In the Mexican city of Juarez, women face a high risk for gendered violence, but seize opportunities for empowerment and community. Luchadoras, a new documentary from Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim, follows three women wrestlers living in the border city: Lady Candy, Baby Star, and Mini Sirenita. Across their three stories, we learn about their unique backgrounds as well as the obstacles they have overcome and currently face. Each woman’s story is different, but they all offer glimpses into contemporary life in Juarez for women pursuing lucha libre.
Lady Candy is a 23-year-old mother who spends much of the documentary working to secure a visa so she can travel to the U.S. Her ex, a violent abuser, took her children out of Mexico to the states and has not returned her calls for months. She only gets a chance to talk to her children when her ex’s new partner allows her kids to use her phone. She is a formidable presence in the ring, confident and stylish, but the film is far more interested in her unyielding dedication to reuniting with her children, as she competes with the bureaucratic drudgery of jumping through the necessary hoops to attain a prized visa.
In Baby Star’s story, we gain more insight into what it means to be part of a lucha family, including how training can begin in early childhood. The film dedicates time showing us Baby Star’s family situation, including her kid-sister Little Star, also a wrestler, and Baby Star’s own daughter. The sisters’ commitment to the ring is enormous, and much of the training aspects we see in the documentary arise from Baby Star’s drive to excel in the ring.
Mini Sirenita’s story focuses on her big dream of making it to Mexico City, a goal she holds onto with tenacity. She says her marriage failed, partly because her husband was jealous and didn’t want her to wrestle, and this explanation further situates her life around her need to remain in the ring. Sirenita is a “mini” luchadora, the term for wrestlers who are shorter than average (and some of which, but not all, are Little People). The film shows her life as a factory worker, and in one part implies she walks two hours home from work. If Lady Candy’s story is about resilience and Baby Star’s is about legacy, then Mini Sirenita’s is about focus and following the dream.
Overall, the documentary focuses more on life in Juarez, and themes of violence against women, than matches in the wrestling ring. It finds its footing in the lives of the wrestlers, what they have to cope with and overcome in order to find the time and strength to step into the ring. Although we get some shots and conversation about training, it’s minimal. The process of becoming and remaining a Mexican woman wrestler has more to do with surviving gender-based obstacles outside the ring than preparing for matches.
There are scenes of rallies held, one involving wrestling, to gain awareness around issues of gendered violence in Juarez. Mini Sirenita reminds us that fighters have died in the ring, and so although the sport offers a sense of safety or “controlled” violence, the truth is that the women who step in the ring still face dangers, but they choose to face it, unlike the assaults they may face outside the ring.
For folks unfamiliar with wrestling and it’s pre-planned nature, the documentary could be difficult to understand because it lacks some context. One luchadora loses a match and exits the arena carried on a stretcher, but in the next scene, she has no injuries because it’s part of the planned spectacle. Even as someone familiar with WWE-style U.S. wrestling, I found myself unsure of the rules and how things might be different in Mexico, so these elements might be even more difficult for someone with little experience as a wrestling spectator.
Luchadoras is a worthwhile watchfor a wide range of audiences, including feminist fans of documentaries, women wrestling aficionados, and anyone interested in learning more about life in present-day Mexico. Although the documentary doesn’t primarily privilege the more spectacular aspects of lucha libre, it focuses on meditative stories of women withstanding the ramifications of gender-based violence, and thus offers important portraits of international feminism. Because mainstream feminism is so often a white-washed, U.S.-focused enterprise, it is essential to understand the efforts women across the globe make each day toward liberation and bolster their voices. Luchadoras does this and does it well.
Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter