For director Roger Ross Williams, his film “Cassandro” is a bit of a superhero movie. It tells the story of real-life Mexican professional wrestler Cassandro, aka Saúl Armendáriz (Gael García Bernal), and the femme “exótico” character he created that set out to subvert expectations around lucha libre.
“He’s [Cassandro] created a superhero that inspires thousands of young queer kids all across Mexico,” Williams told TheWrap.
The project has been long in the making for the director, initially starting out as a short documentary Williams made for The New Yorker. Almost immediately, he knew he wanted to tell a feature-length story on Armendáriz and that Bernal should play him, Williams said.
“I was like, ‘I’ve never made a scripted film. I don’t even know how to write a script, but I’ll figure it out and the only person who can play this is Gael,’” the director said.
Upon meeting Armendáriz, Williams was struck by how close the wrestler lived to the wall separating America from Mexico.
“The real Cassandro lives on the wall. Basically, he lives across the street,” Williams said. “I’ve never even seen the wall…it’s obviously talked about a lot. I was like, ‘Is that the wall? That’s Mexico, that rusty thing is the wall?’ There was something metaphoric about the presence of this wall that divides people, that keeps people apart, and this groundbreaking thing that Cassandro did that brought people together, that broke down the walls of homophobia.”
Williams drew on elements from his own life, as well as that of the real-life figure. “This is a story about self-love,” he said. “This is a story about many of us in our lives looking for love and acceptance from outside of yourself. … The happy ending, so to speak, is realizing that he has importance in the world if he is true to who he is. That he’s found self-love and it comes from inside. That’s the theme of the movie.”
Even more unique: the film is being released alongside Williams’ docuseries on 1990s supermodels for Apple TV+. In a way, Williams said, Cassandro and Naomi Campbell have a lot in common.
“Naomi Campbell is also a superhero. She’s a superhero in heels,” he said. “Cassandro is also a superhero in heels and they’re both fighting against incredible odds and incredible prejudices.”
“Cassandro” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video now.