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.