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Joe Hayes

Film 1023

Final Paper

When most people go to movies they go there to be entertained. They do not go have

the beliefs they hold about the world shaken, they go there to watch an enjoyable film that

reinforces the beliefs they have about the world. This is what is known as cultural invisibility;

meaning that the movie does not bring up topics go against what is seen as the cultural norm.

However there are some movies that are not culturally invisible; meaning that they bring up

topics that are not considered part of the norm. An example of this is the movie Valentine

Road. Valentine Road brings up the topics of: being gay and or transgender, white supremacy,

and hate crimes all of which are not culturally invisible topics.

Though it is becoming more and more mainstream with every passing year; being gay

and or transgender is still not considered part of the cultural norm. Similarly in most Hollywood

movies it is very rare to have a gay and or transgender character in the lead role. This is why a

movie like Valentine Road is not culturally invisible is because the main character of the movie

is gay and transsexual. Larry, the main character, is described by both friends and teachers as

being openly gay. The inciting event that ultimately lead to his death was telling Brandon that

he was cute and asking him to be his valentine. Something like this would never have happened

in a typical Hollywood movie as the main characters in those movies are generally heterosexual

men. Imagine John Wayne in Stage Coach telling Curly he loved him instead of Dallas, there

would have been a riot about something like that.

Similarly many teachers and students found Larry’s behavior to be “weird” and offensive

to them. When Larry requested that he be called Latisha by classmates and teachers both

parties for dismissed the request as they were not going to call a boy by a female name. Larry

also wore heels and make up as a statement. Instead of embracing who Larry was he was

rejected because who he wanted to be did not match with what society had told the students

and the teachers who Larry was. They rejected him because they saw him as a confused boy

who was acting out instead of seeing him as a 15 year old transgender kid trying to find his

place in the world.

In the movie plays the song “Same Love” by Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis whose chorus

goes “Oh I can’t change, even if I tried, even I wanted to” in the beginning and the end of the

movie when a picture of Larry is shown. This is a very fitting song because it describes how

Larry was in his life. Larry couldn’t change who he was even though people continually asked

him to be something he was not. Being who he was eventually got him killed, and that is a

tragedy. Marina who was one of Larry’s friends is gay and she says in the movie she thinks

about that that could have been her instead of Larry. No one should be killed or have the fear

of being killed because they are just expressing who they are to the world and the even though

the world rejects them they do it anyway

Brandon, the other focus of the movie, is also expressing himself in a way that is not

supported by mainstream society but in a much different way. There is a scene in the movie

where one of the detectives shows the audience the contents of Brandon’s backpack on the

day that he murdered Larry. The contents of the backpack include: two books about Adolf
Hilter, one about the Nazi SS, several doodles with the swastika, and one with a hand crushing

the Star of David with blood coming of the cracks. Brandon’s brother saw that he was getting an

interest in white supremacy so he introduced him to a known member of the white supremacist

group in Oxnard. Brandon’s brother is also seen having an SS tattoo on his ankle in the movie.

All evidence would point to that Brandon is a budding or fully fledged white supremacist at the

time he killed Larry.

Having a character that is a budding or fully fledged white supremacist is not culturally

invisible. Being part of those kinds of groups are not widely accepted by main stream society

because those kinds of groups have no place in the main stream society. Brandon’s brother

claims that they believe that “A white man should be with a white woman, and a black man

should be with a black woman. It’s about preserving your race.” Brandon’s girlfriend also states

that, “There are not many true white people like Brandon and I left in Oxnard”. These views are

not the ones shared by main stream society. If this was the norm then we would see characters

in movies reflecting these kinds of views back at us because it would be normal for people to

say those kinds of things. That would be like Captain America making reference to the fact that

he keeps his race pure or something along those lines. When characters do pop up in movies

with these kinds of views they are generally the bad guy of the movie. Leonardo Di Caprio’s

character in Django Unchained is an example of this.

The final thing that is not culturally invisible in Valentine Road is the fact that Brandon

committed a hate crime. Brandon murdered Larry because he was offended and disgusted by

who Larry was and how he expressed himself. It is stated by a forensic psychologist that when
Larry asked Brandon asked him to be his valentine he was disturbed and disgusted by the

incident. He also told one of Larry’s friends, “Say goodbye to your friend because you won’t see

him again after tomorrow”. It was the next day after Brandon said that that he shot Larry in the

back of the head twice. If that is not the definition of a hate crime I do not know what is.

Similarly to how most movies do not have a white supremacist character in them except

at the villain of the film; films do not have characters commit hate crimes against one another

for the same reasons. A hate crime is an upsetting thing even to an audience that may not be

part of the group that the crime was committed against. The audiences over the course of a

film grow attached to the characters that they are shown, thus when something happens to

those characters there is an emotional reaction to what occurred. Thus when a hate crime is

committed against one of the characters it is meant to have an emotional impact on the


The final question that needs to be answered is why Valentine Road would have all

these not culturally invisible things in one movie. I believe that Valentine Road wanted to bring

attention to all of these things to a broader audience and make them aware of what happened.

Sure Larry’s murder got attention from the national media and even Ellen, but I had not heard

about it when it happened. By making a movie about what happened Valentine Road brings the

tragedy that occurred into a different spotlight than what was given to mainstream audiences

through the news.

It also brings sympathy towards students like Larry who are struggling with coming out

as gay and or transsexual. I believe the director’s aim was to make audience members feel for
Larry and what he went through in his life and to make them more aware to his struggle. From

there the audience can take the connection that they had with Larry and apply it to someone

they know in real life and help them with their struggle. I for one can say that this movie made

me want to help students like Larry and give them the support that they need. The movie

shows a clip with Anderson Cooper interviewing Dr. Phil and doctor Phil states, “That up to 80%

of gay kids in school say they did not receive support from any adult in the school system.” This

makes me want to be one of those people that gives the support that they deserve and need

and help them with the daunting task of coming out in a world that still does not accept them

for who they are.