Hulu has acquired U.S streaming rights to Sabrina Van Tassel’s timely documentary “The State of Texas vs. Melissa” which was selected for Tribeca in 2020 and it has won a flurry of accolades, including Raindance’s best documentary award.
Hulu acquired the documentary from FilmRise, which represents theatrical and digital rights to the film for North America, the U.K. and Ireland.
“The State of Texas vs. Melissa” is set to have its North American premiere this year at Tribeca. The Festival has invited back the film along with other titles from the 2020 selection.
The French premiere will take place at the Deauville American Film Festival. Alba Films will release the documentary theatrically in France on Sep. 29, following Deauville.
Besides Tribeca, Raindance and Deauville, the film has so far been selected at more than 20 festivals, including Cinequest, Golden Gate Film Festival, DocLondon, Fipadoc, Frigra and the Madrid Human Rights Film Fest. It also picked up prizes at Madrid, DocLondon and Golden Gate Film Festival.
Set in the heart of the Latino community of South Texas, the film explores the life and trials of Melissa Lucio, the first Hispanic woman sentenced to death row in Texas, the state responsible for the most executions in America since 1976. Lucio, who was blamed for the abuse and subsequent death of her two-year-old daughter, has been on death row for 13 years. The film shows how the system was stacked against Lucio — from the court-appointed attorney who didn’t bring forth certain evidence, to the District Attorney, who is serving a 13-year sentence for bribery and corruption.
Lucio’s conviction was overturned in July 2019 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, but the State of Texas immediately appealed that ruling. And in February, a court of appeals reversed the 2019 grant of relief by a vote of 10 to 7 and her hopes for exoneration now lie in the U.S. Supreme Court, which only takes 1% of all cases. Lucio could receive an execution date any day.
“When I started the film I knew it was a timely piece. Now, every selection, every article is an opportunity to make noise about her case,” said Van Tassel. “This is the best example of how you can bring awareness through art and hope to make a difference, have a decisive impact,” said the filmmaker, who cited Ava DuVernay’s work, notably “When They See Us,” as an inspiration.
In recent months, “The State of Texas vs. Melissa” has also garnered support from U.S. philanthropists and social justice activists, including Jason Flom, the founder of Lava Records who is an Innocence Project board member and the creator of the podcast Wrongful Conviction. Flom has invited Van Tassel to take part in his podcast on June 2.
Flom told Variety the “awful case of Melissa Lucio is an appalling example of just how broken our criminal legal system truly is.”
“She was a victim of a vicious and corrupt prosecutor who himself is currently serving time in federal prison; an incompetent and quite possibly compromised defense attorney; junk science; and above all — a society in which the odds were stacked against her from birth,” said Flom.
Citing Cameron Todd Willingham and Robert Pruett, the New York-based philanthropist said the “state of Texas has a long and tortured history of executing innocent people (…) Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, the life of Melissa Lucio will come to a violent and tragic end.”
“The State of Texas vs. Melissa” is launching today (April 15) on Hulu. It is produced by Vito Films and co-produced by Tahli Films, in association with Andaman Films.