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The Execution of Wanda Jean (2002)

The Execution of Wanda Jean chronicles the life-and-death battle of Wanda Jean Allen, the first black woman to be put to death in the United States in the modern era.


Liz Garbus
1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »




Credited cast:
Wanda Jean Allen Wanda Jean Allen ... Self
Jesse Jackson ... Self
David Presson David Presson ... Self


The Execution of Wanda Jean chronicles the life-and-death battle of Wanda Jean Allen, the first black woman to be put to death in the United States in the modern era.

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References The Shawshank Redemption (1994) See more »

User Reviews

A Powerful Doc
14 November 2007 | by groggoSee all my reviews

Director Liz Garbus has made a documentary that is not impartial (what is?), but she still manages to deliver an emotional blow against capital punishment. We become a third party to barbarism dressed up in nice suits and righteous, grotesque Christian indignation.

Wanda Jean Allen is out of touch with reality. As she faces her last moments of existence, she still thinks she's going back to her Oklahoma City jail cell in the morning. Even strapped to her execution gurney, she playfully sticks out her tongue and simulates dancing. She somehow thinks it's all part of a process.

Does anyone really believe that the family of Gail Leathers (the murdered woman) is relieved that Wanda Jean is dead? Does that make them feel good in the morning? Maybe so, but what about the next morning? 'Closure' is a myth. Even the murdered woman's mother forgave Wanda Jean (in the spirit of Christ and the original meaning of Christianity), but that still wasn't good enough for the Bible-thumping State of Oklahoma. The contradiction glares at the viewer.

It was disturbing to see this woman at the clemency hearing, where the ostensibly impartial three-person board had rubber-stamped the outcome long before the hearing was even held. It was a bad joke. One member of the board (a black man) was caught yawning and looking very disinterested. Later, he was seen laughing with another member of this kangaroo board. Director Garbus captured this brilliantly with no comment. This was documentary film-making at its finest.

Wanda Jean was a murderer, for any number of reasons. We'll never know why. The State of Oklahoma was more interested in exacting Biblical vengeance than studying the murderous nature of a mentally slow human being.

The film vividly shows us that she wasn't conscious of what was real or unreal. She should have been caught in the system after her first killing in 1981, long before the murder of Gail Leathers in 1988. Apparently, Oklahome has no such system.

Garbus even offers us a bizarre (and dead-serious) newscast that highlights Oklahoma's 'executions of the week,' a check-list of those awaiting their fate on death row. I didn't know how to process this exercise in literal gallows humour.

The emotion in this film can overwhelm you at times, particularly if you don't believe in capital punishment in general and, in this film's case, capital punishment for someone who is obviously not mentally in tune with reality.

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Release Date:

January 2002 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

I ektelesi tis Wanda Jean See more »

Filming Locations:

McAlester, Oklahoma, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$1,386, 8 September 2002

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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