On the night of 23rd June, 1993, in Manassas, Virginia, John Wayne Bobbitt, an ex-marine, stumbled home mildly drunk, fell into bed and swiftly awoke to the feeling of a large tug. He awoke to find that his penis has been severed by his wife of four years, 24-year-old Lorena Bobbitt. “Woman cuts husband’s penis off.” This was the story heard around the world, unlike anything that had been heard before. The media had a frenzy, broadcasters – from Oprah Winfrey to Geraldo – wanted a piece of the action, and, just like the rest of the world, wanted to know one thing: why did Lorena Bobbitt do this?
Lorena, the new four-part Amazon Prime documentary series, explores the notorious case of Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt. Director Joshua Rofé – whose previous projects include the prison documentary Lust for Life (2013) and Swift Current (2016), which deals with the aftermath of sexual abuse – joins forces with Get Out’s (2017) Jordan Peele, whose own fascination with the case led him to climb on board as Executive Producer. The series features exclusive interviews with both Lorena (née Gallo) and John Wayne Bobbitt, as well as former neighbours and friends of the couple, plus relatives and others involved in the case.
The first episode explores the incident itself, when Lorena went downstairs, took a kitchen knife, severed her husband’s penis, left the apartment with the appendage and subsequently threw it into a neighbouring field. She later called 911 and officers arrived on the scene to find the severed ‘organ’ (they refused to refer to it as what it was); some full of rage, others with tears in their eyes, but all of them traumatised and not wanting to go ‘anywhere near the thing’. After the penis was examined as criminal evidence, it was taken to the local hospital, along with John Wayne, to surgically reattach, which was done successfully. And while the male officers were still in shock at the ‘horrifying’ and most ‘degrading thing you could ever do to a man; an act worse than death’, female nurses were only wondering one thing: what did this guy do to make her do this?
While Lorena may initially start off as your classic criminal investigation doc, it swiftly evolves into an examination of the history of rape and sexual assault against women, and legislation in the United States. The Bobbitt case was one of the most examined cases in US media – before incidents like the Tonya Harding scandal and O.J. Simpson trial quickly took precedence – but what the majority of the public were focusing on was Lorena’s cross examination, and whether she would get away with it. No one was focusing on John Wayne and his history of physical, sexual and mental abuse – abuse that pushed his wife over the edge. The series also explores Lorena’s childhood in Ecuador, as well as John Wayne’s subsequent relationships, newfound celebrity status and short-lived pornographic career.
Lorena is a slick, shocking and fascinating documentary series that examines the recurring fundamental issue of sexism and abuse. While it will undoubtedly satisfy the needs of the average crime doc binger, this documentary is ultimately about the ongoing Battle of the Sexes. Despite a women (countless women) being repeated raped, abused and assaulted, somehow, the cutting off of a penis was considered to be the worst thing you could ever do. Unfortunately, it’s the same old story and despite us being in the wave of the #MeToo movement, we’re still not at the true point of equality, which is why this documentary might be more pertinent than ever before. To quote John Wayne’s former pornographic co-star, Air Force Amy: “They cut a million clits off in Africa, and nobody hears a word. You cut one dick off and the whole f**king country stops.”
Lorena is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.