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Why the Netflix true crime doc ‘What Jennifer Did’ is at the center of an AI controversy

It was the top movie on Netflix. Now "What Jennifer Did" is in the midst of controversy.
What Jennifer Did
/ Source: TODAY

A new Netflix true crime documentary, “What Jennifer Did,” recounts the chilling story of a young Canadian woman, Jennifer Pan, who allegedly plotted to kill both her parents in a murder-for-hire scheme in 2010.

Her mother, Bich Ha Pan, was killed and her father, Huei Hann Pan, was critically injured in a home attack, which was allegedly orchestrated by Pan and three co-conspirators.

In 2014, at the age of 28, Pan was found guilty of both first-degree murder of her mother and the attempted murder of her father. In January 2015, she was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 25 years, according to court records obtained by

Pan’s three alleged co-conspirators — Lenford Crawford, David Mylvaganam and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Daniel Wong — were also found guilty on both charges.

Pan and the three men appealed the decision and in May 2023, and the Court of Appeal for Ontario ordered new trials for the first-degree murder convictions. Appeals by both prosecutors and the defendants have now escalated the case to the Canadian Supreme Court.

Stephanie DiGiuseppe, Pan’s lawyer, tells, “She maintains her innocence and she hopes to one day be exonerated through this long process.”

Netflix seems to present “What Jennifer Did” as a true-to-life documentary, but some viewers are questioning its presentation of facts.

More specifically, some people believe two supposedly archival images shown in the move were manipulated by AI. TODAY has reached out to both Netflix and director Jenny Popplewell for comment.

Read on to learn more about the controversy surrounding the alleged use of digitally altered images in “What Jennifer Did.”

What is the AI controversy surrounding “What Jennifer Did” about?

After “What Jennifer Did” debuted on Netflix on April 10, some viewers zeroed in on two images shown in the film.

The images in question appear at about the 28-minute mark in the documentary. One of the photos portrays Pan flashing double peace signs and a wide grin, while the other photo is a close-up picture of Pan smiling. 

Based on the way these pictures are presented in the documentary, filmmakers seem to be suggesting that these are real, archival snapshots of Pan from her younger days. 

The images flash on the screen during a voiceover from one of Pan’s old school friends, who describes Pan as “bubbly, happy, confident, and very genuine.”

The close-up photo of Pan smiling also features in Netflix’s promotional poster for the film. 

What Jennifer Did
Tangermann zoomed in on Pan's hands and the placement of toiletries on the shelf.Netflix

A few days after the film’s release, Victor Tangermann, a writer for the tech publication Futurism argued that these two images of Pan “have all the hallmarks of an AI-generated photo.”

Tangermann's article points to Pan’s apparently “mangled hands and fingers” in the image of her flashing double peace signs. Artificial intelligence programs are notorious for struggling to create accurate images of human hands.

Tangermann calls attention to other details in the background of the peace sign photo, including what appears to be a box of toiletries perched at a physics-defying angle on the shelf behind Pan.

In the close-up photo of Pan smiling, Futurism also points out that one of her front teeth appears dramatically elongated. Also, the shape of her teeth in this photo does not match the straight teeth shown in the peace sign photo. 

What Jennifer Did
Pan's teeth appear to be misaligned but aren't in other photos.Netflix

Accusations that these images had been digitally altered quickly went viral, and many people have been slamming Netflix, and the film’s creators, for allegedly including AI-generated images in a documentary.

What Jennifer Did
Pan's hands make the same peace sign gesture.Netflix

Why are people so upset about the alleged image manipulation?

Many on social media say this alleged use of AI-generated images undermines the credibility of the entire documentary and erodes trust in true crime documentaries in general. 

“After learning that netflix used AI in #WhatJenniferDid, i don’t trust their documentaries AT ALL,” one person shared on the X platform.

“Instantly compromises my trust in the narrative so not watching that,” another user wrote on X. “If AI art is used for promo or content, I’m just not consuming it. AI is theft. Hire a damn artist. Don’t use AI to manipulate.”

“WHAT JENNIFER DID doesn’t disclose its AI images, which is unforgivable, especially in the true-crime space. If we can’t trust Jennifer, the cops, or the documentarian, then what’s left?” another X user posted.

Another X user seemed to argue that the use of manipulated images violates one of the core aims of documentaries: to accurately document the truth.

“Finding and using archival photos/footage is one of the most important and hardest things to do when making a documentary,” the user wrote. “What Jennifer Did seemingly created or altered images using AI, which creates a false historical record.”

Another social media user criticized Netflix for allegedly sharing manipulated photos of Pan, considering she is still involved in active legal proceedings.

“Jennifer is still alive and awaiting retrial btw. @netflix is spreading lies to influence public opinion on an ongoing court case,” the X user wrote. “This is why AI images need heavy regulations.”

Pan and her three co-conspirators are currently awaiting a new trial in Canada for their first-degree murder convictions. Pan’s attempted murder conviction still stands, according to the CBC.

Pan’s lawyer, Stephanie DiGiuseppe, says her client maintains her innocence.

“I can say that the Netflix documentary paints one side of the story and that Jennifer (Pan) is very much hoping to have an opportunity to respond to that narrative — which is really the police’s side of the story — at her upcoming trial,” DiGiuseppe told earlier this month. 

Have Netflix or the film’s creators commented on the controversy?

Jeremy Grimaldi, the executive producer of “What Jennifer Did,” has denied that the photos of Pan shown in the movie were manipulated by AI. 

“Any filmmaker will use different tools, like Photoshop, in films,” he told the Toronto Star earlier this month. “The photos of Jennifer are real photos of her. The foreground is exactly her. The background has been anonymized to protect the source.” 

Netflix has not commented on the controversy. Director Jenny Popplewell has also not responded to allegations that “What Jennifer Did” contains AI-generated images.

Netflix has not commented on the controversy. Jenny Popplewell has also not responded to allegations that “What Jennifer Did” contains AI-generated images.