Netflix Secures Rights to Documentary on Cyntoia Brown

Netflix announced earlier this month that it has acquired a documentary that tells the story of Cyntoia Brown and how she gained clemency.Director Daniel H. Birman will direct the film, which still remains untitled. Birman had previously directed a part of Brown’s fight for clemency in the documentary titled Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, which aired in 2011 as part of PBS’s Independent Lens Series.

The 2011 documentary tells the story of Brown, who was arrested when she was 16-years-old in Nashville, Tennessee, for murdering a man who solicited her for sex. She was sentenced to life in prison and tried as an adult, "The New York Times previously reported."

Court documents obtained by The New York Times stated that Brown’s mother placed her for adoption when she was a child. When Brown was 16, she ran away from her adoptive family and lived in a motel with a pimp who she referred to as “Cut Throat” who sexually, physically, and emotionally abused her, according to Refinery 29. "He would explain to me that some people were born whores, and that I was one, and I was a slut, and nobody'd want me but him, and the best thing I could do was just learn to be a good whore,” Brown testified.

In 2004, a real estate broker named Johnny M. Allen picked up Brown at a restaurant in Nashville, and she was given $150 to engage in sexual activity at his home, according to court documents obtained by The New York Times. After they had got into bed, Brown thought he was trying to kill her and shot him in his sleep with a handgun she had in her purse. She took money, two guns, and left, according to the court documents obtained by the publication.In 2017, Birman’s previous documentary helped spark a renewed effort to help free Brown, who is now 31-years-old, according to WBUR. Celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, Amy Schumer, and many others came to Brown’s side and the #FreeCyntoiaBrown circulated on social media.

In December 2018, Tennessee’s Supreme Court ruled that Brown must stay in prison for at least 51 years before she could be eligible to be released from prison, HuffPost previously reported. A lawsuit was filed on Brown’s behalf, arguing that it was unconstitutional to give mandatory life sentences to juveniles without granting parole. In January, Governor Bill Haslam granted her request for clemency and is set to be released from prison on August 7.“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16,” Haslam said in a previous statement, according to The New York Times.

“Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope.”

One of Brown’s lawyers, Charles W. Bone, told The New York Times that Brown “lit up” with joy when she heard that she was going to be released from prison. He previously told the publication during a press conference that he looks forward to seeing Brown “walk out of prison.”“She deserves this, and deserves the full credit for it,” Bone previously said, according to the publication.

In a statement following the announcement of her clemency, Brown thanked her lawyers and those who have supported her throughout her journey to be released. She said she hoped to help other trafficking victims.“I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings,” she said in a previous statement obtained by The Tennessean. “The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without Him. Let today be a testament to His Saving Grace.”

Birman’s new documentary about Brown will focus on her journey and will tell her story after leaving prison. There is no set date on when the documentary is set to air.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.