Ciudad Juárez is notorious for its violence, especially against women. In the first four months of 2020, 987 women and young girls were murdered in Mexico. Of those deaths, 308 were categorized as femicide. Directors Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim shine light on this deadly issue through a sympathetic and empowering lens with their SXSW documentary Luchadoras.
Instead of focusing primarily on the grim details of violence against women in an exploitative manner, Calvo and Jasim introduce viewers to a strong and courageous group of luchadoras. They are mothers, sisters, and daughters who moonlight as wrestlers in their community. Donning vibrant leather masks, shiny or battered outfits, and a fed-up attitude, these women take to the ring with a larger fight always in the back of their minds. While their opponent may be their immediate focus, their mission as a whole is towards making a change in how women are disproportionately and dangerously treated in Mexico. They fight to advocate and advocate to fight.
Luchadoras follows three distinct wrestlers: Lady Candy, Baby Star and Mini Sirenita. While the three women occasionally fight one another, they are also allies and work together to encourage other ladies to jump in the ring as well. The audience first meets Lady Candy, a mother in her early twenties who has a day job at a funeral parlor. In between working and wrestling, she faces a different kind of fight – a custody battle over her two children currently residing in El Paso, Texas. Viewers get a glimpse into the Visa application process through Candy’s story and learn that the border wall causes more issues for mothers than one may think.
Baby Star is the daughter of renowned Lucha Libre fighter Estrella Roja. Despite a successful career, Baby Star was forced into early retirement by her husband once she became pregnant. Now, single and looking for a comeback, she attempts to balance being a mother with being a wrestler.
The documentary also chronicles the journey of Mini Sirenita, a short-statured wrestler who works during the day at a maquila, an assembly line factory with extremely poor wages. Many women who work the maquilas are kidnapped, raped or robbed on their way to and from the factory. Faced with increasing physical pain and taking care of her ill mother, Mini Sirenita still has hopes to travel to Mexico City in order to make a name for herself in the ring.
Calvo and Jasim shoot their documentary in a manner that could easily translate as a fictional film. It is actually refreshing that the standard formulaic documentary is not evident here. Voiceover dialogue in the beginning describes the women who were murdered in the desert on the way home from work on a bus. This introduction sets the stage for the danger the women face and is told in a manner that almost seems like a dream sequence, but the reality is very much a nightmare for these women.
The wrestlers do not regularly speak directly into a camera as if being interviewed. Instead, Calvo and Jasmin capture the women naturally as they disclose information about their struggles, passions and goals either to their family, friends, or over the phone with officials. They utilize different methods of relaying their stories and capture intimate pieces of their lives with an intriguing and admirable nuance. The editing is also sewn together seamlessly thanks to the talent of Gines Olivares. Between segments of the women’s personal and daily lives, there are fight scenes that showcase their talent and valor.
The film successfully captures the dynamic struggles of what it means to be a woman living in Juárez, especially working in a male-dominated industry. By sharing the stories of multiple women, viewers get a robust understanding of how challenging it is to not only stay alive in the city known for its murder rate and femicide, but also to witness the multiple ways in which women struggle financially, physically, and emotionally under such socioeconomic and political circumstances.
Luchadoras is a powerful portrayal of female resistance and breaking the status quo. Instead of approaching the devastating topic of femicide with an exploitative or true crime approach, the filmmakers provide a sense of power and hope through the world of wrestling. Luchadoras is a poignant and inspiring documentary for all women. Towards the end of the film, standing in front of the camera with a proud blood-soaked face, Candy’s silent stare and slight smile reminds us of all the reasons why women fight…and why they won’t stop.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10
/Film – ‘Slash Film: ‘Luchadoras’ Review: The Female Wrestlers of Juárez Take to the Ring to Conquer a Devastating National Plight [SXSW 2021]’
Author: Marisa Mirabal
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March 27, 2021