New Lorena Bobbitt documentary presents nuanced look at salacious case

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Warning: This story may include details that some readers find disturbing

It was without a doubt one of the most salacious headlines of the 20th century: woman cuts off husband’s penis while he’s asleep.

That’s what most people remember from the macabre story of Lorena and John Bobbitt. But a new documentary is offering a more nuanced version of the high-profile affair – one that reconsiders precisely who was the victim.

“For Lorena’s voice to be heard today as it should’ve been 25 years ago, I mean, it’s vital,” director and executive producer Joshua Rofe told CTV News Channel on Friday.

Rofe worked closely with Lorena to produce the eponymous documentary, “Lorena,” now streaming on Amazon Prime.

The documentary begins by recounting the events that anyone familiar with the case already knows. On June 23, 1993, Lorena Bobbitt was raped by her husband, John. When he fell asleep, she went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and returned to the bedroom, where she cut off his penis.

Lorena then drove off and tossed the appendage in a field. John’s penis was later found by police and reattached in an hours-long surgery, and he went on to star in a series of pornographic movies.

“So we figured, let’s start it out the way they recall the story and then just when that has essentially peaked, we wanted to pull the rug out from under the audience and start to crack the door open to the real story, which was one of horrific domestic and sexual violence that Lorena had suffered,” Rofe said.

In the four-part series, viewers are taken back to 1993 and given an updated refresher on the cultural climate at the time.

“The headlines at the time were as salacious as headlines can get,” Rofe said.

“And so really the combination of that and this story coinciding with the birth of the 24-hour news cycle, it was a runaway train.”

Rofe, who earned acclaim for his documentaries “Lost for Life” and “Swift Current,” convinced Lorena to let him tell her story by sending her examples of his previous work. He said he promised to tell her story with “delicacy and respect.”

“What I tried to express to Lorena, particularly by way of sharing my previous work, is that I have experience telling the stories of victims and survivors,” he said.

She agreed. And it wasn’t long before Jordan Peele, the Academy Award-winning director of “Get Out,” joined the project as an executive producer.

“He was just so taken by the story, he understood it immediately, and it was incredible,” Rofe said.

In the age of Me Too, “Lorena” poses a sober-eyed look at the events and cultural circumstances leading up to America’s most high-profile castration.

“Lorena’s story, in many ways, is a precursor to what is happening today,” Rofe said.

“Although, at the time, she didn’t have the power of something like Me Too behind her. And so she was just floundering alone while the whole world essentially victimized her all over again.”

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