Be careful! This publish accommodates spoilers.
Lucha tradition could appear to be an unlikely path for queer liberation, however that is provided that you do not know the real-life story of Saúl Armendáriz, the “exótico” who turned wrestling in Mexico and north of the border the other way up. He is the topic of the brand new Amazon movie “Cassandro,” performed by Gael García Bernal; the film additionally options Dangerous Bunny and Roberta Colindrez. It follows Armendáriz as he finds self-acceptance and makes use of his instance to nudge Mexico into changing into extra accepting.
The movie’s star energy echoes its topic, exhibiting how celebrities can normalize LGBTQ+ identities within the ring and out. Dangerous Bunny is probably probably the most influential Latino of his era. García Bernal has been making waves as a well-respected actor for many years. And Colindrez, from “Vida” and “A League of Her Personal,” whereas lesser identified, is beloved within the queer neighborhood. Not solely does the movie characteristic a formidable forged, nevertheless it additionally alerts how LGBTQ+ tales have grow to be mainstream, representing an essential thread within the material of Latinidad.
After all, it isn’t simple to get there. Whereas the movie celebrates Armendáriz’s story as a queer Mexican American man and an exótico wrestler, it additionally depicts the discrimination he skilled earlier than he was lastly embraced by his neighborhood.
The story begins with Armendáriz residing a considerably lonely life together with his mother, working at a diner, and sometimes doing matches as a not notably profitable luchador. He additionally has no relationship together with his father, a married man who already had a household when he began having an affair with Armendáriz’s mom. Within the movie, we study that his father walked out of his life after Armendáriz got here out as homosexual throughout his teen years. Much like his mom earlier than him, Armendáriz can be in a romantic relationship with a married man named Gerardo (performed by Raúl Castillo). Gerardo additionally has a household, outdoors of his relationship with Armendáriz, and he’s adamant they don’t study of his homosexual affair. Armendáriz’s solely actual pal is his mom, Yocasta, performed by Perla De La Rosa.
However issues begin wanting up for Armendáriz as he begins to rework himself into the “Liberace of Lucha Libre,” as he got here to be identified. Armendáriz’s first step is creating his Cassandro character. For these not acquainted with lucha conventions, the movie explains how wrestling featured “exóticos” — which means femme or gay-presenting wrestlers. The long-held custom was that whereas exóticos might battle, they could not win. The intention was that femme males needed to cave to the extra masculine ones. Apparently sufficient, lots of the exótico wrestlers have been straight males, performing stereotypes and mocking flamboyant homosexual males. They needed to lose, and that is what the crowds needed, too. Wrestling was imagined to reward conventional (if not poisonous) concepts round masculinity.
However Armendáriz as Cassandro is ready to escape of all that. A part of it’s as a result of sheer magnetism of his efficiency. As he goes from feeling rejected for his sexuality to proudly owning it, his self-acceptance radiates outward. His self-love provides the viewers permission to root for him, too. The movie additionally touches on how the norms on this tradition started to evolve. Within the late ’80s and early ’90s in Mexico and the US, society was beginning to open up and slowly grow to be extra accepting of members of the LGBTQ+ neighborhood. Armendáriz is ready to faucet into that and push it ahead into the masculine house of lucha. As soon as he begins successful within the ring, his life takes off, however the obstacles do not all of a sudden go away. Armendáriz’s mom passes, and he will get into medicine and has a tough time discovering love and companionship. However he additionally triumphs, successful at larger venues, assembly his heroes, and reworking the game as he goes.
Does the bigger tradition include him? Not less than partly, it does. Mexico could have the second highest charges of LGBTQ+ hate crimes in Latin America, nevertheless it’s additionally seeing a wave of legislative modifications, from legalizing and normalizing same-sex marriage to serving to trans folks change their start certificates to mirror their true identities.
“Cassandro” is not a tragic homosexual story of hate crimes and despair. It isn’t even a coming-of-age story of younger homosexual males determining who they’re. Armendáriz is a grown and unapologetic homosexual man from the start. He is by no means unclear about who he’s. He’s simply ready for the world to catch up and settle for him. Fortunately, it does.
It isn’t typically we get to see homosexual Latines triumph — and it is essential we see extra tales that remember and normalize that. Successful at lucha libre is important. It might not be a real sport like soccer or baseball, nevertheless it shares lots of its tenets — athleticism, winners and losers, and the normal underdog/frontrunner narratives.
It has additionally grow to be a token of Latinidad. Just like the quinceñera earlier than it, lucha libre has grow to be a method to sign Latine cultural context in a manner that is approachable for all. And it is exhibiting up everywhere, from Disney’s “Extremely Violet & Black Scorpion” to Netflix’s “Chupa” and “In opposition to the Ropes.” And people trendy examples, together with “Cassandro,” differ from the predecessors like Jack Black’s “Nacho Libre” by being firmly rooted within the Latine expertise.
Now, there are issues with cultural shorthand. It may be reductive and even stereotypical. It could actually flip our stunning, advanced tradition right into a gimmick to promote stuff. Simply take into consideration Frida Kahlo’s legacy. Latinidad should not be one thing we buy or a set of tropes we see repeated to ourselves within the few Latine tales that get green-lit. But when lucha goes to get the Hollywood therapy — and that is already underway — then should not it characterize all of our tales, together with tales surrounding the queer Latine expertise? I believe so.
“Cassandro” delivers a distinct model of the everyday Latine narrative. It is a spandex-clad, body-slamming path to queer libration, and it is a hell of a journey to observe.
“Cassandro” premiered on the Sundance Movie Pageant earlier this 12 months and opened in choose theaters on Friday, Sept. 15. It will likely be accessible on Prime Video on Sept. 22.