MIFF 2013: Valentine Road

5 Aug

Marta Cunningham, USA, 2013

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By Patricia Tobin

Eighth-grader Larry King was an openly gay biracial teenager, who often cross-dressed when attending high school in Oxnard, California. A few days before Valentine’s Day, King walked into the middle of a basketball game, and asked his classmate, Brandon McInerney, to be his Valentine in front of his friends. On the morning of 12 February 2008, during a class session at a computer laboratory, McInerney shot King twice in the back of the head.

Marta Cunningham makes her directorial debut in Valentine Road, a documentary that unravels this American tragedy. Cunningham reveals the circumstances behind both King’s and McInerney’s upbringing, followed by the aftermath of this shocking crime. King came from a troubled past, who suffered under abusive foster parents to eventually, being placed with a caring family. McInerney, too, had a difficult childhood, as both his parents were reckless, drug addicts. McInerney had also befriended white supremacists, and was a suspected neo-Nazi as well.

Valentine Road also highlights the flawed system that surrounds this case. For example, several distressed classmates, who witnessed King’s brutal murder in the computer laboratory, were immediately taken away. Instead of attending to their needs, these teenage students were confined to a room and were forced to watch — of all movies — Jaws. The judicial system gets put into question too, as McInerney’s trial was repeatedly delayed and mistrial-ed. The strikingly polarised views of members from the Oxnard community shows that a much more complex, but disordered societal structure is at work.

One of the film’s most appalling moments concerns a juror who stated that McInerney’s action was a result from him “solving a problem”. In fact, many members of the jury appeared on an American talk show, and showed off their “Save Brandon” wristbands. McInerney’s teenage girlfriend also continues to stand by his side, following McInerney’s belief that “white people are now a minority”. The widespread sympathy for McInerney even extended to one of his defence attorneys, who tattooed “Save Brandon” on her wrist. In a surreal moment, she cried and declared her love for her client, citing that she “can’t explain it”, but that McInerney was “one of my favourite people on the planet”.

This resounding, bizarre support for McInerney is highly disturbing and hard to digest. It is easy to see where Cunningham’s sympathies lie, as the blatant intolerance and discrimination provokes both frustration and grief.  As teachers and psychologists openly disregard King’s plight, it is unfortunate that a modern American society still privileges the straight, white male. Valentine Road paints a horrifying case of victim-blaming, as one detective states, “They made a murder victim the cause of his own murder”.

Valentine Road is timely in the wake of racial issues sparked from the verdict of the Trayvon Martin shooting and America’s relentless gun-law debate. By interweaving personal testimonies and news reports, Cunningham illustrates the far-reaching consequences of this senseless killing and in particular, the repercussions on Oxnard’s own LGBT youth. Cheesy pop songs aside, Valentine Road aptly calls for a need for tolerance and justice for the often neglected communities in today’s world.

 

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film athttp://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

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One Response to “MIFF 2013: Valentine Road”

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  1. MIFF times are good times | Screen Appeals - August 11, 2013

    […] Click here to read my full review. […]

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