Individuals and their stories lie at the heart of social issues, and the best advocacy documentaries find ways to balance these stories against the larger issues without losing sight of those people’s humanity. For me, Sin by Silence and the advocacy accompanying it represent this balance well.
Sin by Silence is a 2009 documentary directed by Olivia Klaus. It tells the stories of women who suffered domestic violence and murdered their abusers. Each of the women were sentenced to long or life-in-prison sentences. Several women share their stories, including Brenda Clubine, Glenda Crosley, Glenda Virgil, LaVelma Byrd, and Joanne Marchetti. Each woman recounts the threats and abuses she faced and the fears she felt for her life. Several feared for their children as well.
While these stories are harrowing, some become points of hope. Each woman is a member of the CWAA, the Convicted Women Against Abuse, an organization formed in prison by women in these situations for support of each other and for raising awareness about their situations with others. These women’s stories become central to various actions, such as signing petitions, making phone calls, and otherwise carrying the awareness mesages forward.
For Glenda Virgil, those actions helped secure her parole after more than 25 years in prison. Glenda Crosley, unfortunately, died before seeing release after more than 25 years in prison.
I have seen several documentaries recently that attempted to balance the individual stories against the larger issues. Granted, it is a difficult balance to achieve, especially when the larger issues remain outside mainstream media attention. In such cases, the issues require more explication. But what sometimes happens is the stories get lost among all the details, experts, and other materials.
Sin by Silence worked from a tightly honed issue and with stories that clearly connected with that issue, and that combination allowed for a good balance without running too long.