Cruel and Unusual (2006 film)

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Cruel and Unusual
Directed by Janet Baus
Dan Hunt
Reid Williams
Produced by Janet Baus
Dan Hunt
Reid Williams
Music by Amy Carey
Cinematography Slawomir Grunberg
Edited by Janet Baus
Dan Hunt
Mark Juergens
Reid Williams
Reid Productions
Distributed by Alluvial Filmworks DVD)
Outcast Films(DVD)
Release date
October 24, 2006 (2006-10-24)
Running time
66 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Cruel and Unusual is a 2006 American documentary film directed and produced by Janet Baus, Dan Hunt and Reid Williams about the experiences of male-to-female transsexual women in the United States prison system. It was screened on television as Cruel and Unusual: Transgender Women in Prison.


According to the film, prisoners in the United States are incarcerated in men's or women's prisons depending on their biological sex (or, more specifically, whether they have male or female genitals), and not their gender identity. As a result, pre-operative trans women are incarcerated in men's prisons, and trans men in women's prisons.[1]

The documentary focuses on five trans women, three incarcerated and two recently released from prison. At the end of the film, one of the prisoners has been released while one ended jailed again for other offenses. In prison they are unable to continue taking hormones or to receive counseling for gender dysphoria. According to the film, transgender people are more likely than average to be imprisoned, and when in prison often face sexual violence from other prisoners. Often transgender prisoners are kept in solitary confinement to protect them from other inmates. The filmmakers set out to ask whether this situation constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates prisoners' Eighth Amendment rights.[2]


The film took three years to make. The directors initially made contact with approximately 100 transgender prisoners. Although they had planned to feature trans men in the film, they decided to focus only on trans women due to the different issues experienced by the two groups and the complex nature of the issues faced by them in prison. To this end, they interviewed trans women in six different prisons.

Release and reception[edit]

Cruel and Unusual was screened at festivals across the US and internationally including Melbourne and London. It was the Official Selection at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas, the Barcelona Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the Copenhagen Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.[2] It won the Documentary Award at the San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.[3] It won the Jury Award for Best Documentary at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco and the Audience Award for Best Feature at the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Film Festival. It received the Freedom Award at the 2006 Outfest in Los Angeles.[4] It was also nominated for a 2008 GLAAD Media Award for Best Documentary but lost to For the Bible Tells Me So.

Writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, L. A. Johnson called the film "shocking, heart-rending and ultimately somewhat uplifting".[5]


  1. ^ "Cruel and Unusual — Background". Outcast Films. 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Cruel and Unusual". Official website. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  3. ^ Baus, Janet; Hunt, Dan; Williams, Reid (2006-10-24), Cruel and Unusual, retrieved 2016-09-24 
  4. ^ "Outfest 2006 Film Competition Winners". Outfest. 2009. Archived from the original on July 19, 2006. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  5. ^ Johnson, L. A. (October 19, 2006), "Slices of (gay) life: Film fest views range from prison to Christian camp", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, retrieved February 18, 2010 

External links[edit]