Hope & Redemption: The Lena Baker Story

About the film

Lena’s compelling and mostly unknown story is something Ralph Wilcox came across accidentally. I immediately knew this was a piece of history I felt was necessary to tell, says Wilcox, writer, director and producer of THE LENA BAKER STORY.

While reading Dr. Lela Bond Phillips’ book The Lena Baker Story, upon which he based the script, Wilcox recognized many elements in Lena’s story that ring true in contemporary society—issues like the death penalty, abuse, addiction, and faith. “I knew Lena’s struggle would resonate with modern audiences,” says Wilcox, Women are still victimized. People still struggle to make their dreams a reality. People still use addictions to mask their pain.

Once Wilcox started writing the script, he knew there was one aspect of the story that needed to be handled carefully – that of the relationship between Lena and Elliot Arthur. I didn’t want their relationship to be black and white, says Wilcox, I didn’t want to pit white and black against the other. This film is not about vilifying white people. I want to make it clear that Lena and Elliot are both flawed.

Wilcox was able to make these multi-faceted characters come alive when he secured a cast of talented actors that were more than willing to take on the complex material.

Tichina Arnold, best known for her work as a comedic actress in television programs like Everybody Hates Chris and Martin, jumped at the chance to play the conflicted Lena, saying, playing the role of Lena Baker has been an incredible experience, and I look forward to her riveting story being told.

Peter Coyote, who plays Elliot Arthur, understood the challenges associated with his character, who many will perceive as the villain. Elliot Arthur is a hard man to find a little light in, says Coyote, But as an actor one has to be defense attorney for his character, and despite the things that he did, I tried to find something human and redeemable in this man, if only his suffering.

Lena’s long-suffering, yet bravely dignified mother is played by the legendary Beverly Todd. Todd took her responsibility towards the real person she was playing very seriously. Annie Baker leaped into me and did not leave until the last day of shooting, says Todd,

Only once before did I have a real-life character take over me like that from beginning to end; it was almost as if she wanted to live again. She got an opportunity to live through me.

The final piece of the casting puzzle was the sympathetic Sheriff who arrests Lena on the night of the murder. Michael Rooker was Wilcox’s first pick and agrees with the rest of the cast that this was a very special project of which to be a part, saying, It was a true labor of love to get to work on the Lena Baker Story.