TV Review - Valentine Road
This case drew national headlines. Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper both spoke out about the case on their national talk shows. The case probably got so much attention because it was considered a hate crime and the fact that Brandon was being charged as an adult and faced life in prison, if convicted.
Cunnigham essentially profiles both children. We get the back story on Larry's brief life and Brandon's forever-changed life. Larry came from the foster care system. He bounced around from place to place and was found to be abused. Brandon came from a home where his mother did drugs and his father was violent and abusive as well.
Larry spent a large amount of time at Casa Pacifica, a foster care facility. Cunningham interviews the people there who knew him. Fellow students and teachers at E.O. Green are also interviewed on Larry's behalf. Cunningham talks to Brandon's brother and mother, as well as his girlfriend and teachers who speak on his behalf.
There's police surveillance and prison videos that give us a glimpse into Brandon's life post-shooting. For Larry, there's only pictures of him when he was younger, so everything about him will forever be past tense or speculation. One thing in particular that's speculation is whether or not Larry was transgendered.
What we learn is that definitely Larry was a cross-dresser. He was a boy who wore girl's clothing, high heels and makeup. One of his teachers even gave him a second-hand gown as a gift. This of course made him the subject of ridicule and bullying. The other speculation is that Larry was possibly gay. The reason that it's probably not speculation is that Larry expressed attraction toward Brandon.
In fact, prior to the shooting, Larry had asked Brandon in front of his friends if he would be his valentine. This enraged Brandon so much that he went and got a gun from home. He followed Larry to the computer lab, sat behind him and then eventually shot Larry twice in the back of the head.
Cunningham includes as much of Brandon's trial where we hear from the prosecutor, trying to convict him for murder. This might be a spoiler for those who didn't follow the news on this, but Cunningham doesn't really need to interview the defense attorneys because Cunningham has something infinitely better. She talked to the jurors.
The trial resulted in a hung jury. It was 7-5 in favor of not convicting Brandon for murder. When Cunningham talked to the jurors, their responses literally shocked me. Their reasons for deciding the way they did were like a gut punch. I couldn't believe they were saying what they were saying and ultimately doing what they were doing. They defend Brandon's attraction to Hitler and neo-nazism and blame the victim. It's shocking.
Hispanic, gay students sit and discuss the homophobia that exists in their community. We never hear any students openly speak badly about gay people but many acknowledge the bullying. Surprisingly, there are several teachers and adults who make some really jaw-dropping, homophobic statements.
For those on Brandon's side, this documentary could also be an indictment on California's Prop 21, which allows the prosecution of children as adults. It was developed as a way to combat gangs, which use children to commit killings, but the circumstances in this case are so different as to not be applicable.
This movie is clear and simply about homophobia. Its insidious presence in schools is more than evident here. Its insidious nature in the older and greater community is evident as well. It's truly shocking and heartbreaking.
Five Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.
Available on HBO on Demand.