Speaking Words of Forgiveness
I began this short film with serious trepidation. As a black woman whose parents fought for our rights in the civil rights struggle in the 60s—how was I going to do these women justice? What did I know of their pain and sorrow? As a filmmaker, how could I convey their stories within the realm of a five-minute short? At first I thought of turning it down. My life has been filled with privilege, which affords me the luxury of being a documentarian in the first place. What or who in my life could I bring into the fold so I could at least relate to the loss and then turn that pain into the process of forgiving. Nothing. No one. So I decided that was exactly the reason I needed to take the job: to learn, to open my world up for the four days I was given to sit down, be quiet, and learn.
To read the full blog over on the Glamour Magazine website, click here.
Creating Safe Spaces in Jackson, Mississippi
When I was first told that I would be making the trip down South with Film Forward to screen Valentine Road, I felt a range of emotions ranging from excitement to anxiety. Being a Californian, I only knew the horror stories of the history of the South and the conservative views that Fox News spits out. But since making Valentine Road, I know now that these hate crimes can happen anywhere at anytime. As an African American woman coming to Jackson, Mississippi, showing my film about a hate crime of a queer youth named Lawrence King was loaded. I wondered what our screenings would be like? Who would show up? And how many Black people will come?
To read the full blog over on the Sundance Film Forward page, click here.
"Valentine Road" - Director Statement
It’s more than a movie – it’s a movement.
This film has the potential to plant the seed for a powerful change in our understanding of
difference. Through relationships with child advocacy groups against the cruel and unusual
punishment of Proposition 21, as well as mentorship and outreach programs for LGBTQ youth,
this film has the potential to continue it’s life beyond the screen in a practical and hands-on way;
with expanded resources for youth in need.
When I first read about Lawrence King and Brandon McInerney, I realized how layered
the injustices were that were being committed not by the youth but by the adults within the
community where these boys lived. It was clear to me that both victim and perpetrator had
experienced extremely difficult childhoods, and that this informed the tragic outcome of their
story. The media’s depiction of two boys who were complete opposites (one ostracized, multi-
racial, and exploring his gender expression, the other popular, white, and straight) struck me as
over-simplistic and by playing to stereotypes and looking for kids to blame, let us off the hook.
As I explored the similarities in their stories I witnessed how the systems that were designed to
serve them had failed to protect either of them, or to prevent an avoidable tragedy.
Our country’s juvenile justice system has reached the limit of it’s power to punish and detain,
while unwittingly scapegoating one child for the shortcomings of a wider society, and in so doing
distract us from looking deeper at the causes of this kind of hatred. I believe that Brandon is fully
responsible for his actions, but I ask myself, and the audience this question: is putting a 14 year-
old boy in adult prison for the rest of his life the best our society has to offer?
We are failing our children. It’s our responsibility as adults, as parents, as educators, as citizens
to teach acceptance and understanding - to widen our circle of empathy and awareness and
embrace the change that It’s our gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual kids yearn for. For
them to feel safe just being who they are we are required to be more than bystanders.
I made this film so that we can all feel empowered to make a difference for the future of our
youth, so that tragedies of this kind are recognized for what they are. Until then, we cannot say
that justice has been truly served. We must demand change in our communities, our schools
and our institutions. The time to act is now.
- Marta Cunningham, Director/Producer of "Valentine Road"