southwest of salem

In the last half of the 1990s, San Antonio held a modern-day Witch Trial of four lesbian women. Friends Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra Rivera, often referred to as, “The San Antonio Four” found themselves accused of gang-raping Vasquez’s two young nieces. Southwest of Salem uses home video, local news footage, and interviews with the people involved to conjure up a story of bigoted persecution to rival anything in The Crucible. The film casts fundamental doubts on the legal system by documenting both its potential for abuse and its reliance on the dominant ideas of a culture – even the irrational ones.

The film details the lives of the women involved, providing the story with a context that instantly grips the viewer. We learn about the neighborhoods they grew up in, the reactions of friends and family when they came out as gay, and their friendships. Though Vasquez’s two nieces alleged that they were abused sexually over the course of two days, it is made clear that their father Javier Limon had a particularly ugly axe to grind. He had separated from Vasquez’s sister and hence his courtship of Vasquez was roundly rebuffed. It is insinuated throughout the film that the allegations of sexual assault were dreamed up by this man in retaliation for Vasquez’s rejection.

But, regardless of where the tale germinated, it found a receptive garden in the homophobia of San Antonio in the ‘90s. The four women were cast as sex-craved degenerates, with occult verbiage popping up in official court documents and dominating the news coverage. Though Javier may be the villain of Southwest of Salem, it is fundamentally about the legal system’s susceptibility to prejudice.

Saturday, May 28, 2:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tickets can be purchased at the Inside Out website.