runner's darker side, with some recalling a jealous, controlling man prone to aggressive outbursts.
An examination of phone messages offered clues into the complexity of the situation. On January 27, 2013, following a fight, Steenkamp hammered out a long message that included such passages as "You make me happy 90% of the time and I think we are amazing together" and "I'm the girl who fell in love with u and wanted to tell u this weekend." The same message also included the ominous words, "I'm scared of you sometimes and how u snap at me and of how you will react to me."
Additionally, it surfaced that both had reached out to previous significant others shortly before everything suddenly and irreversibly changed that Valentine's Day.
So was a breakup coming? Was Pistorius unhappy that he couldn't have his way with an ambitious girlfriend and resentful of her ascendant career? Or were they two birds of a feather seeking to find their footing amid the simultaneously exciting and scary early stages of a relationship?
Tough questions. Let's see what the movie says.