Neither Machos nor Maricas: The Changing Face of Masculinity in Latin American Cinema

For much of the field’s history, men in mainstream Latin American film had a pretty codified role: very macho. Any deviation from that usually meant the movie came out of the art house next to whatever Pedro Almodóvar had recently imported. But with homosexuality and abuse becoming less of a taboo and more of a recognized reality, it seems as if filmmakers young and old are ready to explore these themes, ones they would have been forced to repress once upon a time.

Take the most youthful and passionate of the batch of movies that played Los Cabos International Film Festival, Te prometo anarquía (I Promise You Anarchy). When rich boy Miguel (Diego Calva Hernández) falls in love with his bisexual best friend Johnny (Eduardo Eliseo Martinez), they scheme to support themselves by selling blood to the local narcos. It’s energetic, physical, and visceral. Best of all, their sexual behavior isn’t shamed out of them; instead they’re allowed to experience the highs and lows of young love. Director Julio Hernández Cordón gives his characters room to act on their adolescent whims.

“Expanding the definition of masculinity not only allows characters to defy stereotypes, but also discover new narratives once ignored or thought too provocative.”

In Lorenzo Vigas’ Desde allá, things are significantly much more complicated. Armando (Alfredo Castro) hires young men to strip for his pleasure, but when one youth named Elder (Luis Silva) lashes out, the pair become intrinsically entangled. Like Anarquía, Desde allá also deals heavily with the issue of class, and doesn’t romanticize the exploitation factor of their relationship. Yet it addresses the safety of Armando’s ability to have same sex partners, while Elder would be ostracized by his macho friends for his feelings. The two experience a tempestuous relationship that touches on betrayal, violence, and sexual abuse.

Pablo Larraín is no stranger to playing with political themes in his movies, as he did in his last film No. El Club is markedly different, both as a return to dark undertones in his stories and how it handles the at-odds feelings in a house full of defrocked priests. The group discovers that the new addition to their club is a pedophile when one of his victims stands outside to protest. The unwanted attention draws an investigation from the church, which houses the men away from the rest of society. During questioning, it is revealed that one of the other members, Padre Vidal (Alfredo Castro, locking in as 2015’s expert on disturbing roles), is also a pedophile.

I bring up Larraín’s difficult film because of the way he humanizes the priests, each ex-communicated for various sins. Instead of outright villainizing each of the men, he makes Vidal the most sympathetic of the bunch, insisting on his innocence and repression of his sexuality. Yet, in quiet interstices between training his champion greyhound, we see him stare longingly at the surfers on the beach. He is not as reformed as he says he is, and yet does he deserve the tragic fate that befalls him? Larraín poses the question to the audience now shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

There are so many more interesting stories to tell in Latin American cinema. Expanding the definition of masculinity not only allows characters to defy stereotypes, but also discover new narratives once ignored or thought too provocative. Hopefully, the days of limited macho stereotypes are numbered and full-fledged characters (albeit with flaws) can take the lead.