Community Cinema and KCTS 9 held a pre-screening of the film "Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story" at the Frye Art Museum Sat., Feb. 19. The documentary tells the story of Cyntoia Brown who at 16 killed a 43-year-old man who had taken her to his house and paid her for sex. Cyntoia was tried as an adult, convicted of murder and is now serving a 51-year life sentence in Tennessee. Director Daniel Birman, who spoke to the audience via Skype, said in making the film he asked, "How does that happen, when we're talking about [a kid]?"
Birman delved into Cyntoia's past to try to understand how she ended up where she is today. He found a three-generation history of sexual abuse in her biological family that reached extremes when it got to Cyntoia, even though she was raised for most of her childhood by an adoptive family. Birman captures on film her reunion with her biological mother, Cyntoia's growth over the two years between her arrest and sentencing, and her deep sadness as she comes to understand the consequences of her actions. At one point Cyntoia cuts her hair in jail to make herself less attractive to men and focuses instead on building her personality, of which she says, "I've never had one before."
Birman told the audience that despite testing with a high IQ, the amount of sexual activity Cyntoia experienced from a young age meant that there was "nothing left of her . . . she only has combative skills," by the time she was out on the streets. Now he says she is putting that intelligence into earning straight-As in a program where she can take college level courses in prison.
Terri Stewart and Claudia Kirkland of the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress also spoke to the audience about the services available locally to survivors of sexual assault. Medical exams as well as an initial counseling session are offered free at the center. People seeking help for a recent assault or trauma from a recent or past event can call 206-744-1600.
"Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story" will air on KCTS 9 Tues. March 1 at 10 p.m. as part of the PBS series, Independent Lens. After the television showing the film will be available in a longer version with additional footage at www.itvs.org.