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40th Frameline festival tackles social justice

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Anna Vasquez is one of four Latina lesbians whose quest is profiled in “Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four,” a centerpiece presentation of Frameline40. (Courtesy photo)

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court’s favorable ruling on same-sex marriage during Pride 2015 was a watershed moment in the history of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, it has far from ended discrimination. To that end, social justice is a key theme at Frameline40, the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival.

Running June 16-26 in San Francisco and the East Bay, the 40th annual program features 155 films, and opens at 7 p.m. June 16 at the Castro with “Kiki,” a documentary about LGBTQ youth of color who fill up dance halls in Harlem (its famed Rockland Palace was the scene of similar drag balls in the 1920s-30s) with flamboyant performances.

Sometimes, participants in the kiki balls (kiki is slang for “have fun”) are targeted by “not-in-my-backyard neighbors” who complain to authorities, who harass ball-goers over minor infractions (that rarely would result in punishment for straight people).

“Just a group of kids hanging out in a park, they (the police) will arrest them,” says director Sara Jordenö of the selective enforcement of loitering laws. “They are targeting trans women specifically, and if they find more than two condoms on them, they book them on prostitution charges.”

Other indignities and injustices are explored on a different level in the extraordinary, moving “Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four.” Screening at 6:30 p.m. June 20 at the Castro, the festival’s centerpiece documentary describes the ongoing case of four Latina lesbians in Texas who in 1994 were wrongly accused of sexually molesting two little girls (nieces of one of the women) in satanic rituals, and sentenced to prison for unusually harsh terms of 15 to 37 years.

Homophobia bedevils the women throughout their ordeal, including a disturbing detail that the girls’ father, whose previous romantic interest in their aunt was spurned, later prompts his daughters to accuse the women. There are also more subtle examples of homophobia, such as when a defense attorney convinces one defendant to change her hair and clothes and wear makeup to appear more feminine to the jury.

“It was tough to find a jury who could sit objectively because of their discomfort with the identity of the four women,” says the film’s director Deborah Esquenazi. “The courtroom is a theater, so, of course, you are going to have to look more fem in order to cater to the jury, which is exactly what is problematic here.”

Homophobia also results in deadly consequences, as exemplified in the heart-wrenching documentary “Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story,” screening at 7 p.m. June 23 at the Roxie.

In the film, suburban Detroit police catch a trans woman, Shelly “Treasure” Hilliard, who is in possession of marijuana. They coerce her into becoming an informant against her dealer, and then unprofessionally reveal her identity to the dealer, who has her murdered and shockingly mutilated in retribution.

Director Dream Hampton cites two examples of transphobia (prejudice against transgender or transsexual people) in the film: “The first instance of transphobia was when the police decided to give Shelly up when they have the drug dealer there. The second instance was the level of brutality against Shelly’s body — in order to obliterate her.”

IF YOU GO
Frameline40
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St.; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., S.F.
When: June 16-26
Tickets: $10 to $12 most screenings (except special events)
Contact: (415) 703-8655, www.frameline.org
Note: Screenings also are June 19-25 at the Rialto in Berkeley and Landmark Piedmont in Oakland.

OPENING NIGHT GALA

Where: NWBLK, 1999 Bryant St., S.F.
When: After 7 p.m. June 16 “Kiki” screening
Tickets: $75 to $90

CLOSING NIGHT

Looking, based on the HBO production
Where: Castro
When: 7 p.m. June 26
Tickets: $30 to $35
Note: After party at the Oasis is sold out.

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