I’m Vanessa Guillen Doc shows us our political power +2023


Netflix’s new “I’m Vanessa Guillen” is not your typical true crime documentary. It tells the story of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillen, who disappeared at Fort Hood, Texas, where she was sexually molested. Guillen’s remains were found months after her disappearance. Instead of your typical garish murder/sexual assault story that explores who did it and why, the documentary zooms in on the systemic injustices that enabled Guillen’s murder and left it unsolved for so long, and her family’s successful work to remedy it system after her tragic death.

“There are still so many victims of sexual misconduct and violence who suffer in silence, and they deserve a film that focuses more than the horrifying details of the crime or the investigation that only goes so far,” said the documentary director and producer Christy Wegener says POPSUGAR. “The Guillen family also deserved more. So many crime films focus on the perpetrators and the pain inflicted, which makes sense in some cases, but this story deserves a different focus.”

Our criminal justice system does a poor job when it comes to sexual harassment and assault. According to that National Rape, Abuse and Incest Network (RAINN), two out of three rapes go unreported. And for those who sign up, there’s still one Backlog of untested rape kits. There’s a reason we needed and still need the MeToo movement. And that’s all for crimes among civilians. When sexual harassment and assault occurs between members of the military, survivors have even fewer choices.

“Victims of sexual misconduct in the military are really at risk because of the way the military justice system is set up, they have so little redress.”

“There is a fatal flaw in the military justice system — it’s a highly biased system in which the chain of command has tremendous visibility over legal decisions that would never fly in the civilian world,” explains Wegener. “For me, as for many women around the world, gender-based harassment and violence is an all too common experience. It is one of the most critical issues of our time. Vanessa Guillen was an intelligent, ambitious young woman in front of her all her life and was taken away senseless. Victims of sexual assault in the military are really vulnerable because of the way military justice is set up, they have so little redress.”

Through interviews with family members, “I Am Vanessa Guillen” shows how army specialist Guillen wanted to join the military since she was a child, despite her mother’s dissuasion that she wasn’t for girls. But Guillen persisted and took pride in her work in the Army until she ended up in the toxic environment of Fort Hood. There she experienced sexual harassment — which she didn’t even report because she knew the military system wasn’t set up to help her.

After she went missing, her family, and especially her sisters, had to agitate to get her case the attention it deserved. They did what they could – organized volunteer search parties, posted on social media and protested. Finally the #IAmVanessaGuillen The hashtag went viral, with other women in the military posting their stories of harassment. And when Guillen’s remains were finally found, the army botched the arrest of the suspect who took his own life in the confrontation. His Accomplice in hiding remains recently pleaded guilty on her role in the cover-up. “The case was seen as a systematic failure,” says Wegener, recalling the many times the military disregarded justice for their young soldier.

“We hope the film also gives a small glimmer of hope about what can be achieved in our democracy, even in the most divisive of times.”

But the Guillen family did not stop with the death and arrest of the killers of their loved ones. “We witnessed a family, in their deepest moments of unbearable grief, make the incredible decision to fight for the greater good and make the world a better place,” shares the director. “We hope the film also offers a small glimmer of hope about what can be achieved in our democracy, even in the most divisive of times. The Guillen family, with no political experience, passed a bipartisan law because of their perseverance and commitment. “

This bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2022, made some significant changes. “A new role has been created, an independent prosecutor who will assess cases and decide whether to prosecute. So this decision was taken out of the chain of command,” explains Wegener. However, there is still more to be done: “As long as this system is not completely freed from the strong influence of the chain of command, it is not really independent. Hopefully the next law will further professionalize military justice.”

When you see “I Am Vanessa Guillen,” there’s no denying the tragedy. But there is also power in the Guillen family and their righteous wrath. Especially Vanessa’s sisters Mayra and Lupe make an impressive statement. Lupe was in high school when she lost her sister, and she became a powerful voice for change, speaking out with passion and fire. Mayra has a quieter demeanor but the same tenacity, working tirelessly to make her sister’s life and death mean something.

And the sisters strategize, organizing their community, hiring experts like attorney Natalie Khawam (seen in the film) and working with legislators such as… Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to move the needle. They also allow for calm and encourage Lupe to take a step back when it seems like she is about to lose what remains of her childhood.

It’s an encouraging model, and it’s particularly a Latina model that draws on matriarchal networks and community ties to bring about change. “The Latin American community has faced constant discrimination and marginalization throughout US history, but when organized around shared values ​​and goals, it is an incredibly powerful force,” said the film producer Isabel Castro says POPSUGAR. “I also hope that US audiences will learn from the Guillen family about the power of the organization to effect change.”

“It really seems to take a lot of media attention and public pressure to get a bill across the finish line,” says Wegener. And that’s exactly what the Guillen family did, building a model of political advocacy that worked, albeit partially. In the film they call Latinxs “a sleeping giant” and refer to our untapped political power. But the Guillen family is proving that we can and will organize for change, and when we do, there is no stopping us. And that’s a legacy the Guillen family can be proud of.

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