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Film Review: 'Valentine Road'

Stefanie Martinez |
October 8, 2013 | 9:44 p.m. PDT

Contributing Writer

poster courtesy Valentine Road Facebook page
poster courtesy Valentine Road Facebook page
“Valentine Road” is an HBO documentary by Marta Cunningham that examines the murder of 15-year-old Larry King and the trial of his murderer, Brandon McInerney. The documentary follows everyone involved in both of Larry and Brandon’s lives at the time, but also tells the story of events before and after the murder. It ultimately poses the question: “Who messed up?”

Brandon McInerney shared a class with Lawrence “Larry” King on February 12, 2008, in Oxnard, Calif. That morning, he held a gun up, fired two shots into the back of Larry's head in front of the teacher and their class and ran off. Students looked on as their teacher called for help as Larry lay on the ground in a pool of his own blood.

Cunningham interviews lawyers on both sides of the case to highlight what was going on in the boys’ lives. Larry was in and out of foster care and had previously asked Brandon to be his Valentine—a simple enough question. The answer, however, proved to be complicated, but it makes the viewer and educators ask, “How do we handle this?” It is not something to be completely dismissed and viewed as wrong, but it does make us wonder if the educational system is due for an update.

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Transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are finding their voices and embracing who they are at a younger age. Interviews with Larry's friends and teachers noted that he was more himself when he wore boots with heels and makeup. As Cunningham highlights, the teachers were not as quick to accept these changes as his friends were. One teacher in particular speaks out that Larry should have been forced to dress as a boy instead of making himself a target in dressing as a girl.

As for the court case, defense attorneys took on the case pro-bono because of Brandon’s age at the time of the murder. Their belief was that Brandon should not have to suffer rash consequences and be tried as an adult because of his age. Later on, we see the same defense attorney showing off a “Save Brandon” tattoo. The prosecutor reviews evidence and footage (including a graphic autopsy photo) of the murder and explains her quest for justice for Larry. The history of both boys, who did not have an easy childhood at all, is unraveled, but strangely enough, these broken backgrounds are still not enough to figure out why this all of this happened.

One of the most interesting parts of the film were interviews conducted with the former students and classmates who were there the morning of the shooting. Larry’s friends relive the case, but not seem to hold no hate for Brandon. Instead, they reminisce on what they each went through in the time after the shooting and share their memories of Larry. Two girls recall that the administration made no point to speak of the shooting on that February day, but instead reminded every student about the possible outbreak of swine flu.

Cunningham allows the interviewees to tell their own story in their own words. It is hard to not feel for the students and teacher who became victims to the school administration’s neglect, but also difficult to remain neutral towards the adults involved in the case. As jurors and defense attorneys were presented with overwhelming evidence on the events that happened, they would recount their attempts to not consider the age of the shooter (Brandon was 14 at the time, Larry was 15). They could not, in good conscience, send a 14-year-old away for the rest of his life because he shot a classmate.

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An outdated educational system, a school administration and district that still refuses to acknowledge the student whose life was taken away and the courts and foster system amount to one unfortunate event in Oxnard, Calif, in 2008. The narrators of the story, Larry's friends, are seen at the end of the film with their teacher visiting his grave. To not shed a tear or become slightly choked up is incredibly hard.

A piano melody begins playing against a bright blue sky as the friends find Larry’s headstone at the cemetery on Valentine Road. The final emotion that ran through my head as I heard Mary Lambert sing the chorus of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” was rage. I went in expecting to learn about a shooting based solely on issues regarding transgender equality, but Cunningham’s inclusion of every aspect of the case and lives of the community raises so many more complex questions.

Should we allow adolescent murderers any amount of slack when it comes to accepting responsibility for such a grave crime? Are our teachers and educational system open to updating their tolerance for different students and are they prepared to help these students regardless of their own opinions on said lifestyles? How can educators do more to understand and teach tolerance to students who are far more aware of inequalities than most adults care to acknowledge? And how did we as a society ever let a story like Larry’s fall so far off our radar that most of us have never even heard of it?

“Valentine Road” premieres on HBO on October 7 at 9 pm. For more information, visit the documentary's homepage, or view the trailer below.

Contact Contributing Writer Stefanie here, and follow her on Twitter.



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