The Anthony Bourdain Documentary Staged Its Ending

"Roadrunner" was already facing ethical questions over its use of deepfake technology

Anthony Bourdain attends the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 9, 2017 in Los Angeles. A new documentary on Bourdain includes a controversial staged ending.
Anthony Bourdain at the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Roadrunner, director Morgan Neville’s recently released documentary about Anthony Bourdain, has been plagued by ethical concerns since he admitted to using deepfake technology to replicate the late host’s voice in some scenes. And it turns out the AI Bourdain voice isn’t the only thing about the film that’s fake.

As Slate reports, Neville has also admitted that the documentary’s emotional ending was also staged. The film ends with Bourdain’s friend David Choe defacing a mural of him to make a point about the way society romanticizes artists who died by suicide and cutting his hair for the first time since Bourdain’s death. But while these acts seem spontaneous in the film, it turns out they were done at Neville’s behest, and the mural Choe defaced was actually commissioned specifically for the film.

“When he floated that idea of defacing the mural, I loved it, but I didn’t do anything with that for six months,” Neville explained. “And then six months later, I said, ‘David, remember that thing you said, how would you feel about doing that?’ And he was like, ‘I’m game.’ He hadn’t cut his hair six months later, so I said, ‘Would you shave your head and deface the mural?’ And he’s like, ‘Sure, because Tony would have loved it.’ And, I will say, we actually commissioned the mural that we defaced.”

It’s understandable that Neville and his team would want to avoid the legal hassle that would come with defacing an actual, preexisting mural, but to present that scene as something it’s not — with no indication to viewers that what they’re watching is a dramatization — is misleading and raises even more ethical questions about a film that has already been the subject of debate.


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