In 2013 the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez shocked the nation. As more details emerged about how the young boy’s mother Pearl Sinthia Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre were responsible for torturing and bullying him for thinking he might be gay, this California-based case suddenly became an even bigger story. The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, a six-part documentary series from filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, chronicles not only the events leading up to Gabriel’s death but the legal battle that ensued. Prosecutors aimed to not only pin the tragedy on these neglectful guardians, but on the Department of Children and Family Services, the system that turned a blind eye to the abuse Gabriel suffered.
As one voice puts it in the trailer, the question at the heart of the case wasn’t just who would do this to their own child, but “how did a child who had so many signs of repeated and long-term abuse slip through the cracks?”
Looking every bit like the true crime docs Netflix has been producing as of late (think Making a Murderer, The Keepers and Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez) Knappenberger’s sobering series includes interviews with those involved with the case, with journalists from the Los Angeles Times who first followed the story back in 2013 and commentators who put into context how Gabriel’s death put an entire system on trial. At once a procedural doc that tracks Aguirre and Ferndandez’s cases in court, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is also a cautionary tale about the inability of an overtaxed bureaucracy to confront its role in what should have been a preventable tragedy.
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is now streaming on Netflix.