Blinded Justice


As suggested by its title (derived from an Alexander Pope epigram, “All is yellow to the jaundiced eye”), Nonny de la Peña’s documentary concerns the perils of colored perspective—the tendency, as one talking-head psychiatrist here puts it, to see what you’re looking for, not what you’re looking at. The film presents itself as a made-for-Dateline investigation into an outlandish sexual abuse charge, which nearly a decade ago sent a Michigan family into a tailspin, but, more than a mere miscarriage-of-justice exposé, it ends up illustrating some valuable points about how a personal prejudice (in this case, homophobia) can spill over into harmful, seamlessly delusional behavior, and how the high emotions inextricably entwined with a subject like child abuse can prove ultimately self-defeating.

In 1990, Stephen Matthews, a gay man, and his father Melvin were accused by Stephen’s ex-wife of molesting their five-year-old son. Despite the absence of physical evidence, and rickety testimonies from the boy comprised of leading questions and seemingly coached answers, both father and son were found guilty. After nearly four years in jail, Stephen discovered that the chlamydia test on his son was incorrectly administered; he and his father were released but found themselves facing a second trial in a matter of months. The film’s main weakness is its reliance on staged inserts as punctuation (clanging cell doors, thumping gavels, and most bizarre of all, a machete ominously embedded in a tree), a suspect TV-newsmagazine technique that detracts from the cumulative force of the interviews.