Valentine Road details the murder of Lawrence “Larry” King by his classmate Brandon McInerny in 2008. The film was directed by Marta Cunningham and produced by Cunningham, Sasha Alpert and Eddie Schmidt.
The city of Oxnard is nowhere near as famous as its sister cities Los Angeles or San Francisco. It’s a small, but pretty town and is probably the last place you think would have a school shooting. But on February 12, 2008, the unthinkable did happen and it changed the lives of many Oxnard residents, but none more so than those of the children at E.O. Green Junior High School.
Larry King was, according to his friends, one of the sweetest people you would ever meet. He was fun, friendly, scrappy and a pretty loveable kid. Larry also liked to do something that made some at his school very uncomfortable: dress himself in girl’s clothing. Larry, who some said was either gay or possibly transgender, loved to wear girl’s clothing, makeup and accessories. To him, the clothes were a sort of shield against the bullying and name-calling he received at school. Sometimes he created alter egos, with names like LaToya or LaTonya, who deflected the negativity and hate. Unfortunately, Larry’s flamboyance and desire to show everyone his true self enraged a fellow classmate, which led to his murder.
Brandon McInerny was a 14-year old kid who had never been in trouble before. Unlike his older brothers Jeremy and James, Brandon was a good kid and pretty much stayed away from the vices that landed his brothers in jail. But Brandon had a problem with Larry and his cross-dressing, complaining about it to his friends and his girlfriend Sam. She said that Brandon didn’t get why Larry was walking around school in high-heeled boots or wearing makeup. Sam didn’t get it either and felt like Larry was “shoving it in everyone’s face.” Things took a turn for the worse close to Valentine’s Day, when Larry asked Brandon to be his valentine in front of his friends. Brandon was mortified, to say the least, and the teasing he received from his friends only made things worse. He made the decision to shoot his classmate the next day which not only ended Larry’s life, but ruined Brandon’s, as well.
Valentine Road asks many questions, but has no definite answers. I say this because for some, this is not a clear case of murder. Many of Larry’s friends, including one of his teachers, felt like his death was out and out murder. Brandon, who knew the difference between right and wrong, made the conscious decision to plan Larry’s murder and carried it out. Many also felt it was a hate crime because of Larry’s orientation. But those who disagreed felt like Brandon had been provoked and basically went over the edge. Had Larry not dressed in girl’s clothes or asked Brandon to be his valentine, he never would have been killed, which is the classic “blame the victim” mentality.
In watching this film, I couldn’t help but get angry at the failings of many of the adults in both Larry’s and Brandon’s lives, save for a few. Although different in many ways, the boys were more alike than anyone realized. Both came from extremely abusive homes and lived, up to a certain point, in very dangerous conditions. Relief came for Larry when he was finally taken from his home and placed in Casa Pacifica, a shelter for abused and neglected children. Brandon’s came when he went to live with his grandfather after suffering physical abuse and homelessness thanks to his parents. Both longed for a stable, loving home where they could just be kids, both only got their wish for a short time. When Larry was struggling with his sexuality and confided in several teachers, instead of support and general understanding, he was treated like a child with “special needs.” Brandon didn’t seem to have any adults to talk to about his feelings regarding Larry. If he had, who knows how things would have turned out for both boys? As for the rest of the students at E.O. Green, many still carry the scars from that horrible day, as counseling was never offered to them even though they requested it repeatedly. One student named Marina, who came out to her mother on the day of Larry’s shooting, is terrified that the same thing will happen to her and questions her decision to be herself.
Valentine Road is not an easy film to watch, but it is an important one. Many still have no clue what it means to be gay or transgender in today’s society, which was evident by the ignorant comments made by several adults in the film. It is frightening that someone’s decision to be themselves can possibly lead to their death. Hopefully, films like Valentine Road will give people a better understanding of what young people are up against and show them that coming out, for some, can possibly be a life or death decision.
Valentine Road is currently airing on HBO, HBO2, HBO On Demand and HBO GO.
Photos courtesy of HBOPowered by Sidelines