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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne - A Film Review

I really enjoyed watching the 2013 documentary The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, directed by Kirk Marcolina and Matthew Pond. It is a documentary about 85-year old Doris Payne, a black woman who is a career jewel thief, and has stolen jewelry from high-end stores all over the world for 40 years, and has been convicted several times, but rarely did serious prison time.

She is very charming, likable, funny, and smart as hell, but also really manipulative and a remorseless sociopath, often arguing her way out of situations by complimenting people or confusing their recollection of events so that she is always in the right. She often had really slick ways of tricking people when she did her robberies, either coming off as trustworthy (palming a diamond, dropping it on the floor, letting the jeweler get confused where it is, then she picks it up and presents, making herself appear trustworthy so that she can steal for real when the jeweler isn't looking) or having white rich-looking accomplices while she played the role of a servant or nurse or someone unassuming.

She brags about her European adventures, though I think she romanticizes her tales to sound like a Hollywood glamour movies. She is a fascinating character, and just got arrested again for stealing from Saks, though I doubt she will actually go to prison, she is too old at this point.

She grew up really poor with an abusive father, and stole jewelry first as a rebellious act against a racist jeweler, then stole again to pawn a diamond so she could fund her mother's escape from her father. She saw her life as a thief as a way of attaining glamour, getting back at racism by stealing from rich white people, and gaming the system. I don't agree with her being a thief, as I think she is very selfish and criminal despite her charming exterior, but I have sympathy for her initial reasons. I know that there was talk years ago of a movie made about her life starring Halle Berry, but now I can see Kerry Washington playing her, too, as she can play very glamourous and slick as Olivia Pope, and can bring that to playing Doris Payne.

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