Wednesday, March 26, 2014

BFI Flare: Valentine Road (2013)

In an era of mass rampage shootings in America, body count came to define how much attention was bestowed on any one incident by the media.  Tragedies such as Columbine, Virginia Tech and more recently Denver and Sandy Hook became hideous international news stories, where school shootings with fewer victims got less attention.

One of the stories that broke out of this disturbing cycle was the tragic shooting of a young 14 year-old called Larry King, a Latino teenager who was shot two days before Valentine’s Day in 2008.  A student called Brandon McInery shot Larry at point blank range during an I.T. class in his school in Oxnard, California.  The motive was immediately evident due to Larry’s open homosexuality and cross-dressing…

The documentary from Marta Cunningham explores the motivation behind Brandon’s callous execution by examining the homophobia of the students and (some) teachers at the school, and how Larry had provocatively days before asked Brandon to ‘be his Valentine…’ It then follows the subsequent trial and how the story was represented in the media.
Valentine Road
Some of the people interviewed place the blame clearly at Larry’s feet, because he had flaunted his queer identity and therefore ultimately deserved what happened:  One psychiatrist who gave evidence in court said that the attention Larry showed to Brandon was itself a form of ‘abuse’; another teacher claimed that a pride march that occurred on the anniversary of the shooting was some sort of conspiracy; the jurors involved in the case began to hang out afterwards and are still trying to free Brandon from detention – even after seeing all of the evidence that he was obsessed with Hitler and Nazism…

Some of the most unintentional horror in the film were moments where it highlighted just how blasé most Americans had gotten over school shootings.  For example, when the police first got to the scene that day they rounded up the rest of the students and put them in a room with a TV showing Jaws, as if that was standard procedure…  When a teacher tried to take the Post-Traumatic students to Disneyland for free weeks later they replied that they “don’t do school shootings”… 

The shooting of Larry occurred in an appalling post-Columbine, pre-Virginia Tech window where school shootings were commonplace.  The racial and homophobic elements in this case managed to warrant it widespread national attention but the sad truth is that in the current climate of gun fetishism and reactionary polarisation, the likelihood of this happening again is undoubtedly high. 

The film is a proud celebration of Larry and his personal confidence, with beautiful animated segments by Duck Studios that present him as a sassy young teen cut down in his prime.  Yet the sickening frustration is that as beautiful and important as this film is, it will no doubt only be seen by audiences that agree with its message.

But for the next Larry's sake, I hope I'm proved wrong...

Valentine Road
Larry King (1993 - 2008)

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