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SXSW 2021: “Luchadoras” Documentary Film Review

A co-production of Germany and Mexico, “Luchadoras” follows three women — Lady Candy, Baby Star and Mini Sirenita — as they live in Ciudad Juárez and pursue wrestling. The film was co-directed by Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim, who do a great job of portraying the ways in which the lives of these women differ, even as they intersect.

The documentary begins by explaining just how dangerous Ciudad Juárez is, especially for women. That fact becomes especially clear as the film goes on, with street art, posters and billboards that lament women who are missing or murdered. Lady Candy turns on the TV at work, and the news is broadcasting a story about a woman who was beaten to death by her partner. At one point, Miss Sirenita is talking about how she “never had to deal with machismo” as a single mother, and it seems she counts herself lucky for that.

Miss Sirenita in “Luchadoras” | Courtesy of TUMULT Films

Each of the women has a different story to tell. Lady Candy had an abusive partner who took her daughters from her, across the border to El Paso; part of her journey in the film is trying to reunite with them. Baby Star (who wears a mask on her face during the entire film) is on good terms with her ex-partner, and she is raising a daughter as well as training her 16-year-old sister to become a luchadora. Miss Sirenita is a grandmother who wants to chase her dreams of going to Mexico City, where her adult daughter lives, to wrestle.

It was incredibly smart of the filmmakers to follow the paths of multiple women instead of focusing on a single narrative, and they did a great job of making sure the stories overlapped without being similar. The documentary is fast-paced and will hold your interest throughout, even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of wrestling.

Lady Candy walking along the border fence in “Luchadoras” | Courtesy of TUMULT Films

Given the themes, the documentary is often dark and disturbing — and, frankly, enraging. Women are victimized in many ways around the world, but these stories from Ciudad Juárez focus on a microcosm of the bad treatment of women, and hearing even pieces of those stories can be heartbreaking.

It’s what makes it all the more powerful to juxtapose that with the drive that these women have to do what they want to do. It’s not easy for a woman to be a wrestler there, but the athleticism and confidence they have is amazing to watch. In addition to their passions, these women also have religion (specifically, Catholicism) to keep them grounded and give them hope. We see religious iconography in their homes, and multiple prayer sessions throughout the film. It offers a window into their personal faith, without judgment.

Baby Star praying with her daughter in “Luchadoras” | Courtesy of TUMULT Films

One scene in the film focuses on the wrestlers teaching other women self-defense and fighting in the ring. There is a quote from one of the women who is learning that sums up their experiences with men and violence: “It’s very important to be aware of sexism, of machismo … how we are perceived as women, how we are victimized and re-victimized. And that’s why it’s so important to feel empowered.” By the end of the documentary, you know that the film isn’t called “Luchadoras” just because of the wrestling aspect — the title means “female fighters,” and they fight for everything in their lives, not just when they’re in the ring.

Featured image courtesy of TUMULT Films

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