Betty Tyson was convicted of murder in May 1973 in Rochester, NY. She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Her trial was hasty and the jury of peers she faced was all white. The evidence against her was tainted yet she was still found guilty. I was 9 years old when I first heard this story. When I decided to pursue my Master in Fine Art, I remembered this story and wanted to use my journalism instincts that I developed during my undergraduate degree at SUNY Brockport. I approached my thesis committee for approval to pursue this story for my MFA thesis film.
The struggle I endured during this journey was stressful at times but enlightening all the time. I discovered "me" inside the filmmaking process. Additionally I discovered that student film crews are not dependable and that I had to discover my own niche in the filmmaking community.
During my research a lot of things came to light, even the unexpected, which filled this journey with adventurous and educational endeavors. Even Betty was a little complicated at times. She came through for me when I thought all was lost. Former Mayor William Johnson also came through as a primary source and a strong mentor to push me forward when I thought about giving up.
My biggest dilemma was how to tell the story. The answer was to let Betty tell it and do not drown my film with the re-enactments I had planned and had filmed. When I thought my film was finished, it was too long. I did not want to part with some of my hard work. I learned to let go and I remembered to not underestimate the audience's intelligence, somebody is going to get it. Taking out the obvious things and redundant statements, I discovered a way to let all of the participants tell the story as they supported Betty's story. The film was received well and informed a new generation who had never heard of Betty Tyson.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Tyson, Betty; Documentary films--Production and direction; Judicial error
Department, Program, or Center
School of Film and Animation (CIAS)
Isaac, Taunja, "MINUS 25 Betty Tyson" (2014). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
RIT – Main Campus