Wild Butterfly: New Australian film reveals Claire Murray’s devastating story

NDRI’s Professor Steve Allsop has been involved in a new documentary film about the life of Claire Murray. A decade ago, Claire was portrayed as someone who recklessly squandered her second chance at life by using drugs. Here, Steve tells us why the film has been made, and what it hopes to achieve.

A decade ago, many of us saw the distressing media asking whether Claire Murray deserved a second liver transplant. It is doubtful that this question would have received much attention but for the fact that Claire had experienced significant drug problems. Mainstream and social media provided a devastating illustration of the stigma and discrimination that frequently accompany discussion about people affected by drug use – on this occasion focused, with extraordinary pain, on Claire, her family and her friends.

For many of us, stigma and discrimination are critical factors that limit the effectiveness of prevention, dissuade people from seeking help when they need it, and contribute to poor quality care when they do look for help - simply because they are perceived to have brought it upon themselves. I remember Dr James Bell once commented (regarding the extent of training needed for authorization to prescribe certain pharmacotherapies) that “It’s not rocket science – it’s just that they don’t like them very much.” He neatly summed up how stigma and discrimination can get in the way of quality care.

In relation to Claire Murray, one major media commentator gave illustration of this, referring to Claire as, perhaps, being an ideal patient for a liver transplant, but there was one thing we needed to know – she was a “junkie”. His view highlights why addressing stigma and discrimination must be a central part of our response to drug related issues. Nearly a decade after Claire’s death, Wild Butterfly, an extraordinary and disturbing film, explores these issues and how they directly affected Claire and her family. Claire’s dying wish was that her story makes a difference.

After Claire’s death, I was approached by her father, Michael, who is a friend of mine. Michael and Val (Claire’s mother) wanted to honour Claire’s wish that her story be told. Initially somewhat reluctant, because of the risk of bringing further distress to the family, I identified another friend and colleague who had a clinical background, familiarity with the drug field, and a history of directing successful documentary films. A team was assembled, led by writer/director/producer and therapist Shireen Narayanan, for Inavision Films, along with Celia Tait, executive producer for Artemis Media. This team worked closely with the Murray family over 9 years to honour Claire’s wish.

Claire’s story began with her rape when she was 12 years old. This trauma, and apparent system failures, contributed to her drug use and related problems. While not everyone who uses drugs has such a history, many do experience the stigma and discrimination directed at Claire. I worked with the team, along with other experts, to provide academic input and the inclusion of evidence-based debate. The aim was to ensure the impact of the film is true to Claire’s wish to improve our prevention and treatment efforts - and to respond to people such as Claire not as a “junkie”, but as a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a friend.

This film demonstrates the need for us to radically alter our thinking and our responses to people affected by trauma and alcohol and other drug problems. A key focus is that people affected by drug use should be treated in the health system with the same dignity and compassion as anyone else experiencing health challenges; after all, it could be anyone of us, or those we hold dear.

Among other things, the team intends to direct efforts into media coverage of drug use and trauma. Emeritus Professor of Journalism, Gail Phillips said Wild Butterfly highlights why media must understand trauma-informed care:

“The media made assumptions about Claire’s life that left no room for a complex back story,” Professor Phillips said.

“But human trauma should never be used as clickbait. Media has a significant role to play in creating understanding and breaking down stigma.”

Showings of Wild Butterfly have been arranged with many stakeholders, and others are planned as the film gets national release in February and March. If you are interested in arranging a screening you can do so through FANFORCE.

Posted on: 26 Feb 2020

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