A new HBO Max docuseries makes a convincing case that an East Texas sex scandal was not what it appeared to be at first.
How to Create a Sex Scandal reveals that the small-town paedophilia case that sent seven people to prison was, in fact, an elaborate frame job, conceived by a greedy woman with a badly damaged moral compass.
Since this scam has still not entirely been rectified, Rolling Stones dolls out how the docuseries might succeed where the system failed.
It all begins in a little town with a population hovering around 5 000 called Mineola, where a handful of children came out with horrific stories of sexual abuse at their “sex kindergarten”.
The kids spoke about how they were allegedly trained to perform exotic dances in a trailer and then perform other sex acts at a nearby swinger’s club, which did, in fact, exist.
These lurid accounts are coaxed out of the children by a Texas Ranger, Philip Kemp, and the kids’ foster mother, Margie Cantrell, who seems to possess an actorly ability to cry on demand. As the story goes, a former foster daughter accuses Margie’s husband, John, of sexual abuse.
Somehow, despite a lack of physical evidence or adult witnesses, these fishy accounts from the kids were enough for a zealous prosecutor and multiple juries to get convictions and prison sentences, becoming a tragic tale of small-town injustice.
The directors of the docuseries, Julian P. Hobbs and Berndt Mader, build their case carefully, using a series of Texas Monthly articles by Michael Hall, the consulting producer on the series and the person who deserves much of the credit for bringing the truth to the fore.
Evidence appears to have been withheld during the East Texas trials, which began in 2008. Many of the children, now adults, start telling a much different story — of how Margie, an alleged serial abuser, instructed them to invent their horror stories. And a financial motive emerges for Margie to have done just that.
As How to Create a Sex Scandal steams ahead through three brisk, 45-minute episodes, it becomes clear what the filmmakers believe: This was a tragic, life-destroying scam. It also becomes increasingly difficult for the viewer to believe otherwise.
However, it is possible that How to Create a Sex Scandal has the power to encourage the reopening of these cases, this time with a far more sceptical eye intact.
Take a look at the trailer:
The three-part docuseries has been streaming on Max since May 23.
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