Category Archives: Controversy & Conversation

How We Talk About Women’s Bodies

An Interview with Deborah Esquenazi on Directing Southwest of Salem

Southwest of Salem is a 2016 documentary about the San Antonio Four—four Latina lesbian women convicted of gang raping two young girls, a crime of which they were innocent and which never even took place. The allegations of child rape against Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez surfaced in 1994 in the midst of the Satanic Panic in the U.S., a fear of widespread satanic ritual practice that was deeply rooted in homophobia and which perpetuated the myth that LGBTQ individuals are more likely to target children for sexual abuse. The women spent 13-16 years in prison. With the help of The Innocence Project of Texas and Esquenazi’s documentary, the Four were fully exonerated in November 2016.

Clare Callahan of the Humanities Institute and Andrew Murphy of the Austin Public Library sat down with Director Deborah Esquenazi to discuss Southwest of Salem. Ms. Esquenazi discusses how women’s bodies are talked about and how this language to women’s bodies, animated by misogyny and homophobia, led to the false convictions of four women for a crime that never happened. Ms. Esquenazi also reflects on the film’s representation of the nature of freedom and imprisonment. She briefly discusses her current project Certain Perversions, which takes a deeper look at Elizabeth Ramirez’s trial as an example of the way a woman’s body is adjudicated in our system.

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Why I Advocate for Aid in Dying

By Cindy Merrill

Many years ago, during a trip to San Antonio to visit with my elderly ailing parents, my father took me aside and said to me, “Cindy, please get me a gun; I can’t go on like this.”  I recoiled with a gasp.  Hearing my reaction, he quickly said he didn’t mean it.  However, we both knew that he did.  Eighty-seven years old, blind, enfeebled and exhausted from lung problems and advanced Parkinson’s disease, no longer capable of walking but a few steps and never without a walker, my father yearned for death.

In his earlier life he had been a respected builder, a decorated Lieutenant Colonel in the Army during WWII, an active member of his church and community, loving husband and beloved father of two. He had had a very active, volunteer-filled retirement. He now was incapable of reading, volunteering, gardening, traveling, driving a car, watching TV, walking for any great length or caring for himself.  With most of his family and friends long dead, my father endured this diminished life hour after hour, day after day, and year after year.  He was now broken from this endless cycle of misery and suffering.

I was a daddy’s girl completely incapable of imagining him gone and totally helpless to improve the quality of his life. His situation eventually lead me to think seriously about our responsibility to those in the throes of intractable pain and suffering, terminal illness or end stage half-lives.  A collection of essays entitled Must We Suffer Our Way to Death? addresses this issue from cultural, theological, and ethical perspectives. I believe that, in this day and age, the answer to that question should be a resounding no.

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Not Just a Game

By Shannon Sun-Higginson

Publicly identifying oneself as feminist isn’t always easy. Being openly feminist in the world of gaming—a world where misogyny, harassment, and objectification are the norm—is even harder. As a feminist filmmaker, I always thought I knew what it was like to work in a male-dominated and often casually sexist field. Even though I considered myself a no-nonsense feminist, I still thought I could roll with the punches and was cool enough to “hang with the guys.” But I couldn’t imagine the challenges that many women in gaming experience on a daily basis, and how their brand of feminism was often so different, so much deeper and stronger, than what I could even conceive. While I was worried about how to balance having a sense of humor with being taken seriously in the film industry, women in the parallel space of gaming were worried about threats to their personal safety.

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