I have always been a wrestling fan. There has always been an allure to the over the top storytelling and athleticism that the ‘sport’ brings. A unique blend that when done well, is hard to match for pure entertainment. However something that myself and many other fans of wrestling often struggle with is the problematic portrayal of homosexuality (and basically all minorities actually) in the art form. This is based on my wrestling consumption which has been 99% American. Los Exoticos (2013) is a documentary glimpse into the tradition of drag wrestlers, or exoticos, in Mexico, a much more positive approach to the portrayal of minorities in wrestling.
Mexico, along with the USA and Japan, is one of the big three wrestling nations. Los Exoticos does an excellent job of outlining the integral place of the exotico tradition in Mexican wrestling culture. The makeup and character of an exotico is likened to a Luchador’s mask, which is a powerful symbol in Mexico (luchadors often square off in high stakes ‘mask vs mask’ matches, where the loser is never permitted to where a mask again). The film also contains a lot of great historical and stylistic analysis of the exoticos. Where they fit in to wrestling and the evolution of the form as societal attitudes changed, with more overt acknowledgements toward homosexuality. Though the open embrace of these performers, the fact that they compete not just amongst themselves but against masked luchadors and are respected as athletes, shows homosexuality is much more acknowledged in Mexican wrestling, the film does not shy away from the homophobia (both historical and contemporary) that these men suffer. We see that they are subjected to more sustained abuse from the crowds, specifically focused on their sexuality. However the telling of the film is a little workmanlike. It meanders along, going down on tangents that are not well integrated into the core themes of the film and there are long sequences of footage that are not explained or examined. It is not bad per se, just a little plain.
Los Exoticos is at its best when discussing the connection of the exotico tradition to gay identity. It seems that it is a rite of passage of sorts for gay Mexican wrestlers to perform as exoticos. Whilst previously, many exoticos were straight (and a number of older, straight wrestlers curmudgeonly complain about the current status of exoticos, with a fair bit of ‘back in my day’ style muttering) nowadays there is a strong connection between homosexuality and performing as an exotico. Much of their in-ring work relies on this, playing on notions of gay panic, with lots of kissing of opponents for example. As well as this, the film illustrates the importance of exoticos to the broader LGBTQ movement in Mexico. Their prominence, ability and general acceptance in a traditionally heterosexually dominated realm is a powerful piece of symbolism. Interviews at a gay rights rally show the inspiration these performers provide for a lot of members of the community. One of the great joys of good documentary filmmaking is having your worldview expanded. Even as a lifelong wrestling fan, I was not aware of exoticos and the role they played in Mexican wrestling, not to mention their courage and dynamic wrestling ability. To gain an appreciation for all of that through the film makes it easy to forgive some of the deficiencies in the filmmaking.
Verdict: This film is a must watch for anyone interested in wrestling or sexuality whatsoever. The filmmaking itself is perhaps average enough to mean that if you don’t have those particular interests you could give it a miss. However give it a shot and I doubt you will be disappointed or come away without a new appreciation for these wrestlers. Stubby of Reschs