"A vengeful, crazy woman who just snapped."

For so long, that has been the general consensus about Lorena Bobbitt, the woman who earned worldwide notoriety after using a kitchen knife to slice off her husband's penis one night in 1993.

For many of us, that's still the general consensus about Lorena Bobbitt. She's the punchline to a joke, written off as a "hot-blooded Latina woman" and "a jealous wife".

But with the arrival of Amazon Prime's four-part documentary series Lorena, that narrative is being thoroughly – and rightfully – challenged. Directed by Joshua Rofé, with Oscar-winner Jordan Peele on executive producer duties, it looks at the bigger picture of why Lorena picked up that knife.


Stacked with archival footage – and way too many shots of John Bobbitt's severed penis – the series also has current-day interviews with just about everybody attached to the case - police officers, lawyers, surgeons, friends, neighbours, jurors and Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt themselves.

The first episode recounts the immediate aftermath of Lorena's actions, while the second part examines the Bobbitts' turbulent marriage and John's trial for malicious sexual assault. The third episode focuses solely on the circus that was Lorena's trial, with the final part examining how the couple's lives have played out since, including John's porn career and battery convictions.

There's a lot of smirking as law officials and neighbours remember the day John Bobbitt's penis was cut off and later reattached. John himself cracks a joke about his missing penis winding up on the side of a milk carton, before shaking his head and saying, "I still don't understand women."

Lorena's own account also begins with nervous laughter, but that disappears as soon as she speaks about what happened to her during her marriage.

As domestic violence campaigner Kim Gandy points out in the documentary, there was very little coverage of the abuse Lorena says she suffered at the hands of her husband at the time, with the story's more sensational elements taking over.

Lorena evens up that ledger considerably. The episode that focuses on Lorena's trial features extended cuts of her searing testimony, where the breathless panic she feels at recounting her physical, emotional and sexual abuse is palpable.

We then see the long line of witnesses corroborating her claims of abuse and her husband's apparent proclivity for "forced sex". One crucial witness also delivers an emotionally charged interview for the documentary that reveals, among other things, the surprising way in which she came to the attention of Lorena's defence team.

Of course, there's no escaping the more tawdry aspects of the story, with Lorena also showcasing a selection of the tabloid coverage.

John's brother is seen telling a talkshow host that he wanted to kill Lorena for what she did. As he's enthusiastically applauded by the men in the audience, he adds, "[Lorena] did worse than kill [John]. She took away the thing that means most to a man."

Shock jock Howard Stern's support for John also features heavily, so good luck not shouting at your screen while Stern tells John that he doesn't buy Lorena's rape accusations.

"She's not that great-looking," says Stern.

These misogynistic views and some horrific rates of domestic abuse form a thread that holds the whole series together, as it weaves in some of the wider issues going on at the time.

There are the women's marches of the mid-90s demanding change. There's Anita Hill's 1991 testimony alleging sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas that's roundly rejected as he's confirmed to the court anyway. Sound familiar?

In telling Lorena Bobbitt's story, director Rofé also demonstrates that not much has changed in 25 years. Whoopi Goldberg is seen saying in a clip, "It's 1994 and women are pissed." I'm sure she'd agree women are still pissed in 2019.

As far as the documentary itself goes, there's nothing especially groundbreaking in the way it's made and it suffers a little from confusing timelines, but it's still an important piece of work. Aside from a brief look at the cycle of abuse in John Bobbitt's own life, it makes no attempt to paint him in a light as sympathetic as the one given to Lorena.

Because after 25 years, the story's emphasis is where it should be - on the wider issue of domestic abuse, rather than just the actions one woman took to ensure it didn't happen to her again.

Lorena is streaming now on Amazon Prime.