*Update post available on Alice Sebold’s apology and publisher Simon & Schuster’s response*

The man accused of rape by best-selling author Alice Sebold had his conviction overturned by the New York Supreme Court this week due to missteps in the case decades earlier. The author tells the story of her 1981 rape as a Syracuse University student in the 1999 memoir Lucky that unnecessarily fixates on the race of her perpetrator.

As a young White woman raped by an individual she identifies as a Black man, Alice pinpoints other experiences with Black men that come off as cringeworthy today in light of the recent news.

Anthony Broadwater spent 16 years in prison for the rape and was released in 1999, the same year Lucky was released to critical acclaim. The memoir eventually led to the success of Alice’s most famous novel, The Lovely Bones published in 2002 by Little, Brown and Company, loosely based on her own experience about a teenage girl who is raped and killed by a predator in her neighborhood. The Lovely Bones was turned into a film in 2009 starring Saiorse Ronan and Susan Sarandon.

Lucky, available from Simon & Schuster’s Scribner imprint, was in the midst of becoming a film on Netflix. Screenwriter Timothy Mucciante was working on the project, according to multiple reports, when he realized the script wasn’t matching the book, especially during the court proceedings retold by Alice in the book. Timothy hired his own private investigator to look into the case. In an exclusive, Variety reports Lucky the film, which would’ve starred You actress Victoria Pedretti, was dropped after losing financing months ago.

Alice hasn’t commented publicly about the overturned conviction.

Constant emphasis on Black men

I knew the old men hadn’t raped me. I knew the tall black man in a green suit, sitting on a bus-station bench, hadn’t raped me. I was still afraid.

Lucky, Chapter Four

The book starts with detail of the rape: how she’s accosted and attacked by a stranger in a tunnel near campus, how she walks back to her dorm bloody and shaken, how she undergoes the post-assault medical examination. When she returns to her dorm, a friend’s boyfriend offers a hug. But she’s apprehensive. That’s when the boyfriend, who is Black, asks Alice if her assailant was Black. Alice confirms the assumption.

This exchange is problematic, reinforcing the stereotypes of criminals usually being Black. It says it’s OK if someone Black makes that assumption. Even if the event took place, it shows the lack of racial diversity in publishing overall with that passage allowed to run in the millions of book copies sold.

The above pullquote references later on when Alice is driving with her mother to the University of Pennsylvania to see her father and sister. Outside the window, she sees Black men living their lives, and it scares her. She even tells her mother that she feels like she had been “lain underneath” all these Black men. Her mother says that’s “ridiculous.”

What led to the overturned conviction is in the memoir. Alice has a run-in with a Black man, who claims she looks familiar. It spooks her because she believes he’s her rapist. She notifies authorities about the run-in. After a police lineup, officers tell her she picked the wrong man. Later, a hair analysis is traced back to Anthony Broadwater, who has the pseudonym of Gregory Madison in Lucky. That analysis has since been discredited by the Department of Justice and the FBI as a lone method to identify suspects.

Anthony Broadwater did not know that Alice was profiting from the incident that put him behind bars, according to the Daily Mail.

Race, class lead to perfect conviction

My rapist was poor, black, and uneducated, and came from a family with an entrenched criminal record. I was a middle-class white girl attending an expensive university and I was raped not on property owned by the college, but in a public park on the edge of it… And, like the victim in the Stanford case, I knew that my words mattered.

Lucky, “Afterword”

In a 2017 afterword, Alice brings up Chanel Miller’s story of being the unidentified victim in the Stanford rape case that is chronicled in the best-selling memoir Know My Name. Using race and class, Alice compares her case where her accused rapist was imprisoned for 16 years to Chanel’s case where the Stanford swimmer who raped her only served three months in jail.

Race comes up in Chanel’s story but her own race as a young woman who is half-Chinese and how that surprised some supporters when she revealed her identity. Class also becomes an issue because she accused a White male, Olympic-level swimmer of raping her while she was unconscious. A book review can be found on shelit.com.

The Lucky afterword acknowledges in the above quote that the racial and socioeconomic dynamics created a perfect storm for a conviction that we now know is another exoneration of an innocent Black man in America.

Alice’s story could be compared to Tricia Meili’s story as told in her memoir, I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility, published by Scribner in 2004. Tricia’s horrific rape dominated the news in 1989 and led to the arrest of five boys who happened to be in Central Park at the time she was jogging. Tricia, who is White, worked as an investment banker while the boys, known as the Central Park Five, were Black and Latino from low-income families. Now, those men who served time and have had their convictions overturned in 2002 are considered the Exonerated Five, after they told their story through Ava DuVernay‘s lens in When They See Us.

A Black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is 3½ times more likely to be innocent than a White sexual assault convict, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, because of the high likelihood of cross-racial misidentification by White victims involved in violent crimes with Black assailants.