Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. Tempe’s Madcap Theaters hosts Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo.

Bradley Beesley’s documentary chronicles the Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo, held at a stadium inside the State Peniteniary in McAlester, with a particular focus on the female inmates from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, who have been permitted to participate in the Rodeo since 2006. As a piece of filmmaking it’s deft, if straightforward, but what makes it beguiling is Beesley’s non-prurient attitude toward his subject.

Though the ladies to whom he introduces us are, on the whole, quite strikingly attractive, this is no lurid, titillating women-in-prison picture. Beesley seems protective of them, & indeed, these (seemingly) sweet-natured, plaintive-voiced, mutually supportive young women, almost all of whom are locked up on drug-related charges, do inspire sympathy, though of course it’s hard to say how skillfully they may be presenting their most appealing side to the camera.

The 2007 Rodeo serves as the climax, & Beesley captured some hair-raising footage of this curious spectacle. He also gets in some social criticism, pointing out that the state incarcerates women at more than twice the national average. This appears to be less from some Okie aversion to the glass ceiling, & more to the state’s general enthusiasm for imprisoning people. The film offers a quote from State Senator Cal Hobson: “Oklahoma leads America and America leads the free world in incarceration.” It’s unclear whether the Senator is lamenting or boasting.

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