The Execution of Wanda Jean (2002)

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Law & Crime, Biography, Social Issues, Gender Issues, Psychology, Race & Ethnicity  |   Run Time - 88 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

With its journalistic objectivity and its careful attention to the procedural aspects of the death-row appeals process, The Execution of Wanda Jean strips away the shrillness of capital-punishment rhetoric, leaving the inherently gripping subject matter to speak for itself. The result is an unusually subtle documentary that could as easily be embraced by either side of the death-penalty debate. Subject Wanda Jean Allen's guilt is never in question; an African-American lesbian of diminished mental capacity, she admits to having killed her lover. The central question in Liz Garbus' film, then, is the mechanism by which the judicial system turns guilt into a death sentence -- and whether the appeals process will pay off for Allen and her team of committed legal counsel. The film's title leaves little doubt as to the outcome. But through powerful interviews with Allen's lawyers and family, Garbus turns the workaday reality of death row into gripping drama.