If you were alive and at least somewhat cognizant of the news in the ‘90s, you probably remember Lorena Bobbitt as a punchline. “Isn’t that the lady who cut off her husband’s dick?,” you may ask with a giggle, recalling the legion of stand-up bits, late-night monologues, SNL sketches, penis-shaped candies, and joke T-shirts—not to mention Howard Stern, whose obsession with the case extended into a $260,000 fundraiser to pay for John Bobbitt’s penis reattachment surgery—that turned Bobbitt’s 1994 “malicious wounding” trial into a carnival sideshow.
Lost amid all the snickering was—and still is—the potential for discussion about domestic violence and marital rape, which didn’t become illegal in all 50 states until 1993, the year that Lorena, as she described it to police, snapped after John sexually assaulted her one night and mutilated him in a fugue state. At the trial, Bobbit testified that she didn’t realize what she had done until she snapped back to reality and saw that she was driving with the knife and “body part” in her lap. Bobbitt’s lawyers argued that the mutilation was done in a state of temporary insanity as a result of severe domestic abuse and repeated sexual assault at the hands of her husband, an argument that the jury accepted when it acquitted her of all charges in January 1994.
At the time, Bobbitt’s case was taken up by some feminist organizations, like the National Organization for Women, who used it to argue for the necessity of the Violence Against Women Act. (President Bill Clinton signed the act into law in September of 1994, the month that John Bobbitt appeared in the first of several adult movies he starred in after getting his penis reattached.) But support for Bobbitt from feminists was hardly universal, like when Naomi Wolf told The Washington Post, “If she wanted to be safe, she could have kneecapped him. The mutilation itself seems to be so clearly a sadistic act.”
Fast-forward to 2016, when Bobbitt said in an interview with The Huffington Post, “They wanted to talk about his penis, not my story. Maybe it looked like a reality show from the outside, but we were not in a cast. It was real life.” That’s strikingly similar to the statement Jordan Peele made about a new docuseries about the Lorena Bobbitt case, Lorena, which Amazon Studios greenlit earlier today. “When we hear the name ‘Bobbitt’ we think of one of the most sensational incidents to ever be catapulted into a full blown media spectacle,” Peele says. “With this project, Lorena has a platform to tell her truth as well as engage in a critical conversation about gender dynamics, abuse, and her demand for justice. This is Lorena’s story, and we’re honored to help her tell it.”
Peele is executive producing Lorena through his Monkeypaw imprint, along with Jenna Santoianni and Tom Lesinski, producers of National Geographic’s Taboo, and a handful of others. Directing duties have been handed to Joshua Rofé, whose feature documentary debut Swift Current, about former NHL hockey player Sheldon Kennedy and his work advocating for victims of child sexual abuse, debuted in 2016. (On a lighter note, Rofé also directed the “I’m An Adult Baby” and “I Want To Fight ISIS” episodes of MTV’s True Life.) Of the series, Rofé says, “Our hope for this series is to give viewers pause when the next scandal of the moment is presented to us as macabre entertainment. Often, there’s profound pain and trauma just beneath the surface of stories like Lorena’s.”
It’s certainly a departure for Peele, who’s making his first foray into documentary (and true crime) after winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. It’s also safe to assume that Peele’s involvement will be relatively minimal, given that he’s also got the HBO series Lovecraft Country, a Twilight Zone reboot, a film with Spike Lee called Black Klansman, and an untitled thriller about a different sort of “social demon” in the works. But hey—the idea of a famous comedian writing and directing a straight-up horror movie was surprising at first, too.
A release date for Lorena has yet to be set, but a press release announcing the series says it will be timed to the 25th anniversary of the case, which would place it sometime this fall/early next year.