Written By: Billy Sinclair
Happy endings always make me happy. I’d rather be happy than sad, miserable, and depressed—and that’s exactly what I would have been had the third round of the West Memphis Three documentary, Paradise Lost, captured an Oscar. I have nothing personal against the documentaries’ directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, but I do resent their turning the case of three admitted child killers into a cottage industry. But there’s a bright side: they have just about milked that cow tit dry, and perhaps they will now get on down the road with some meaningful documentary work.
The fact that the “Purgatory” lost to the “Undefeated” makes the outcome all the more satisfying. Undefeated is about real people—kids who dealt with their deprived existence through courage, determination, and excellence on the football field. These young men, and the coach who inspired them, deserved to be recognized, even celebrated, for their extraordinary life efforts.
Our society has a long, sordid history of glorifying criminals: Jessie James after the Civil War, Billy the Kid in the Old West, and John Dillinger during the Depression. The worst the times are, the more we heap glorification upon the worst kind of killers. It is understandable that Todd Moore, and his wife Diana, whose son, Michael, was one of the three 8-year-old Cub Scouts brutally murdered by the West Memphis Three cohorts, were upset about the Oscar nomination of Purgatory. They asked the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to bar it from Oscar consideration. The Academy naturally refused, saying Purgatory met all the eligibility requirements.
“It would not be possible for the Academy – its leadership, executive, or administration – to insert itself into this process without risking the integrity of this longstanding procedure and of of the awards themselves,” wrote Rob Epstein, who chairs the Documentary Branch Executive Committee, in a letter to the Moore’s this past December. “I would not trivialize your pain by asking for your understanding, but I do hope this has clarified the organization’s role in the Awards process.”
Of course, Pam Hobbs, who has waged a relentless effort to tie the murder of the three boys around the neck of her ex-husband, Terry Hobbs, had no objection to the Oscar nomination for Purgatory. She’s become even more determined to lynch her ex-husband for the murders after viewing another documentary, West of Memphis, which appeared in the Sundance Film Festival last month to glowing reviews. She has asked West Memphis prosecutors to re-open the case, and prosecutor Scott Ellington, who accepted the “plea deal” brokered by West Memphis Three attorneys, said he’s reviewed the “new evidence” provided by WM3 lawyers and it did not persuade him to re-open the case. He said the real killers pled guilty—and I agree as I have said many times since the guilty pleas were entered last August.
I have not viewed West of Memphis but will as soon as it is available through Netflix. I doubt seriously it will change my mind. The WM3 case is one that can be spun a thousand ways about who killed those three kids: Mr. Bojangles, John Mark Byers, Terry Hobbs, David Jacoby, local raccoons, or perhaps a transient band of Cyclops. As I said, this case has become a “cottage industry” within the entertainment industry to glorify killers, profit from crime, and enhance career resumes.