On the evening of June 23, 1993, a 24-year-old Lorena Bobbitt used a carving knife to cut off her husband John Wayne Bobbitt’s penis and then chucked it into a roadside field after fleeing their apartment. From the outside, it appeared to many to be a gruesome attack by a scorned wife. The incident and subsequent trial, where she was found not guilty by reason of insanity, became fodder for tabloids and late-night comedians alike, making both household names at the time.
Now, nearly three decades later, Lorena is here to remind everyone that they may know her name -- but they don’t really know her story, one involving years of alleged domestic abuse and rape at the hands of her then-husband.
Lorena is taking full control of her narrative by executive producing and narrating the Lifetime film I Was Lorena Bobbitt. The new TV movie recounts the story of a young immigrant who fell for a man in uniform before becoming a battered wife and subsequent media sensation after she put an end to her abuse once and for all. “People used to judge me before, saying that they don't believe my story. To tell the story again is more than a blessing, to me it is an opportunity to tell it right,” Lorena said while ET visited the set of the film, which stars Dani Montalvo as Lorena and Luke Humphrey as John.
Later, while speaking with ET over the phone, Lorena explains why she partnered with the network to retell her story -- in her own words. “Lifetime has a rich history of telling compelling and respectful real-life stories that really resonate with their audience,” she says. “It’s the perfect platform to help spread the awareness of these important issues affecting women and men and children.”
In addition to the film, Lifetime will air a PSA featuring the actors and Lorena calling for the stop of violence against women for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Domestic violence doesn't discriminate. It could happen to anybody,” Lorena says, adding that it’s a nationwide epidemic that’s only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic -- which adds unexpected relevancy to this 27-year-old story about her and John.
Although Lorena spoke out one year prior in the Amazon docuseries Lorena, which also featured interviews with her ex-husband, she wanted this film to be a raw and transparent depiction about what happened between them. “It [captures] some difficult times,” she says of revisiting traumatic moments in her life and watching the actors recreate those on set. “I had to prepare myself because I knew what I was walking into.”
But despite any unease, Lorena was pleased with how both actors portrayed their real-life counterparts. When it comes to Montalvo in particular, Lorena has nothing but praise for the 26-year-old actress, who actually never heard of her until she landed the part.
“I didn't even know her name. I had never heard of the jokes. I had never heard of the incident, which is incredible because it was a huge deal,” Montalvo says by phone, revealing she quickly became overwhelmed with everything she found after doing a Google search of Lorena’s name.
When it came to capturing Lorena’s essence on screen, she relied heavily on the Amazon docuseries as well as her time with Lorena herself, who was very hands on in the casting process and a fixture on set. “I was able to take so much from that,” Montalvo says, adding that Lorena made it very clear she was absolutely there for anything the actress needed.
“One thing that really did help was that she spoke to me about the emotional abuse. And how that's more painful than the physical abuse or the sexual abuse. It's what he made her believe and how he changed her mind about herself and her world,” the actress says, adding that the conversation “changed my perspective on her story and her life and how I wanted to approach this character.”
And if there’s any example of why Lorena needed to retell her story, it’s that moment of recognition and understanding from a young person who never even heard of Lorena before this all started and what turmoil she went through leading up to the attack. “It's incredible seeing what she's been through and then seeing her stand up tall and strong, supporting other women,” Montalvo says, while noting that this story is being told now because “it’s finally the right climate for it.”
Lorena agrees. In the era of the true-crime craze as well as the #MeToo movement, women’s stories are not only being heard, but being reshaped and recontextualized in a way that represents a fuller experience. “I hope to reclaim my life that way. It's a shame that it took so long for people to actually see it through the lens of the #MeToo movement and the perspective of domestic violence,” she says while acknowledging “that is very important to actually talk about these stories because people can relate to them.”
“For many years, I kept a low profile and I avoided the attention,” she says of wanting to create a somewhat normal life with her husband and child -- and not speaking out. But recognizing that not much has changed for domestic violence and survivors in more than two decades, she wanted to become an advocate for victims and survivors alike. “I felt that it was the right thing to do, to come forward with my story,” she continues. “If I could help at least one person to escape domestic violence then all my pain and suffering that I went through was not in vain.”
When it comes to the events of her life in particular, only recently has she been able to really put things in perspective for people who have long heard her name or made a joke of her story. By utilizing mediums like TV movies or docuseries, “it's a great way to reach people of all kinds of walks of life,” Lorena says. “As a victim and a survivor, it is very important that people know that the most important thing about this story is the domestic violence and sexual assault.”
I Was Lorena Bobbitt premieres Monday, May 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.