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Tuesday 11 April 2017


Review: When the killer becomes the victim

Posted in: Movies
By Jacqui Stanford - 25th July 2013

Valentine Road
Director: Marta Cunningham
Year: 2013
Country: USA
Running time: 88 mins
Censor Rating: R13- violence, offensive language, content that may disturb

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Valentine Road is to put it very simply a documentary about a teenage boy being killed in a classroom by another boy, who he’d hit on. What is complex is trying to write a review that isn’t full of swear words in light of the festering sore of hatred, bigotry and intolerance people are all too happy to pick away at for the filmmaker.

Now showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival, oh, how Valentine Road will make your blood boil.

That’s because you would think a kid shooting another student in a pre-planned hate crime because he couldn’t deal with the kid's sexuality or gender identity would be an open and shut case. But then you would be someone who understands the very basic idea that people should be able to be whoever the hell they are without being shot dead.

Lawrence “Larry” King was a 15-year-old who had just moved into an abused kids’ shelter and was starting to feel secure about exploring who he was, when he was shot dead in a California classroom by another student, Brandon McInerney, a boy he’d asked to be his Valentine – and someone who’d had a pretty crappy life too.

Larry was a confident and tough kid, more than able to stick up for himself, who was exploring his gender identity, wearing heels and make-up. Friends say he was happier than he’d ever been.

He was also the butt of schoolboy joke such as ‘you’re so gay you’re going to date Larry when you grow up’.

In Valentine Road, we get a no-holds-barred look at the many different ways the killing was twisted, as the killer became the victim, and the killing became the victim’s fault for ‘flaunting’ who he was.

There is delay after delay in the case, a viciously homophobic defence ‘expert’ psychologist makes the case that being shot was Larry’s fault for being who he was, and ultimately there is a mistrial because jurors couldn’t agree.

We then hear from some of the jurors, a coven of women who say it wasn’t a hate crime because Larry had a ‘history of deviant behaviour’, as one wrote in an email to the Judge after they mistrial where she also cc’d ‘God’. They believe Brandon was just ‘solving a problem’ that nobody else was dealing with – eg. Larry’s manifestations of his identity.

Watching these witchy jurors you may actually start wondering if you are seeing real people, or some sort of weird black comedy styled satire.

Then it gets even stranger. The God cc’ing jurors who think the shooting was all Larry’s fault make themselves into media darlings after the mistrial, wearing ‘Save Brandon’ bracelets and raising money for his defence!

“Where were Brandon’s civil rights?” They ask, stating categorically once more that “he was solving a problem”.

His pro-bono defence lawyer has a Save Brandon tattoo and gets overwhelmed when she talks about how much she loves him.

Then, there are the pursed-lipped know-it-all teachers who say Larry should never have been allowed to explore his gender identity and they saw the violence coming, also insinuating it was all the dead teen’s fault.

Oh and there is also Brandon’s girlfriend. She is too much of an imbecile for words.

The criticism of these people is far from criticism of the documentary-maker, who is almost unbelievably a first-timer. While it must have been tough, Marta Cunningham has honestly brought these people and their scary view to the screen, warts, festering scabs, blistering boils and all. There is one moment where we see the homophobic psychologist trip up a step and feel a little justice, but it’s just a smal,l shared moment of retribution.

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Thankfully, while it’s hard to see through the hatred, there are also many beautiful stories from Larry’s friends. The most touching and sincere moments are from the teacher who gave him a dress and whose life fell apart when he was shot in her classroom. The toll his death has taken on many lives has also led to many changes, and happy endings, for people who find power in tragedy, rather than even more hatred.

And there is some justice from the legal system, some relief for the poor prosecution lawyer left flabbergasted by the jury of whom she remarked: “It highlights how intolerant we are. That intolerance is to such a degree that people bring it with them wherever they go, even in the jury box.”

Go see this documentary. The cycle of hate will make you dizzy with anger. But that’s good. Get angry. For Larry’s sake.

- Jacqui Stanford


Jacqui Stanford - 25th July 2013

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