Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (2016)

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four
Director: Deborah S. Esquenazi
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 14.6.2017

In the early 90s, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez, all around 19 and 20 years old, were accused of gang-raping two young girls. Despite the fact that there was no evidence, the fact that the four are lesbians and latinas, coupled with the Satanic Panic, they were swiftly convicted for 15 years, Ramirez even for almost 40 years. But they continued to fight to prove their innocence.

Southwest of Salem tells an absolutely shocking story for which Esquenazi finds the right tone – not an easy achievement.

Esquenazi has had her work cut out for her: to tell this story, you need the emotional impact of the injustice, otherwise it becomes meaningless. At the same time, you need to stick to the facts and stay as objective as possible, lest you lose all credibility. Thankfully, Esquenazi manages to keep that balance admirably.

She walks us through the events chronologically through interviews with the four women, but also additional research. That structure works perfectly to be informative and affective.

It’s not easy to take the utter injustice those four women had to face, but that’s just as it should be: if it was easy to hear about four women who have been robbed of almost two decades of their lives because of bias and failure in the justice system, things would be even worse.

It’s a good thing that justice prevailed in the end here, as much as justice can be done more than a decade later. But at least they were cleared. Nevertheless I left the film wanting to burn things down, starting with racist institutions (which are pretty much all of them, if we’re being honest).

Summarizing: Grab some chocolate or something equally comforting and watch this film.

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