Most states separate prisoners by genitalia alone, so pre-op, transgender women are placed in men’s correctional facilities, where they find themselves vulnerable and preyed upon. CRUEL AND UNUSUAL is a frank, often unsettling documentary, that portrays the challenges faced by these women.
Ophelia, beautiful and bold, cuts herself when left alone in solitary confinement for an entire year. Yolanda, 21, has taken hormones since age 12; after surviving a childhood of poverty and drugs, she is raped by fellow inmates. Rough and tough Linda, imprisoned for stealing pantyhose, performs her own correctional surgery when the Idaho Correctional Facilities deny her request for drug therapy. Anna loses not only four years of hormone treatment but also custody of her only son when she is sent to prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The women’s stories are interwoven with commentary by lawyers and prison custodians who discuss the problems transgender inmates face; chief among them is the authorities’ complete refusal to recognize Gender Identity Disorder as a legitimate medical condition. Disturbing evidence suggests that thirty percent of all transgender people have been imprisoned —three times the national average. Eye-opening and caustic in its depiction of the blatant discrimination transgender people endure, this documentary will leave you with much to think about.
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What People Are Saying
"You can't look at this documentary and not be moved to tears or anger over such ignorance and bigotry." —Blade GLBT Newsmagazine
"A remarkable and essential work… I can affirm that everyone needs to hear and see this film's crucial, disturbing and enthralling story." —Scott Long, Director, LGBT RIGHTS PROGRAM, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
"This moving and thoughtful documentary raises awareness about the abuse, isolation and poor medical care faced by transgender prisoners. We hope that the film's insight will be a springboard for new policies that adequately protect this vulnerable community." —Elizabeth Alexander, Executive Director, ACLU NATIONAL PRISON PROJECT
"CRUEL AND UNUSUAL is a remarkable and essential work. At a time when torture has haltingly become part of the national conversation, and when all Americans need to be thinking seriously about the violence in our systems of punishment and detention, Cruel and Unusual draws emotionally devastating attention to victims of violence who are persecuted for their stubborn visibility within the penal system—but remain invisible to an indifferent world outside. From Human Rights Watch's perspective, I can affirm that everyone needs to hear and see this film's crucial, disturbing, and enthralling story." —Scott Long, Director, LGBT RIGHTS PROGRAM/HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
"CRUEL AND UNUSUAL takes us inside the harrowing world of transgender women in U.S. prisons, showing us the violence, isolation, and bureaucratic indifference to which they are routinely subjected. Letting these women speak for themselves, the film makes a compelling and lucid argument for sexual and gender self-determination as a basic human right. Along the way the film brings into focus unexpected connections between transgender rights, prisoners' rights, and social justice more broadly. This is vital, urgent filmmaking, which should be required viewing in feminist and LGBT classrooms."
Ann Pellegrini, Associate Professor of Performance Studies and Religious Studies, New York University, Co-author of Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance.
"This film is an excellent resource for classroom use! CRUEL AND UNUSUAL’s smart, compelling and complex treatment of the issues associated with transgender women in prison totally captivated my students. It is a great resource for discussing theories of sex and gender, the criminal justice system, the treatment of prisoners, and human rights in the United States. The filmmakers successfully show the humanity of their subjects while simulateously providing a sophisticated analysis of how prison policies address the issues sex and gender. This film is compelling, entertaining, provocative, accessible and thoughtful. I highly recommend it."
Debra Liebowitz, Associate Professor, Political Science & Women's Studies, Drew University
"CRUEL AND UNUSUAL is, itself, unusual in its ability to honestly and sensitively explore the lives of these transgender women, and the larger issues that surround them. The documentary – and the women’s stories — is engaging and compelling to watch. At the same time that the filmmakers successfully show the women’s humanity, they also interrogate how sex and gender take form in the setting of a prison system. This will be an excellent resource for educational purposes – it is engaging and entertaining, provocative and compelling, but it also presents hard and complicated issues of fixed and mutable ideas about sex, gender and human rights in a clear and accessible way."
Susana T. Fried, Ph.D., Consultant on gender, sexuality and human rights