1994. 22 have passed since that year. To many of us, 1994 holds no special place, but to 4 San Antonio women, it was the year their lives took a drastic wrong turn. They were tried, sentenced, and spent years behind bars for a crime they did not commit. As we see on television and in the movies, prisons are full of inmates vowing their innocence, but in this case, filmmaker Deborah S. Esquenazi uncovers the details behind the case to reveal a virtual witch hunt, proving beyond a reasonable doubt, the innocence of these young women. Their true crime was their lifestyle. In an era that being gay or lesbian was unexceptable, the legal system and its constituents appeared to take out its moral judgments upon 4 lesbians—their rationale reminiscent of the witch hunts of centuries ago.
Four women were accused of sexually assaulting two young girls, the nieces of one of the women. The film delves into intricate details about the case using interviews with the professionals who testified, the family members, and the then imprisoned women. It seems rather simple to connect the dots and use common sense in order to determine the validity of the accusations, but 22 years ago, this was not the case. In that time, current psychological studies pointed to the waning of the diagnoses of “Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic.” Medical professionals used a checklist of criterion to “solidly” depict this abusive behavior. Along with a better understanding of medicine and psychology today, it is clear that the nieces had made up the story. The film captures the motivation behind their tall tale that negatively impacted not only these four women, but their families.
The film truly highlights the outrageous and total disregard for all things legal. From the moment these women were arrested, put on trial, and sentenced, the obvious legal errors would make any “Law & Order” fan cringe. I can only imagine what an actual lawyer watching the film would think.
Hearing the women describe what happened, all with their own unique backgrounds, is absolutely heartbreaking. The fear is place in your own mind, “That could be me or my daughter or someone I know.” It could have happened to anyone.
“Southwest of Salem” is a film that cuts you at your very core, unable to truly understand this judgement and the consequences upon four giving and caring women. It also raises important questions about our legal system, our preconceived notions, and our ability to recognize errors and make them right. As these women are now out of prison, they have yet to be exonerated of their crimes. This, in and of itself, is another seemingly ridiculous outcome of an inability to accept an incorrect judgment and make it right. Would this have happened in the Deep South in the year 2016? One would hope not, but can we be guaranteed? If these women had come from a more affluent area and families, would this have happened? And a final question, would this have happened if they weren’t lesbians? There is no way to turn back the hands of time and give these women back the years they have lost, but we can push forward and make things better for the future.
This is a documentary that educates and enlightens. It’s a film that can make a difference. If you’re in NYC, make the time to be enlightened.
Go to www.tribecafilm.com
Check back soon for an interview with these brave women.