Cyntoia Brown Gets Life on Film
Cyntoia Brown has not only been the subject of public advocacy, but now she will be the subject of an official new documentary.
The 30-year-old Tennessee woman convicted of murder as a teenager and serving a life sentence was granted clemency today by Governor Bill Haslam. Brown is scheduled to be released August 7, 2019, after serving 15 years in prison.
Odyssey Impact, a nonprofit organization that uses the power of documentary film to help inspire social change, is teaming up with Daniel H. Birman Productions to produce Me Facing Life 2: Cyntoia’s Fight for Freedom, the official documentary and multi-platform initiative centering on Brown’s story. Odyssey Impact also announced that it will lead a national impact campaign to help shine a light on the juvenile criminal justice system as part of a collective project designed to enhance social media engagement and elevate awareness about issues explored in the new documentary.
Directed, written and produced by Birman and produced and edited by Megan Chao, Me Facing Life 2: Cyntoia’s Fight for Freedom is from the original filmmaking team behind Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, the 2011 documentary chronicling the story of Cyntoia Brown, who was arrested in 2004 for murdering a 43-year-old man who picked her up for sex. Although only 16 at the time, she was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. The initial film aired on PBS Independent Lens and has since gone viral, sparking community discussions in the U.S. and worldwide. Birman and Chao and the film team have followed Cyntoia and her evolution since her arrest in 2004.
To accompany the documentary, Odyssey Impact is leading a national social impact campaign that seeks to illuminate the challenges facing minors caught up in traumatic circumstances similar to Cyntoia’s—who are victims of sex trafficking or cycles of violence and must navigate America’s criminal justice system. The goal of Odyssey’s campaign is to inspire change that would end the practice of trying and sentencing juveniles as adults, which still exists in five states—Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin—and to push for wider reforms, since all states have transfer laws that allow young offenders to be prosecuted as adults for more serious offenses, regardless of their age.
After the release of the first documentary, Brown’s case received worldwide attention. In fall 2017, several renowned personalities came forward on social media to plead for Cyntoia’s freedom, including Rihanna, T.I., Kim Kardashian West, LeBron James, Cara Delevingne, and other influencers. Social media posters used the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown to declare their support. More than a half million people signed petitions in support of her release.
The system has failed. It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right. I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this. #FreeCyntoiaBrown pic.twitter.com/73y26mLp7u
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) November 21, 2017
Odyssey Impact hopes the new film and new national impact campaign will spur further change. If Cyntoia Brown were tried today, she would not receive such a severe sentence. At the time she was convicted, Cyntoia was seen as a prostitute who committed first degree murder. But Tennessee laws are changing in the wake of the first documentary’s release. Today, Cyntoia would be seen as a victim of human sex trafficking. The new law does not impact Cyntoia or other young people previously convicted of similar crimes.
“This is a story that touches many important social themes, from our understanding of child development to the inconsistent manner by which we punish youth. America is a leader of the free world, yet the strictest when it comes to incarcerating our children,” said Daniel Birman, producer, director and writer. “Through Cyntoia’s story, we have a chance to look more closely and with better understanding at the complicated factors involved. By partnering with Odyssey Impact, we can do as much as possible to elevate awareness in ways that lead to real action and change in our country and beyond.”
The film reveals Brown’s journey from the time of her arrest and through her remarkable transformation during the past 15 years. The film also looks at the larger story—personalizing Cyntoia’s case as an example of the need to reform harsh sentencing laws for juveniles. It compares Tennessee with other key states around the country and explores various points in the process where breakdowns can occur—during interrogation, Miranda rights, transferring juveniles to adult court—and also examines how states stand up to standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The film shows the changes occurring in Cyntoia and those people directly touched by her, her story, and her progress—including interviews with her family, and a former assistant District Attorney who vehemently denied Cyntoia’s first appeal but eventually becomes one of her biggest mentors and strongest advocates for criminal justice reform. The film also interviews Cyntoia’s legal team, her professor at the educational program in the Tennessee Prison for Women, and key legislators from both political parties who are using Cyntoia’s story in an attempt to reform harsh sentencing laws for juveniles.
Odyssey Impact believes that powerful documentaries with messages of social justice can motivate meaningful social change by raising awareness, changing attitudes and encouraging people of all faiths and good will to engage their communities on important issues in their lives.
“Odyssey Impact sees this film and the remarkable story of this compelling individual’s life story of hardship, courage and growth as a tremendous opportunity to shed light on some of the most significant issues impacting our society today, which we see as completely within our power to change,” said Nick Stuart, President/CEO of Odyssey Impact.
Brown issued the following statement in response to the governor’s decision:
“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me. I want to thank those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging, especially Ms. Connie Seabrooks for allowing me to participate in the Lipscomb LIFE Program. It changed my life. I am also grateful to those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who will work with me over the next several months to help me in the transition from prison to the free world.”