In courtesy of the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts,”Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four” was screened Oct. 23 in the D.P. Culp University Center Auditorium.
The film follows the events throughout the trial and includes interviews from attorneys, representatives from the Innocence Project of Texas, the accused and accusers alike, even capturing the crucial recantation of one of the accusers who claimed to be coerced to lie on the stand by her father and grandmother.
“Wow! This is really strong and really heartbreaking,” said director Deborah Esquenazi.
When she heard the story of the San Antonio 4, she was truly moved and wanted to share their story with others.
“Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four” is a harrowing story of 4 Latina lesbians in San Antonio, Texas, who were wrongfully accused in 1994 of gang raping two little girls aged 7 and 9 as part of satanic ritual.
The four women, Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez, became a reminder of the overtly present homophobia, racism, misogyny and xenophobia that continued to exist because of American society’s willful disregard of crime against the LGBT community the tendency to label individuals as “other than” while demonizing them.
The film eventually earned a pivotal role in the women’s ultimate exoneration in 2016, allowing Esquenazi to label that moment as unforgettable and the highlight of her journalistic career proudly. “I helped four women get out of jail,” she said.
The four women were released close to a year ago. After receiving a payout form the court, the four women donated their funds to the Texas Innocence Project to help others who are affected in similar ways.
No lawsuits filed against the orignal families in the case.
One of the accused, Vasquez, also attended ETSU’s screening and expressed her gratefulness to all the persons who were involved in unearthing the truth and putting an end to a nightmare that lasted over 20 years.
Director of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts Anita DeAngelis discussed the importance and relevance of the film in today’s society. She said it speaks to its ability to provoke important conversations about the American criminal justice system and social issues surrounding American society.
“A lot of the films we bring here are documentaries, and many of them deal with social justice issues,” DeAngelis said. “We feel that it is important to have community dialogue about many many difference topics. For this topic, we were really pleased this film came to ETSU because it was about a junk science process, biases that have to deal with LBGTQ people, people who are from poor socioeconomics backgrounds, so there’s just a lot of lessons to be learned form films like ‘Southwest of Salem.'”
To learn more about Esquenazi’s work or the film, visit www.DeborahEsquenazi.com or www.southwestofsalem.com. For more information about ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts and future events, call 423-439-TKTS (8587) or visit www.etsu.edu/martin.