Director Araceli Santana tackles the touchy subject of homosexuality versus the church in his documentary, Blattangelus, from Mexico.
Mauro Zamora, manager of a seafood restaurant, and his partner, Juan, are getting marriednot to prove something but to support each other. It was pretty much love at first sight for the two when they met seven years ago.
Rainbow colors fly as we ease on down the road to the Gay Pride parade in Mexico City, where we find Jorge Sosa from The Metropolitan Community Reconciliation Church. The church he leads has been allowing same-sex couples to wed for the past 25 years.
While society claims that the church is trying to convert the congregation, the church claims that it they only wants respect for everyone.
The movie flashes back and forth, following the history of Jorge's journey through school and his feelings for people of the same gender. He was bullied when he was younger and that shaped him into the person that he is today. He was forced to become a member of the Cub Scouts by his family, and was not treated well. Images are shown of a beautiful Catholic chapel while Jorge recounts the embarrassment of a priest telling to stop his "queer" behavior. He left the church at that point, vowing to never return.
Bouncing back to Mauro and Juan's wedding day, there are some touching moments together with their family as the moment draws closer.
Jorge finally meets Father Miguel, who changes his mind about religion and the capacity to love. He rises from the ashes to make his refuge an "oasis" for people to find water to drink, and where they can learn about transmissions of diseases without shame. Jorge speaks of celibacy and the hypocrisy of the fundamentalist church.
At times, the movie can be a little one-sided on the debate, but when David has to battle Goliath it's fair to root for the underdog. Jorge knows how to defend himself and his followers. It is a joy to watch him stand up and be counted as he prepares to fight politics and the hierarchy. For him and his people, it is a matter of life and death as they watch people around them suffer.
Being a documentary adds weight to this endeavor as we watch a moment of celebration, not of bigotry. With the civil-unions bill recently signed into law in Illinois, it is a perfect time to watch this offering at the Latino Film Festival.
The film gives hope that one day the church and the gay community will come together at some point. Everyone deserves a little dignity and respect, no matter how you feel about the debate. Can I get an amen?
Blattangelus/Another Essay plays Wed., April 6, at 4:30 p.m. at Landmark Century Cinema, 2828 N. Clark. Visit www.chicagolatinofilmfestival.org for tickets and more selections during the festival.
I Am the Queen
by Emmanuel Garcia
Eight LGBT films from different Latin American countries are included in the 27th annual Chicago Latino Film Festival. The documentary I Am The Queen, by Josue Pellot and Henrique Cirne-Lima, is the only local LGBT film featured. The duo shot the film in Humboldt Park, a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood of Chicago, in the summer of 2010. Pellot said the idea originated when he saw a flier at Cafe Colao: "It just read 'Beauty pageant for Puerto Rican transgender youth from Humboldt Park.' That just grabbed my attention, in terms of identity, thinking, 'Being Puerto Rican, being from Humboldt Park, then being transgender and young.' [ It ] just sounded like a lot to deal with."
At the time of filming, Vida/SIDA, a not-for-profit organization, was organizing its third annual Paseo Boricua pageant. The requirements for participation were that the contestants be at least a quarter Puerto Rican and identified as transgender Latina women.
The film interviews four contestantsJulissa, Bianca, Jolizza and Alaynaabout how they perceive themselves as young people within straight and gay communities. They are guided by veteran Chicago HIV activist Ginger Valdez, who volunteers to coordinate the pageant.
Pellot, who grew up in Humboldt Park, said he wasn't surprised to find a close knit transgender community, but "was surprised at how involved the [ Puerto Rican ] Cultural Center and Vida/SIDA was in finding a space for them. Being from the neighborhood, I've seen the girls, I never really spoken to them. To a certain point it was "they" I would use that term."
That all changed, he said, after he discovered that one of the contestants ( Julissa ) was the daughter of Lisa, the owner of Cafe Colao. It is that mother/daughter relationship that is the heart of the film. The interviews with the contestants are candid, but they are always aware of the viewer and, at times, they become apologetic for being too real. Some contestants reveal how difficult it is to transition and identify so early as transgender, consequently sacrificing the support of their families.
Cirne-Lima said the documentary is a glimpse into the lives of these four people, "but in the subtext, in the things that are happening, you see all these other issues of homophobia, colonialism, community identification." Before David Sotomayor, who performs as "Jade," appeared on the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race he won the Paseo Boricua pageant in 2007. Jade makes a brief appearance to hand over the crown and can be seen as an example of the talent that has come out of this community.
Historically, Valdez is emblematic of the hard work transgender women of color contributed to the LGBT movement, and the four young characters are demonstrate how far and how short that distance still is. These four young people defy what it means to win, especially when it can appear against all odds.
Undoubtedly, viewers will find that the LGBT Puerto Rican community in Chicago has a long history of organizing; however, most importantly, the viewers will notice that the community is united to take on future challenges.
I Am The Queen will screen April 1 and 14 ( 8 p.m. ) at Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, 31 W. Ohio. To view a complete film festival schedule visit www.chicagolatinofilmfestival.org .