Directed by Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim.
The courageous female wrestlers of Ciudad Juárez, a city known for its high murder rate against women – who fight in the ring and in their daily lives to redefine the image of what it means to be a woman in Mexico.
While the overwhelming majority of documentaries set on the Mexico-United States border tend to focus strictly on the admittedly pressing subject of drug cartels, Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim’s new documentary Luchadoras takes a somewhat different tack.
This intimate and compassionate doc explores the lives of three female wrestlers living in Ciudad Juárez, among the most dangerous cities in the world and one noted for its high murder rate against women. Though just over the border lies El Paso, one of the safest cities in the U.S., Juárez is defined by a daily culture of fear, especially for women, where even a bus ride home invites the possibility of rape, murder, and burial out in the desert.
Calvo and Jasim focus on three Mexican women who moonlight as wrestlers while also attempting to provide for their children. First we meet Lady Candy, whose father has hidden her children away in El Paso after she divorced him for domestic abuse, forcing her to fight for an American visa simply to be able to see her kids. In the ring, though, she’s a glammed-up, no-nonsense brawler.
Then there’s Baby Star, who struggles to balance her desire to raise her profile as a wrestler with the commitments of being a mother. And finally we have Mini Sirenita, a dwarf single mother who works at a factory but wishes to make wrestling a full-time gig. She’s surely among the few grandmothers in the world to bear scars from taking part in “extreme” lucha matches. “If someone wants to beat me, they have to pay me,” she says.
The disturbing accounts of how women strive simply to exist in the region would be enough to make for a worthwhile documentary, but the unconventional hook elevates Luchadoras to examine the tension between their dreams and the stressors of daily life. Here factory workers are commonly murdered on their way to or from work, and one of the doc’s most horrifying visuals is a wall full of missing persons pictures.
Hell, the ladies can’t even shoot their promo videos in peace, as it results in them being followed by who are presumed to be local cartels. Compounding all this is the widespread corruption throughout Mexico’s police forces; in another memorably upsetting moment, a woman considers it lucky that her murdered son’s body was even recovered at all.
The pervasive violence inflicted upon women unsurprisingly prompts the state to enact a curfew for women, which they respond to in vocal protest. We need only look towards the recent murder of Brit Sarah Everard to see how relevant these issues are around the world in even supposedly “safe” cities, that patriarchal society would rather keep women locked up than face up to its own creation of a culture that simply doesn’t respect them. The battle for anything close to equality continues and clearly will do for a long time, enough that many women in Juárez are taking matters into their own hands by joining self-defense classes in the wrestling ring.
Luchadoras achieves a disarming human interest tableau through its devastating accounts of life near the border and also the realities of pursuing a career as a wrestler. Both represent their own physical threats, though the latter at least allows these women an expression and agency tougher to achieve in “real life.” There are glimmers of hope all in all, though, that the love of mothers and the empowering joy of performance can prevail, albeit as part of a larger uphill struggle.
A stirring tribute to a group of women who are courageous both in and outside of the ring, and who retain a vibrancy of spirit in spite of harrowing circumstances.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.