Odyssey Impact is teaming up with Daniel H. Birman Productions, producers of ME FACING LIFE 2: CYNTOIA’S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM (w.t.), the official documentary and multi-platform initiative centering on Cyntoia Brown’s story (slated to premiere in 2019). Odyssey Impact 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.
Me Facing Life 2: Cyntoia’s Fight for Freedom is a film at the forefront of discussions about juvenile justice in America. It is part of a 15-year journey through a single story that reflects our nation’s odyssey from tough justice.
In the 1990s, there was a sense that the crime rate in America was due to the justice system being soft on criminals, particularly repeat offenders. Under the Clinton administration, Democrats and Republicans joined together to launch a get-tough-on- crime movement. Mandatory sentencing, removing the discretions of judges and juries, became the norm. The impact of this tough justice movement would be revealed over thousands of cases in years ahead, and some of the harshest cases dealt with juveniles.
In 2004, 2.3 million juveniles were arrested for violent crimes in America. One-third of them were girls. Among them was a 16-year-old bi-racial Tennessee girl by the name of Cyntoia Brown, who killed a 43-year-old man who had picked her up for sex. She got scared, and she killed him.
Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story showed that the murder she committed was tied to a complicated past. But America’s juvenile justice system post-1990s doesn’t account for reasons, backgrounds or circumstances concerning violent acts. Cyntoia Brown was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison under a mandatory sentencing law. No discretion. No nuance. No focus on rehabilitation. Just a girl to be punished as an adult for life. Under Tennessee law, she would not be eligible for parole until she’s 67.
The next seven years became an odyssey in trying to find answers. It wasn’t as simple as, “she’s just a bad kid,” – it was an uncovering of three generations of violence against women in her family. Her grandmother, Joan Warren, was beaten and raped by a thug sent by her abusive ex-husband. Cyntoia’s biological mother, Gina Mitchell, born as a product of that rape, was prostituted out beginning at the age of 6, and then spiraled out of control with drugs and alcohol through much of her teenage and adult years. Then Cyntoia, born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and into the trauma of an unstable home environment, never really had a chance at life. Instead of a normal childhood, Cyntoia was trafficked as child for sex with adults.
The first documentary had a profound impact. It started a reform movement to change juvenile sentencing laws in the conservative state of Tennessee. Her case was the impetus for a break in 2016 – children can no longer be tried as prostitutes or sex workers, they’re considered victims of sex trafficking.
This caused Cyntoia’s story to go viral when celebrities Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, rapper T.I., Kim Kardashian West, LeBron James and other influencers took to social media with #freecyntoiabrown. More than half a million people signed a petition to get her out. Hundreds of articles by major news outlets like ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, Fox, People and Time picked up the story and continue reporting to this day.
This global popularity becomes the platform to launch our new film and a broader national discussion about reforming our juvenile justice system.
We begin with a recounting of the original story, but uncover new startling information about Cyntoia’s family. We follow Cyntoia’s journey through the legal system with her high-powered pro bono team. Her several failed appeals. Her prison education program. Her unprecedented parole hearing, some 37 years before it was supposed to happen. The long-term effects of incarceration on Cyntoia and her family. And the biggest of all, her clemency plea to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
But beyond Cyntoia’s story, our nearly 200 hours of archives include perspective on juvenile justice issues from lawyers, advocates on both sides (prisoners and victims), former parole board members, educators, medical professionals and legislators, who are all wrestling with how to fix a draconian problem in America. And how the fight to further change laws in Tennessee continues.
Finally, we reveal Cyntoia’s fate, which will be decided by Governor Haslam this fall. Regardless of whether she walks out of that prison next year, or if she continues to stay incarcerated, his one decision will continue to spark the reform movement across America.
Me Facing Life 2: Cyntoia’s Fight for Freedom is slated for a Spring 2019 release as a feature documentary, along with a film festival run.
Documentary and Social Impact Campaign coming in 2019.