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HomeMovies'Cassandro' honors the gay wrestler who revolutionized lucha libre : NPR

‘Cassandro’ honors the gay wrestler who revolutionized lucha libre : NPR

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The Cassandro trailer.

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Cassandro, the brand new biopic directed by Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams, stars Gael García Bernal because the eponymous Mexican-American fighter who modified the course of Mexico’s beloved lucha libre.

The movie is Williams’ first narrative scripted undertaking, and builds off his documentary quick, “The Man With out A Masks.” It paints an intimate portrait of the real-life homosexual wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, and his struggle to create area for unapologetically queer males in a male-dominated sport and society.

Who’s he? Often known as the Liberace of Lucha Libre, Saúl Armendáriz broke out as a brand new form of luchador within the late ’80s and ’90s.

  • Born in El Paso, Texas, Armendáriz grew up between the U.S. Mexico border as an avid fan of lucha libre. Within the extremely theatrical Mexican sport, there are specific archetypes wrestlers observe. Técnicos are the heroic good guys, whereas rudos are the unhealthy guys they have to defeat.
  • Armendáriz began competing in lucha libre in 1987 below the identify of Mister Romano, a villainous masked character. In 1988, after a lot hesitation, he determined to take the leap and change into an exótico, a unique kind of archetype.
  • Though exóticos might be traced back to the Nineteen Forties, with figures like Gardenia Davis, they have been principally caricatures of homosexual males; underdogs positioned in fights solely for laughs.
  • “Exóticos have been meant to be humiliated. They have been normally performed by straight males who’re taking part in cowering, ‘weak sissies,’ as [Cassandro] says within the film,” explains Roger Ross Williams in an interview with NPR. “And Cassandro just isn’t that in any respect. He is a strong man.”
  • As an alternative of making an attempt to cover his sexuality in an effort to appease the norms of lucha libre, Armendáriz leaned in. He started performing as Cassandro: maskless, sporting make-up and glamorous costumes inspired by determine skaters, and displaying off his technical abilities and power.

Saul Armendariz (left) and Gael García Bernal attend the 2023 Sundance Movie Competition Cassandro premiere.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Pictures


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Saul Armendariz (left) and Gael García Bernal attend the 2023 Sundance Movie Competition Cassandro premiere.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Pictures

What is the huge deal?

  • Lucha libre is a sport rooted in efficiency of hyper-masculinity, which might typically manifest in machismo and homophobia. It additionally tends to be scripted, and reinforces sure narratives: good prevailing over evil, bodily energy as a way of measuring manhood. That is why exóticos weren’t given alternatives to win – till Cassandro and different homosexual wrestlers of the period started to point out they may each be flamboyant and kick butt. 
  • A reported podcast by the cultural and investigative items of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) explains that the picture of exóticos started altering within the Nineteen Eighties, as wrestlers like Cassandro grew to become a brand new beacon of LGBTQ+ illustration out and in of the ring. 
  • “It was exhausting as a result of the opposite wrestlers tried to reject me and push me out of the game,” Armendáriz told The Guardian in 2015. “Plenty of doorways have been shut in my face. However once they noticed me within the ring, they noticed that I used to be a real wrestler.” 
  • In 1992, Cassandro became the primary exótico to win a world title for the UWA World Light-weight Championship. 
  • In Williams’ movie, Cassandro is consistently referred to as anti-gay slurs by his friends and public alike. Nonetheless, he maintains his dignity and continues to point out his truest self. 
  • “Here’s a man who was hiding behind a masks, and he then takes off that masks and he comes out as a female, brazenly homosexual man. And when the viewers begins to name him names and jeer him, he makes use of that as his energy,” says Williams. “The extra they yell and scream, the extra highly effective he turns into.”

Need extra on tradition? Hearken to Think about This discover if we’re presently witnessing the demise of film stars.

Gael García Bernal and El Hijo del Santo in Cassandro.

Alejandro Lopez Pineda/Amazon Content material Companies LLC


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Gael García Bernal and El Hijo del Santo in Cassandro.

Alejandro Lopez Pineda/Amazon Content material Companies LLC

What are folks saying?

  • As the topic of quite a few documentaries and profiles, Armendáriz has been candid in regards to the radical highs and lows he is skilled all through his life, from childhood sexual abuse to substance habit and psychological well being struggles in the course of the top of his profession.
  • Though a number of the latter is depicted in Williams’ movie, the director says he wished to deal with Armendáriz’s outsized affect.  “There’s so many destructive tales in regards to the LGBTQ+ group. There’s so many popping out tales,” he says. “However that is about Cassandro’s glory. That is about what he was in a position to accomplish. Despite all that, he nonetheless grew to become a shining superhero.” 
  • Though each Williams and Bernal have fielded questions in regards to the determination to not forged an LGBTQ actor within the function of Cassandro, Bernal’s efficiency has acquired high praise – an extension of the best way he is tapped into roles that problem masculinity and heteronormativity all through his profession, from Y Tu Mamá También to Dangerous Schooling
  • Switching between English and Spanish on-screen, effortlessly capturing the fluidity of language for individuals who reside on the border, the actor embraces the emotional and bodily grace that earned Cassandro a spot within the coronary heart of so many lucha libre followers.
  • “Unexpectedly, it was like there have been so many taboos that have been damaged, and once they have been damaged, everybody was like, ‘Yeah, it wasn’t such an enormous deal,” Bernal told GQ earlier this yr. 

Roger Ross Williams, Saúl Armendáriz and Gael García Bernal attend the 2023 Sundance Movie Competition Cassandro premiere. The movie streams on Prime Video on September 22.

David Becker/Getty Pictures for Prime Video


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Roger Ross Williams, Saúl Armendáriz and Gael García Bernal attend the 2023 Sundance Movie Competition Cassandro premiere. The movie streams on Prime Video on September 22.

David Becker/Getty Pictures for Prime Video

So, what now?

  • Regardless of sustaining countless injuries all through his decades-long profession, Cassandro has wrestled around the globe and devoted time to instructing up-and-coming luchadores.
  • Illustration continues to evolve within the ring – youthful exóticos interviewed within the UNAM podcast, like La Diva Salvaje and Jessy Ventura, say they have been in a position to achieve the respect and admiration of their friends and public, they usually’re proud to hold the torch of queer athleticism ahead. In the meantime, Mexico Metropolis star Miss Gaviota is paving a brand new path for transgender wrestlers in lucha libre. 
  • Williams says he hopes the movie and Cassandro’s story will maintain an necessary message for anybody who watches – and notably for queer, younger folks.  “Sporting a masks, masking up who you’re and never loving who you’re is at all times going to be an issue in anybody’s life,” he says. “Love who you’re, love your self, and everybody else will love you since you’re being your self.”

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