“I made a documentary about the real-life Cassandro and I fell in love with Cassandro. I fell in love with the story. It’s such an inspiring and powerful story about self-love, and it just had to be my first scripted film,” shares Roger Ross Williams, the director of Amazon’s Cassandro.
Self-love is the heart of Williams’ biopic of Saúl Armendáriz, an out lucha libre wrestler who transformed the sport with his exótico character, Cassandro, “the Liberace of Lucha.” Back when Saúl was coming up, there were other exóticos, but they were mostly straight guys playing up gay stereotypes. Cassandro was different.
As a gay, Black man, Williams resonated with Cassandro’s journey. Known for his Oscar-winning short documentary Music by Prudence (making him the first African American to win Hollywood’s most coveted statute for directing), he describes his film as “the story of a man who embraced who he is on his own terms and conquered a world of machismo, where he was rejected. He won self-acceptance through self-love.”
And just how was Saúl able to do that? According to Williams, “Because he’s a talented wrestler, and he earned the respect of the other wrestlers. He earns the respect of the audience, because they see his skill, his dedication that he was going to be who he is and he was going to be good. I think that’s a lesson to us all – be who we are. Be our best selves, but our authentic best selves.”
Williams assembled an all-star cast for the film, telling LatinaMedia.Co, “no one else was going to play this role in my eyes, then Gael. He’s obviously one of the greatest actors in the world.” Gael Garcia Bernal shines in this role, showing Saúl’s bravado, vulnerability, sense of joy, and ambition.
And Garcia Bernal is not the only star in the film. There’s also Roberta Colindrez, who we’ve been following since her Vida days, and someone else you may recognize – Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio. “Of course, when Bad Bunny calls you, you’re not going to say no,” says Williams of how the reggaetonero got into the film. “He does an amazing job. He’s such a good actor. And he’s such a great guy. I couldn’t believe I got to direct Bad Bunny in his first role. We shot before Bullet Train and so I was his first director.”
With this roster, Williams put together a border-hopping, bilingual film that authentically tells both a political and a personal story. Saúl’s story centers on a journey of self-love – even though his father rejected him for coming out, his lover wants to keep their relationship secret, and exóticos traditionally lost every match.
Still, somehow, he figures out how to be true to himself in the ring and out of it – and once he does, his actions creates a ripple effect nudging Mexican culture to be more accepting, more just.
Reflecting on creating a film based on Cassandro’s particular journey, Roger Ross Williams says, “I learned that the barriers between us were meant to be broken, that people can come together, despite their prejudices and the things that divide them. Getting past homophobia and sexism and all of that – It’s possible. Cassandro lets us see that it’s possible.”