• Maysa Monção

The State of Texas vs. Melissa

This is usually the time of the year in which Tribeca Film Festival takes place. As one of the most important Indie film festivals in the United States, they were obviously hit by the current confinement. Nevertheless, Tribeca recently announced that they are joining film festivals from around the world to launch We Are One: A Global Film Festival, a 10-day digital festival on YouTube beginning on May 29. #WeAreOne brings together global artists, storytellers, and curators to provide relief and entertainment to people all over the world for free, at a time when they need it most. The festival will benefit the World Health Organization (WHO) and local organisations helping the relief efforts for those affected by COVID-19.

The State of Texas vs. Melissa is part of Tribeca Film Festival programme under the umbrella of World Premiere Documentary. It's a classic documentary in which the French filmmaker Sabrina Van Tassel takes sides. The film explores the life journey of Melissa Lucio, the first Hispanic woman to be sentenced to death in the state of Texas. For ten years she has been awaiting her fate, and now faces her last appeal.

Melissa Lucio was the first Hispanic woman to be sentenced to death in the state of Texas. Pictured above her children.

The narrative imitates the structure of a trial, e.g. all testimonies begin with witnesses calling out their names and saying what is their relation to Melissa. It's a collection of speeches by Melissa's relatives, her attorneys at the time of the first trial and of the recent appeal, forensic pathologist, psychologist and Melissa herself from the jail. She was convicted of murdering her own 2 year-old daughter although in fact there was no evidence of Melissa's crime. The kid died from a blunt head trauma.

Naturally the tone of the documentary doesn't differ much from a legal drama TV show, and this the audience gets from the opening scene, in which Melissa spanks a baby doll. Gradually, we come to know Melissa's background story: her poor early years in a city near Mexico border, her traumas as a child who suffered abuse, her very early marriage, her abusive husband and her addiction to drugs.

The State of Texas vs. Melissa is set in the heart of the Latino community in South Texas. It's the biggest bonus that Van Tassel comes to light. It details the inextricable bond between politics, corruption and the right to fair trial. In other words, the documentary is the portrait of a society in which justice is as far and transient as clouds.

It is quite difficult to grab the truth from the movie itself. No one had ever seen Melissa be violent with her children. But also there's no proof that people are telling the truth. No pictures, no films, no piece of evidence. The case can be seen as an accident. The child may have fallen from the stairs accidentally. In spite of that, we must be reminded that by law parents are responsible for children's health; health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.

Melissa's life is a true tragedy with consequences for all of her relatives and children. It will be hard to forget the sadness in their eyes.

Don't forget to tune in to YouTube from May 29. Search for We Are One: A Global Film Festival.

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