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Raindance 2020 Film Review: The State of Texas vs. Melissa

IMDB Link: The State of Texas vs. Melissa (2020)
Director: Sabrina Van Tassel

Synopsis: Melissa Lucio was the first Hispanic woman sentenced to death in Texas. For ten years she has been awaiting her fate, and now faces her last appeal.

Over the past few years, I have been fascinated with crime documentaries, particularly of the Justice System in the US. Netflix has done particularly well in this department, with documentaries such as Making a Murderer, Don’t F*** With Cats, The Innocent Man and Evil Genius all grabbing my attention and showing how messed up the system is. This is not only in the form of taking years to capture a murderer or not taking a case seriously, but also the false imprisonment of a murderer, leaving an innocent person locked up and on death row. This is another one of those shocking stories.

What makes this story different than other death row documentaries I have seen is the female perspective on the story. For a lot of death row stories, it is focused on a male who has been wrongly convicted. This time, it is a woman. Not only is it believable that the court would want to say that they arrested a woman and placed her on death row, to show their dominance and power over her, but it is hard to watch what is happening.

It is easy to get on her side and see that Melissa Lucio is innocent in this case. From the first sequence, during what is clearly a false confession forced by the police team, she is clearly uncomfortable and not believing what she is saying. When dealing with someone who as 14 kids at home, it is incredibly hard to believe that either she would do this full stop, or that she could do this and not have any other children in her home be effected or see the event occur. This is a clear case of a mistrial and having no representation to help her be judged fairly, not for her social class, gender or race.

What is the most heartbreaking part of this story is the lack of support Melissa is receiving from her family or closest friends. As one person brings up, her mother and kids have done nothing to get her help or to try and appeal the cases. Everything that Melissa is doing to get off of death row is through her own research and communication. She is a fighter and it is a shame that there is little support for her, given the evidence proven in this film showing that she is innocent.

I do wish that there was more focus on the case itself and the journey she has taken so far within the documentary. This feels like a film that only cares to show Melissa in one light, a mother, who she was in the past and what her situation is like in this moment. They do not fully cover her case here, only showing clips such as the false confession that she gives. If there were more sequences like that, I would feel more compelled about her case and hoping that she does get out and get the justice that she deserves.

This may not be the strongest documentary on the injustice in the US system right now, but it is still able to highlight the systemic issues that remain in there. It makes another strong case that the death penalty should not exist, due to the irreversible nature of the process when many innocent people have been exonerated after their time has gone. We need more films like these, exposing the truth and helping make a change to the US system once and for all.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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