‘Lorena’ is a vital re-examination that goes beyond the headlines, reminding us of the story we really should have focused on.
The mere mention of the name Lorena Bobbitt might make any man cross their legs. She was the butt of jokes. Comedians, online chat rooms, and locker rooms were filled with endless penis jokes. Tabloid newspapers played on words for headlines. She was called everything from crazy and psychopathic. She was the woman who dared to cut off her husband’s dick.
Even as a young child watching this case in the UK, I was acutely aware of watching Lorena Bobbitt on trial and breaking down in tears as she recalled being raped by her husband and being abused by him. I watched the trial and that’s the story I was seeing, but the media was sending me a completely different message.
Thanks to Amazon Studios and a thoroughly compelling 4-part series from director Joshua Rofe and Executive Producer Jordan Peele, we revisit 1993 and the media circus that ensued afterward.
The media spent much of its time focusing on the severed penis, sensationalizing the story – a woman who had cut off her husband’s dick. John Wayne Bobbit was the “victim,” and he was the one who suffered here. Meanwhile, Lorena’s reputation was savaged — late night talk show hosts used her as a punchline night after night. Tabloids had their front page story for days.
Instead, the very thing that should have been focused on was missed.
Through this four-part series, we go back to that 1993 night and hear from the first responders looking back on that night, filled with trepidation about saying the word “penis” over the airwaves. At the hospital, the surgeon awaits, as they look for the missing body part.
The narrative focused on a man, a white man, who got his dick cut off and praise be to the surgeon that sewed it back on after a nine-hour surgery enough to get it working for him so he could go on to be a porn star. He was the one appearing on talk shows. Rofe takes us through the various clips and shock-jock Howard Stern’s support for John. He reminds us of the Geraldo Rivera clips jocking for John – he was the hero here. And there he was, when he wasn’t on trial, smiling and sharing his “tragic story” with America.
As we revisit this documentary in the era of #MeToo, Rofe makes us examine the bigger picture, the one the media ignored. A story of a woman who was abused, raped, and violated by her husband.
In a court of law, Lorena was the one charged for “maliciously wounding” John. She told a jury how John would get drunk and would both physically and sexually abuse her. At one point, she tearfully tells the jury how John forced her to get an abortion.
Through the series, we’re reminded of one important factor, that this should have been a different story, but it wasn’t. Male editors didn’t want to run stories from its female writers. The media didn’t start a conversation about domestic violence, there wasn’t a conversation about marital rape which is illegal in all 50 states. The media focused on the sensational headlines, not the truth.
Despite her testimony, John was found not guilty of domestic abuse in his own trial. It was Lorena who paid the price. Found not guilty, Lorena was forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
Rofe’s Lorena allows Lorena Gallo to tell her story and shed a light and raise awareness in this era. It shows us a man who married a young woman, an immigrant, abusing his power threating to have her deported, driving deep into her fears. She didn’t want to go back to Ecuador. Instead, she stayed with John as he’d come home, get drunk, and force himself on her. Until she finally had had enough.
The final episodes of the series show how John meets another woman named “Desiree” and abuses her. He goes on trial again, this time he’s found guilty because a witness testifies to seeing John drag her down the hallway.
Lorena’s story, even now, as the series comes to an end is not a rare occurrence, it’s commonplace. The tragedy is this young, beautiful woman meets the man of her dreams, in the country of her dreams. Her dream rapidly turns into a nightmare at the abuse of this man.
Society failed the young Lorena, for the sake of a sensational headline, but her ending is happy, she remarried and has a daughter. John, as we see, continued to pursue her, sending her cards and letters and Facebook messages. Ultimately, what Lorena does is allow us – America to take a look in the mirror at how we treat women. It forces us to look at how this man treated her and claim her body as his prize. It forces us to look at how the dismembering of an abuser’s penis was the focal point for a far bigger and better story than that of a woman who had been pushed to the edge rather than shed a light on marital and domestic violence. In an era of #TimesUp and #MeToo, it’s a story where we wronged the victim, but Lorena’s story is an empowering one, a message. She is a survivor. She’s still standing even though no one at the time believed her to be anything other than a crazy lady who lost her temper.
It’s a compelling story to watch in 2019. A year after the Lorena Bobbit story broke, Nicole Brown Simpson’s murder would occur and we were back in that media frenzy all over again.
Lorena is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.