Hot Docs Review: Valentine Road
Valentine Road evoked a passion within me like few other films have done this year. Certain individuals portrayed in the film angered me to the point where I wanted to physically throw something at the screen. The strong emotional reaction that the film evokes is exactly why Valentine Road is such an important and necessary film. It should be essential viewing for everyone, but especially students and parents. The film provides a heart-wrenching look at the devastating damage intolerance can have on a community.
The film focuses on the 2008 shooting in an elementary school that rocked the town of Oxnard, California, to its core. The bi-racial victim, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King, was shot in the back of the head twice in front of stunned students and teachers while working in the school’s computer lab. The killer was King’s white 14-year-old classmate Brandon McInerney. Was this a hate crime or something more complex?
King was a LGBTQ teen, who like most teenagers, was coming to terms with his own identity. A few weeks prior to the shooting he started wearing makeup, accessorizing his school uniform, and wearing heels. His flamboyant demeanor unsettled some of the students and teachers alike. McInerney was the object of King’s crush, and was seemingly embarrassed when King approached him in front of his peers and asked him to be his valentine. Although considered a good natured boy by his family, McInerney started to display an infatuation with white supremacy culture prior to the shooting. While some view McInerney’s calculated actions as vile, others feel that he is the real victim.
Director Marta Cunningham puts both sides of the argument under the microscope in Valentine Road. The film documents how both King and McInerney, seemingly good-natured kids, endured troubled childhoods. Each grew up in homes where they were subjected to physical abuse and, in McInerney’s case, witnessed substance addiction on a daily basis. It was clear that for most of their lives the adults around them had failed them. This not only applied to their parents, but the greater community as a well.
This is most evident in many of the interviews Cunningham captures on film. One of the most disturbing aspects about Valentine Road is how deeply rooted the fractured ideology is throughout the community. Whether it is some of the teachers at E.O. Green Junior High School or some of the jurors in the original trial, there is an underlying message that McInerney’s actions were not completely unjustifiable. While no one openly comes out and says King deserved what he got, some felt that due to King’s “prancing about”, it was only a matter of time before something occurred. The fact that many viewed King’s unwanted advances as grounds to justify McInerney’s “panicked” reaction is sickening to say the least.
Valentine Road is a film that shows the gray-area that many in society live in. The film points out that, in the end, there are no winners in debates involving dead children. Everyone in the community ultimately loses as the death directly, and sometimes indirectly, impacts an entire community. It is shameful that homophobia is still considered, by some, to be acceptable justification for hate crimes. Through Valentine Road, Marta Cunningham is asking the world to wake up and put such intolerance aside before more lives are ruined by violence. Valentine Road is one of the most emotionally wrenching films you will see this year. It should be considered essential viewing.