Death of a Princess [site homepage]
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press reaction

The New York Times - Alessandra Stanley

"The last time PBS caused a stir was in January when Education Secretary Margaret Spellings objected to a children's show that featured real-life lesbians. PBS pulled the episode. So there is something both delicious and sad about public television's decision to rebroadcast a famously controversial docudrama, 'Death of a Princess,' about the execution of an adulterous Saudi princess, that was shown in 1980 over the objections of the Saudi government, the State Department, members of Congress and Mobil Oil, a major PBS sponsor. …

"It is useful, but not nearly as brave, of 'Frontline' to show 'Death' now. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia has become a much more vulnerable target for American anger and inquiry by journalists, international organizations and Congress.

"'Death' remains a thoughtful, engrossing film, though in retrospect it is as telling about the journalistic process as it is of life behind the veil. …

"Perhaps the greatest service this two-hour program provides is that it presents a horrifying act within a broader context, teasing out the cultural complexities along with the more sensational details."

Los Angeles Times - Tony Perry

"… To be sure, 'Death' shows its age.

"The docudrama form has evolved since 1980, and this early effort has a certain staginess and slowness. Given the disrepute of journalism these days it is unclear how much of 'how I broke the big story' the public will care to consume.

"But the power of 'Death' to shock remains undiluted.

"The story … is still gripping. The deceit and misdirection the journalist encounters in chasing the story heighten the sense of tragedy when he finally uncovers at least a portion of the truth.

"… One strength of 'Death' is that it renders the contradictions embedded in Saudi Arabia, or, by extension, the entire Arab world: so technologically modern yet so socially retrograde by most Western standards. …"

The Hartford Courant - Roger Catlin

"… a haunting, filmic quality quite different from a news report. More like 'Rashomon' or 'Citizen Kane,' it was a work that stood on its own as an artful, lively discussion of modern beliefs in the Arab world, where the present clashed sometimes violently with the past. …"

The Kansas City Star - Aaron Barnhart

"… The docudrama has fallen into disrepute in recent years … but 'Death of a Princess' shows how effective a docudrama can be when journalism simply isn't able to tell a story.

"Other than the cheesy soundtrack, which comes straight out of '70s British detective shows, 'Death of a Princess' is still sophisticated in its approach and its understanding of the complexities involved in looking at the Arab world through Western eyes. …"

Philadelphia Daily News - Ellen Gray

"… it's still powerful stuff."

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posted april 19, 2005

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