Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four

DIRECTOR: Deborah Esquenazi

Bay Area Premiere

Expected to attend (June 20 only): Director Deborah Esquenazi, Producer Sam Tabet, Subject Kristie Mayhugh, Subject Elizabeth Ramirez, Subject Cassandra Rivera, Subject Anna Vasquez

During the “Satanic ritual abuse panic” of the 1980–90s, a pervasive fear rang throughout conservative communities and the media as cult activity, sexual perversion, and homosexuality were often linked as interconnected “evils.” (Remember the West Memphis Three of the Paradise Lost documentaries?) At the tail end of this hysteria came the disconcerting case of four Latina lesbian women in San Antonio, Texas, who in 1994 were accused of a heinous sexual assault against two young girls. Southwest of Salem is an extraordinary account of the nightmare that unfolded for these women—a nightmare that continues to this day.

At first the women cooperated with authorities, facing the initial baseless accusations with faith that the truth would prevail. Yet the trials were marred by the bias of a homophobic police department, jury, and court; their sexuality criminalized, the women were convicted and received sentences ranging from 15 to 37 years. The film charts the remarkable efforts of The Innocence Project (fans of the podcast Serial will be familiar with the organization), whose lawyers work tirelessly to debunk outdated scientific evidence and to ally with one of the alleged victims (now an adult) during their epic fight for exoneration.

The interplay of home movies and intimate interviews from prison offer stirring insight into this tight-knit group of friends and how their lives have been devastated by these ghastly accusations. Emotional and heart-wrenching, director Deborah Esquenazi’s frank examination of the rampant prejudice and systemic failings of the criminal justice system sets itself apart from the current proliferation of wrongful-conviction stories by focusing on the personal impact on the women and their families.

— Holly Roach

This film contains discussions of sexual assault.

AT&T Audience Award Text Voting Code: D317

Co-presented by:
Bay Area Video Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights

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