The Death Penalty On Screen

A lot of folks were appalled when the audience at Wednesday’s Republican primary debate applauded Rick Perry’s executions record as governor. I suppose I was with Ta-Nehisi, and not particularly surprised. But I think it did clarify for me some of my reaction to Alex’s review of Werner Herzog’s death row documentary. He didn’t particularly like it, and a number of you said that it would be disappointing if Herzog had turned in a conventional anti-death penalty movie. And I wonder how comfortable I would be with a contemplative, apolitical movie about the death penalty.

That said, I think it’s very much in the interests of folks who are uncomfortable seeing people applaud the death penalty to get this movie about the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in front of as many audiences as possible:

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INCENDIARY the willingham case (2011 SILVERDOCS U.S. Sterling Feature Competition) from Joe Bailey, Jr. on Vimeo.


As much as I oppose the death penalty no matter if the person to be executed is guilty or innocent, I think the fear of killing an innocent person is the most potent argument opponents have for a mass audience. As much as I think David Grann’s “Trial By Fire” is a remarkable read and should be pushed as hard and as often as possible, there really is something about seeing Rick Perry say the things he says about Willingham’s execution for yourself. I hope this movie will make it to Washington and beyond. If it does, maybe we can organize a field trip.