|QFest Film Review: UNFIT: Ward vs. Ward|
posted by Valerie Temple on Jul 15, 2012 10:00am | comments
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Valerie Temple is the Programming Manager of Bryn Mawr Film Institute,
as well as a filmmaker, video producer and writer whose work has
appeared on such sites as The Awl. This is her first Qfest and she is
super excited about it. You can follow her on Twitter or stalk her on Facebook.
Sometimes real life can be much stranger than fiction, as evidenced by the powerful documentary UNFIT: Ward vs. Ward about a landmark custody battle in Pensacola, Florida where an appellate court favored the father, a convicted murderer, over the mother, whose only flaw seemed to be that she was an out lesbian. Utilizing still photographs, archival video and modern day interviews with key players in the case, the filmmakers draw a troubling portrait of a court system that can be easily derailed by a judge's apparent prejudice.
John Ward murdered his first wife in cold blood over a custody dispute, earning him eight years in a federal prison for the heartless crime. Years later, he was embroiled in another custody battle, this time over his 11-year-old daughter Cassey. Even though her mother Mary had been Cassey's primary caregiver for her entire life, John sued to be granted custody of the young girl, of whom he admitted he barely knew and didn't even know what grade she was in. The reason: Mary was a lesbian living with her partner in the same house as Cassey. Although seemingly preposterous, the judge sided with the murderer, saying that Cassey should be given the chance to grow up outside "the lesbian world". I'd laugh at the situation if it wasn't so sad.
The astute documentary points out many absurd details of the case, such as John Ward's lawyers positing that Cassey was essentially being brainwashed by the lesbians because she preferred Brut cologne to perfume. The filmmakers cleverly debunk this assertion by setting up an experiment with schoolchildren, who were asked to smell unnamed scents and state their preferences. Unsurprisingly, the children fail to adhere to gender constrictions regarding perfume and cologne.
Since this case occurred in the mid-90s, it would be nice to think that something this appalling could never happen today. But this film serves as a stark reminder that prejudice can rear its ugly head in the most unexpected places.