Netflix’s new “I Am Vanessa Guillen” just isn’t your typical true-crime documentary. It tells the story of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillen, who went lacking at Texas’s Fort Hood Army base, the place she had been sexually harassed. Months after her disappearance, Guillen’s stays have been discovered. Instead of your typical lurid homicide/sexual-assault story, exploring who did it and why, the doc zooms in on the systemic injustices that allowed Guillen’s homicide to occur and left it unsolved for therefore lengthy and her household’s profitable work to chip away at that system after her tragic demise.
“There are nonetheless so many victims of sexual misconduct and violence struggling in silence, and so they deserved a movie that did greater than deal with the horrific particulars of the crime or the investigation, which solely goes to this point,” documentary director and producer Christy Wegener tells POPSUGAR. “The Guillen household deserved extra as properly. So many crime-driven movies deal with the perpetrators and the ache inflicted, which in some circumstances is smart, however this story deserved a special focus.”
Our felony justice system does a poor job relating to sexual harassment and assault. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), two out of three rapes go unreported. And for many who do come ahead, there’s nonetheless a backlog of untested rape kits. There’s a purpose we would have liked the MeToo motion and nonetheless do. And that is all for crimes amongst civilians. When sexual harassment and assault happen between members of the army, survivors have even fewer recourses.
“Victims of sexual misconduct within the army are actually susceptible, as they’ve so little recourse due to the way in which the army justice system is ready up.”
“There’s a deadly flaw within the army justice system — it is a closely biased system the place the chain of command has monumental oversight over authorized choices that might by no means fly within the civilian world,” Wegener explains. “For me, like many ladies world wide, gender-based harassment and violence is an all-too-common expertise. It’s one of the vital vital problems with our time. Vanessa Guillen was an clever, formidable younger girl together with her complete life forward of her and was senselessly taken away. Victims of sexual misconduct within the army are actually susceptible, as they’ve so little recourse due to the way in which the army justice system is ready up.”
Through interviews with relations, “I Am Vanessa Guillen” reveals how Army specialist Guillen had wished to hitch the army since she was little, despite the fact that her mom discouraged her, saying it wasn’t for ladies. But Guillen endured and was pleased with her work within the Army, till touchdown within the poisonous setting of Fort Hood. There, she skilled sexual harassment — that she did not even hassle reporting as a result of she knew the army system was not set as much as assist her.
After she went lacking, her household, and notably her sisters, needed to agitate to get her case the eye it wanted. They did all the things they might — organizing volunteer search events, posting on social media, and protesting. Eventually, the #IAmVanessaGuillen hashtag went viral, with different ladies within the army posting their tales of harassment. And when Guillen’s stays lastly have been discovered, the Army botched apprehending the suspect, who took his personal life upon being confronted. His accomplice in hiding the remains recently pleaded guilty to her function within the cover-up. “The case was seen as a scientific failure,” Wegener says, recounting the various instances the army miscarried justice for his or her younger soldier.
“We hope the movie additionally sheds somewhat ray of hope by way of what may be achieved in our democracy, even in essentially the most divisive instances.”
But the Guillen household did not cease with the demise and apprehension of their love one’s murderers. “We have been witnessing a household, of their deepest moments of insufferable grief, make the unbelievable option to battle for the higher good and make the world a greater place,” the director shares. “We hope the movie additionally sheds somewhat ray of hope by way of what may be achieved in our democracy, even in essentially the most divisive instances. The Guillen household, with no political expertise, handed a bipartisan invoice due to their persistence and dedication.”
That invoice, the 2022 fiscal year National Defense Authorization Act, made some important adjustments. “It created a brand new function, an unbiased prosecutor that assesses the circumstances and decides if they need to be prosecuted. So that call has been taken away from the chain of command,” Wegener explains. Still, there’s extra to be finished: “Until that system is totally void of the heavy affect of the chain of command, it is not really unbiased. The subsequent invoice will hopefully proceed to additional professionalize the army justice system.”
Watching “I Am Vanessa Guillen,” there is no such thing as a denying the tragedy. But there may be additionally energy to be discovered within the Guillen household and their righteous anger. In explicit, Vanessa’s sisters, Mayra and Lupe, set a powerful instance. Lupe was in highschool when she misplaced her sister, and he or she turned a robust voice for change, talking out with ardour and fireplace. Mayra has a extra sedate disposition however the identical tenacity, working tirelessly to make her sister’s life and demise imply one thing.
And the sisters are strategic, organizing their neighborhood, participating consultants like lawyer Natalie Khawam (featured within the movie), and dealing with legislators like Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to maneuver the needle. They additionally enable for relaxation, encouraging Lupe to take a step again when it looks like she’s dropping what’s left of her childhood.
It’s an encouraging mannequin, and it is a notably Latina one, counting on matriarchal networks and neighborhood ties to create change. “The Latine neighborhood has confronted ongoing discrimination and marginalization all through US historical past, however when it organizes round shared values and objectives, it is an extremely highly effective power,” movie producer Isabel Castro tells POPSUGAR. “I additionally hope that US audiences be taught from the Guillen household in regards to the energy of organizing to enact change.”
“It actually does appear to require numerous media consideration and public strain with the intention to get a invoice over the end line,” Wegener says. And that is what the Guillen household did, constructing a mannequin of political advocacy that labored, nonetheless partially. In the movie, they name Latinxs “a sleeping big,” referencing our untapped political energy. But the Guillen household are proving that we will and can arrange for change, and after we do, we can’t be stopped. And that could be a legacy the Guillen household may be pleased with.