Southwest of SalemTribeca Film Festival 2016
The 90s is nearly 20 years old. Outspoken fears and hatred toward homosexuality are being replaced with overwhelming acceptance of LGBTQ lifestyle; the decade also saw the revival of a stranger fear, which turned into a mania. Southwest of Salem chronicles how age-old prejudice toward homosexuality was compounded, with the fear of witchcraft and satanic worship, to put four women into jail.
Elizabeth Ramirez was scheduled to babysit her nieces one weekday night. While there, she invited Cassandra, Kristie and Anna to join her. The women went home later that night without a second thought about the evening. Thus they were surprised over the following few days when charges of abuse, molestation, and ritual worship were levelled against them. From 1994 until the present, Elizabeth and the other women have been imperilled by strange forms of prejudice in and out of the justice system.
The strength of Southwest of Salem is in its historical context: cultural views toward homosexuality are different now than they were 1994, and this transformation is evident in everyday discourse in politics and entertainment. What has been forgotten entirely is the strange fascination with satanism of the 90s that was used to persecute homosexuals and other groups. As Debbie Nathan notes, the San Antonio Four’s trial represents the “last breath of satanic ritual panic”. Yet, as the women featured in Southwest of Salem can attest, the panic has a lingering sigh.
The fault of the documentary is that it struggles to find balance. Though homosexuality and witchcraft are intertwined, it is difficult to ascertain which aspect mattered more in the case of the women. Even though the trial is compelling and the women worthy of compassion, the legacy of the Southwest Four is overshadowed by muddled focus.
Southwest of Salem is released in selected cinemas on 12th June 2016.
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Watch the trailer for Southwest of Salem here: