As beards have rapidly returned to the mainstream in their greatest resurgence since the 19th century (or at least the 1960s), it has followed that a man’s masculinity is now intimately bound up with the potency of his whiskers. Heaven forbid that a young man in the 21st century be the genetic victim of a so-called weak beard, or worse – have none at all. But what is the flipside? When might a man have too much beard? Is that even possible?
Jesús Acevedo and his brothers would probably answer “yes.” The product of a rare genetic mutation, the so-called “wolf men” of Zacatecas, Mexico, are covered from their necks up through their foreheads in a thick fur that gives them the appearance, well, of a wolf. As if that wasn’t a tough enough hand to be dealt, their sisters are similarly afflicted with a condition known as congenital hypertrichosis along with over 20 members of their extended family. Of course, you might already know all of this thanks to the tabloid frenzy Jesús and his family has inspired over the last few years, but beyond the sensationalist headlines, what must life be like for such an extraordinary family?
Director Eva Aridjis has made it her mission to find out. Building upon a career-long exploration of the lives of Mexican society’s marginalized “freaks,” Aridjis picked up a camera to document the day-to-day reality of the Acevedo family and the many injustices, small and large, that they must continually confront. Entitled Chuy, el hombre lobo, the result is a visually powerful and emotionally moving documentary that calls into question our own societal prejudices and assumptions about normalcy.
El hombre lobo‘s trailer gives us a taste of the film’s intimacy, starting off with a scene of Chuy performing in a sort of English-language sideshow cabaret before taking us back to his rural hometown where we are introduced to his extended family and their daily struggles. The innocence and resignation in their voices as each family member reflects on their situation is heartbreaking, but it’s clear this documentary isn’t intended to stir our pity, but rather to show how human beings like you and me survive on the margins of normalcy.