SXSW 2021: Luchadoras

The Luchadoras are wrestling with disenfranchisement in the desert. In Ciudad, Juarez, women are going missing. Three courageous women find their visibility in the ring. When a culture of machismo results in widespread femicide, these wrestlers put on a brave face (or mask), and prove their niche in a sport often dominated by men.

Luchadoras is not about wrestling. Wrestling is just one of the things that happens. Wrestling is what these women do, to exhibit the future of womanhood in Mexico. They have other rules, too. They are parents, workers, advocates for social progress. Those aspects are the true core of the film here, the wrestling simply an amusing but also relevant background for who they are and what they are like.

Take Baby Star, a generational wrestler from a Lucha Libre family. She is a single mother with a great stage gimmick. Masks are crucial kayfabe in wrestling, that is, as a convention that allows for authenticity in storytelling, and sells the truth of in-ring storylines. Her mask operates the same in the movie. It is a guard. A protective layer. The mask protects her, ties her to a great family history, makes her a literal superhero to her daughter. It’s worn the entirety of the movie. When a wrestler gets their mask ripped off in the ring, they must retire that character forever. There’s one very uncomfortable match with a couple men, where they rip off both her and her teammates masks. In another match, after her cousin and in-ring partner succeeds in the ring, she’s picked up by a guy and piledriven into unconsciousness. Even in the ring, they cannot escape the toxic machismo they are fighting against. A question lingers over her story: will Baby Star devote herself entirely to the sport, and leave her child behind with their masked father?

Lady Candy most clearly expresses the themes of this project. From her home in Ciudad, she can see over the border, into El Paso, Texas. After a messy separation, her ex took their kids north of the border. She can see over it, but without a passport, visiting them is a distant dream. For her, a great showman in the ring, she only wants to show up for her children again. Not only do women go missing, but sometimes they are dispossessed from what they care about the most. Her journey through the world of wrestling is very interesting, working toward getting a visa, in hopes the father of her children will talk with her again. Eventually there’s an opportunity: if she risks her hair in a hair-or-mask match, she could afford a passport and leave home. This brings us to the greatest pet peeve of the documentary. Many of Lady Candy’s interviews are filmed within a home that emits a constant beep. It seems like they need new batteries in their smoke detector. Someone please bring them batteries. I spent the entire movie worrying about this.

Our third lady of wrestling, Mini Sirenita, is short of stature, but big of heart. Her size provides her an opportunity. It works wonderfully as an aspect of her character. By day, she works in a factory. That’s where all these women keep disappearing. On their walk home from work. It’s both Mini Sirenita’s destiny as a gifted entertainer, to enter the world of professional wrestling full-time, but it’s also an act of self-preservation. This is the decision that some women are faced with. Their only safety is competing in these combat sports.

The dream is Mexico City. Every Luchadora dreams of landing a match on the biggest stage. This is a story of their continual sacrifices to create rowdy entertainment. The story renders into sharp relief exactly what it means to be a woman in Juarez. The danger and strength of it all. Occasionally the film has trouble grappling with the size of its theme, and sort of peters out in finishing a couple of its storylines to satisfaction right at the finish line. It’s also fairly basic in construction and not taking any risks or liberties with the form. That said, it’s a perfectly decent doc, potentially worth a watch both for the wrestling and for the independent strong women making a difference in the game.

6/10

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Dad, husband, editor of thetwingeeks.com

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