Netflix released the trailer for their latest documentary, “Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story,” on April 15, and Brown’s emotional story resurfaced in the media. The documentary will cover Cyntoia Brown, a woman who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her abuser who sex-trafficked her when she was only 16 years old. Although Brown was eventually granted clemency, her story opened many people’s eyes to the problems in the justice system.
Brown’s story is a heartbreaking one. After running away from home, she stayed with a pimp named “Cutthroat,” who forced her into prostitution. During that time, she was repeatedly abused, raped and drugged, which made her paranoid. Eventually, she was sold to Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old real estate agent who had showed her his vast gun collection and attempted to rape her. In the struggle, Brown shot and killed Allen. However, despite her horrifying story, the jury did not accept her claim of self-defense and she was sentenced to life in prison for charges of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery. Although she was granted clemency by governor Bill Haslam in January 2019, she still spent 15 years of her life treated like a murderer for simply defending herself against a person who had been physically, emotionally and sexually abusive to her. Her story is one that clearly reads to me as self-defense, and it’s disgusting to hear how much time she spent being punished for simply defending herself in a situation where she felt she was in danger. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like, but Brown was in a dire situation. Her only choices were to fight or somehow leave, and it seems very unlikely that she would’ve been allowed to leave at all. She didn’t have much of an option but to fight for herself. Of course, Brown’s trial was done before the #MeToo movement, so women’s voices in regard to sexual assault were not taken as seriously as they should have been. But, I’m so glad Brown’s story got so much media attention because it’s something that the justice system can still learn from today.
What’s so important about Brown’s case is that celebrities spread Brown’s story and the injustices behind her sentence. Big name celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Cara Delevigne were among the many who used their large social media platforms to give support to Brown, and demand the justice system take another look at the case. They used the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown, which quickly became viral and spread her story. This is why I believe social media is so important. Celebrities with millions of followers spreading Brown’s story and showing her support not only brought the story to governor Bill Haslam’s attention, but it also reached Brown. Without celebrities using their social media platforms for good, Brown wouldn’t have seen many people outside her friends and family show her support and declare her trial unjust. Seeing so many celebrities and their followers show their support for her was undoubtedly important to Brown in order to eventually help her gain freedom, as well as providing her with a bigger support system.
Unfortunately, although Netflix seems to have good intentions to spread Brown’s story and highlight the issues in America’s justice system with the documentary, Brown herself pointed out a particular issue with the film. She said on Instagram and Twitter that the documentary was just as much of a surprise to her as to those who saw the trailer on April 15. Netflix created, and will profit off of, a film that details Brown’s trauma but didn’t even use her as a source, which I think is absolutely appalling. However, as Brown mentioned on social media, I hope that the documentary, at the very least, will emphasize the glaring issues in America’s justice system.