On February 12th 2008 in E.O High School in Oxnard, a sleepy Californian beach town, one very troubled teenager took his anger out on one of his classmates and shot him in the back of the head twice at point blank. It was the middle of the day and the class were all together in the school’s computer lab to do an assignment on tolerance. A lesson that was too little and too late to save the life of 15 year old Larry King
who died two days later on Valentines Day.
Multi-racial Larry had recently started to openly explore his gender identity, and had taken to wearing lipstick and high-heeled shoes to school. A product of a broken home, he was living in a Shelter for abused and neglected kids, and from all accounts was both happy and popular. Brandon McInerney, the gunman, was a tough white kid who also had a troubled home life. His abusive father had at one time actually shot his mother, and as she was a recovering addict, was absent from Brandon’s life for long stretches. (In an interview she admitted that Brandon called her just minutes before he shot Larry, but she never bothered to answer the phone).
Things had come to ahead when Larry, following a school tradition, had approached Brandon when he was with his mates and asked him outright if he would be his Valentine. It evidently pushed this homophobic boy over the edge, and in fact this so-called ‘gay taunting’ became the main defense strategy when Brandon was later charged with Larry’s murder.
First time director Marta Cunningham followed the case when the lengthy legal proceedings started. Maeve Fox the passionate and articulate Prosecutor was determined that not only would this boy, who had just turned 14 years old, be tried as a adult, but she would add hate crime charges to the sheet as well.
His equally passionate Pro-Bono Defense Lawyers bitterly contested the motion of Brandon being tried as an adult, and in a series of legal maneuvers, managed to delay the Trial for some years. When they ran out of options, the Trial proceeded and to the horror of Larry’s friends and the Authorities, they succeeded in getting a hung verdict from the Jury resulting in a mistrial.
Ms. Cunningham included interviews with some of the jury members who made no attempt to disguise their bias to say that they not only believed that Brandon should have been freed, but they spoke at lengths on how his life would be ruined for ever by this tragic incident. In their eyes Brandon was a helpless victim, and there not a thought or mention of the poor dead teenager. Naturally there was no hint that it was because Larry was both biracial and transgender, and in fact these same upstanding members of the community had even trumped up excuses to account for the fact they readily dismissed all the strong evidence that Brandon was into White Supremacy.
Some horrendous hate crime stories such as Matthew Shepherds grab the public’s attention in such a way they even affect some change in attitude, which hopefully will save the lives of other kids who are ‘different’. Larry King’s story didn’t get the attention it deserved at the time, and this excellent movie will hopefully provoke the continuing dialogue that we need about tolerance in our schools and our lives.
Asides from the tragic loss of Larry’s young life, two other aspects of the story gave me cause for concern. Firstly the Principal summarily dismissed Dawn Boldrin his eight-grade teacher, who was sympatric to Larry questioning his gender and was on duty when the shooting took place, very soon afterwards. More importantly, I was so shocked to really appreciate how careful selection of a jury can easily manipulate the course of justice. The very biased and bigoted jurors in this case not only went public with their opinions but took the unprecedented of actually starting to raise funds for Brandon’s defense when there was talk of a 2nd trial.
Brandon eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and is serving a 21-year prison sentence.
This powerful account of this tragic incident is a remarkable debut from a newbie director who through her interviewees …. Larry’s friends, Brandon’s family and the Authorities etc. lets the story unravel quite naturally. It is skillfully edited so that it never loses the momentum, and the passion and emotion came from all their words without comment from her.
It was one of the very best documentaries shown at Sundance this year, and one that moved me deeply, so I cannot give it anything less than the highest rating. The good news that it is an HBO production and will be out on DVD soon. Be sure to have a full box of kleenex handy
One sad/light moment in the story. Immediately after the shooting the school went into lockdown until the Police arrived. One of the first things they did was to take the remaining children out of the computer lab and put them into a closed classroom so the could start to recover from the bloody sight they had just witnessed. They popped a DVD on for the kids to help calm them down. It was the movie Jaws!
Now available at Amazon
Trailer VALENTINE ROAD from Skeive Filmer on Vimeo.
Posted by queerguru at 17:45
Labels: documentary, hate-crime, Sundance