The Jaundiced Eye

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It’s an all too familiar and distressing story. Someone is accused of child abuse on the basis of no evidence but much hatred and fear and the testimony of a well-prompted youngster. Often, complicated psychological scores are being settled by embattled adults, but by the time a jury has arrived to hear the narrative it’s been shaped into the more simple story of did they or didn’t they. Cued by the child’s distress and the vindictive urgency of the grown-ups, innocent people are convicted and bundled away to jail.

In Nonny de la Peña’s new documentary, Stephen Matthews (of Monroe) and his father Melvin are accused of sexually molesting Stephen’s son. Right away one’s skepticism should kick in, unless you see nothing odd about pedophilia being a family pursuit (Stephen’s mother was also included in the original accusations, but the charges against her were dropped).

Stephen fathered the boy with his ex-girlfriend when they were both teenagers and before he realized he was gay. (Remember, he was raised in Monroe.) The charges were made by the ex-girlfriend and her new husband, both wary of the 5-year-old’s visits with gay Stephen.

Obviously the boy’s mother is embittered and the new father homophobic — at one point he says he believes that three of Stephen’s siblings are also gay — but why does the child acquiesce once this irrational gestalt gives rise to the abuse scenario? Because apparently the stepfather is a tough cookie and the mother is still feeling severely spurned by Stephen, and — although this is not directly addressed in the film and only rarely addressed anywhere — there are, at times, no limits to what a vulnerable child will say to gain the love and approval of adults.

The movie’s title comes from Alexander Pope: “All seems infected that the infected spy, as all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.” It’s a fitting sentiment for this well-wrought study in the persistence of emotional stupidity.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about film and music for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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