The Execution of Wanda Jean

African American, American History, Disabilities, LGBT, Law and the Penal System, Psychology & Mental Health, Women, Civil Rights
Liz Garbus
88 minutes


"Powerful, compelling, fascinating. A gripping documentary." -Film Threat

"Compelling" -New York Post


"Excellent" -Variety


"Worth a look by those on both sides of the issues, if only for the perspective it offers, one the public rarely sees." -Flick Filosopher

"Offers an unusual opportunity to observe the inequities in the death penalty." -New York Times


THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN chronicles the life and death battle of Wanda Jean Allen. In telling one woman's story, Academy Award nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus created a film that becomes an unforgettable exploration into one of America's most controversial moral and political dilemmas: the death penalty. THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN is an unflinching investigation of the role that poverty, mental health, race, and sexuality play within the criminal justice system.

Wanda Jean was sentenced to death in 1989 after she shot and killed her lover, Gloria Leathers, outside an Oklahoma City Police Station. The film finds her eleven years later, her execution date just months away. With chilling intimacy, the filmmakers follow Wanda Jean's final months on death row, as she and her legal team prepare for her clemency hearing, as she and her family, friends, and spiritual advisors have their final visits. At her Clemency hearing, her attorneys argue that during her original trial, her defense failed to present crucial and potentially life-saving evidence: Wanda Jean had borderline mental retardation and brain damage. But the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, which in its thirty-year history had never granted clemency, denies Wanda Jean's plea. The film chronicles Wanda Jean's final weeks as step-by-step her legal team exhausts every option to save her life.

At the same time, THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN tells the story of the victim's family. Remarkably, Ruby Wilson, Gloria Leathers' mother and the only witness to Wanda Jean's fatal shooting of her daughter, is able to forgive Wanda Jean, relying on her strong religious beliefs. As the days run out for Wanda Jean, however, forgiveness takes a back seat to punishment. On January 11, 2001, the State of Oklahoma executed Wanda Jean Allen, the first black woman to be put to death in the United States in the modern era.



Liz Garbus
Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning Producer/Director Liz Garbus is one of America's most accomplished and prolific documentary filmmakers. Her most recent film, Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009, and was broadcast on HBO in June.

In 1998, Garbs achieved international public and critical acclaim for her Academy Award-nominated film The Farm: Angola, USA. Made in collaboration with Jonathan Stack, The Farm was the result of a three-year relationship that the filmmakers fostered with Louisiana Corrections Officials and with six men confined at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. In addition to its Oscar nod, The Farm won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, two Emmy Awards, the National Film Critics Best Documentary of the Year, and other awards and festival recoginition.

Following The Farm's success, Garbus co-founded Moxie Firecracker Films with producer/director Rory Kennedy. With Garbus directing and Kennedy producing, the two made the feature-length documentary Girlhood, which tells the story of two young girls convicted of violent crimes, and was called “one of the most important films of the year" by LA Weekly. In 2002, Garbus's feature documentary The Execution of Wanda Jean premiered at the Sundance film festival and aired later that year on HBO's America Undercover series. In 2005, Garbus and Kennedy were Executive Producers of Street Fight (aired on PBS), which was nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Documentary category and won a Tribeca Film Festival Audience Award. In 2006 Moxie Firecracker collaborated with Rosie Perez (Do the Right Thing) to produce Yo Soy Boricua, Pa'que Tu Lo Sepas! for IFC. Garbus and Kennedy's credits also include Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, which premiered at Sundance and won the Emmy for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special of 2007, and Coma for HBO Documentary Films, which aired July 2007. Garbus has also produced and directed multiple television specials for networks including Lifetime, MTV, A&E, Discovery, Court TV, Sundance Channel, Oxygen, and many others.

Garbus graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1992 and is a Fellow of the Open Society's Center on Crime, Communities, and Culture.


The Execution of Wanda Jean - Educational Use (DVD)



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