April 20, 2014
Valentine Road, shown a Hot Docs yesterday, contains so many levels. It’s definitely emotional and complex. Take a young gay/transgender student, Larry, who starts dressing more feminine in class as he begins to feel more comfortable with who he is. Then, in a game of ‘Valentine’ he asks a white male student (Brandon) to be his valentine – in front of his friends. Larry also happens to be biracial – a point that we later find out may be part of the motive.
Brandon loses it and shows up to school one day with a gun, and kills Larry in front of his classmates. The prosecutors want to try him as an adult, instead of as a 14 year old kid.
There’s a bit of family history for both Brandon and Larry. Both came from rough upbringings – which plays a role in the film.
The documentary lets all sides have their say – and doesn’t lean one way or the other. It basically puts all the opinions out there and lets the viewers decide on their own. I find this refreshing in a documentary, no question. In the Q&A afterwards, the filmmaker definitely let her thoughts and opinions known, but that was not as evident in the film.
You’ll see the younger teacher that encouraged Larry to be himself and dress how he wanted (and standing up for getting support for students in the aftermath) — and the older teacher (notably religious) who basically said Larry almost caused it upon himself by doing so.
So, was this killing a hate crime? Race related (Brandon’s backpack is found with white-supremacist material – or some would say just an interest in history – and he was introduced to such a group at one time)? Simply a defense against being embarrassed in front of his buddies?
Should have he been tried as an adult? The pro-bono defense team that defends against such didn’t think so — and the female lawyer of the duo seemed to be really emotionally attached to Brandon, oddly.
In true American style, the jurors (after the first court case), hit the airwaves with their opinions – and were later interviewed for the documentary at the home of one of them. It seemed quite obvious that many jury members did, indeed, have strong opinions going into the case – which one would argue heavily effected their decision. Then, in a very interesting twist (although maybe not unexpected at this point), those same jurors appear on TV later on with “Save Brandon” wrist bands.
You begin to realize that the problems are not only at a child-level… They don’t seem much better on an adult level.
As mentioned, it’s super complex, and an obvious tragedy. I highly recommend it: 5/5.
(This review originally written on April 2013)