Southwest of Salem - human rights violation of Latino lesbians

By Moira Sullivan

The title of this film about four women who were put in prison and sentenced to long terms:  Southwest Of Salem: The Story Of The San Antonio Four accurately describes how a Texas judge and those who testified against these four Latina lesbians were involved in a homophobic witchhunt. Their outrageous sentences - 37 years of imprisonment for one women and 15 years for the other three amounts to a hate crime. The women  did not plea bargain and have all served 15 years.
Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez are now out of prison awaiting their exoneration appeal. Their case was submitted to lawyers in the "Innocence Project of Texas" for this purpose. No evidence was presented in court that the alleged crimes took place.

One of the interviewees in the film, Debbie Nathan, wrote together with Michael Snedeker, Satan's silence: ritual abuse and the making of a modern American witch hunt (1995) on the Satanic Panic witchhunts of the 80s and 90s. She came to the attention of Director Deborah S. Esquenazi with news of this story. Esquenazi assembles interviews with the four women, witnesses, footage from 2000 when the alleged crime took place, and how the trial was conducted. There are also interviews with their lawyers at the "Innocence Project of Texas" who took their case.

These women are now in their forties and have been deprived of years of their freedom for being Latino lesbians. As it turned out one of the accusers was in love with one of the women and disapproved of her lifestyle. The women are interviewed in and out of prison and they are always close to tears when they report the history. Two of the women were lovers and have drifted apart because of the trial and aftermath.

The film is not only made to talk about what happened but also to gather support for the women and bring international and national attention. The Salem witchraft trials were hundreds of years ago but this case has similar characteristics. Stories from little girls are related and interpreted by adults and officials get involved. In this case the lack of evidence points to negligence in the Texas courtroom and violations of human rights.The film debuted at the Tribeca film festival this year and also at Frameline this summer.

© 2016- Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/19/16
Movie Magazine International