In accordance with OUT/CAST’s November theme, I will be responding to the film Viva (2015), directed by Paddy Breathnach, screen-written by Mark O’Halloran, produced by Benicio del Toro, and available on Netflix!
Viva takes place in Cuba, following gay hairdresser Jesus (Héctor Medina), who dreams of being a transformista (drag performer) in a club headed by Mama (Luis Alberto García). For Jesus, becoming a transformista is challenging the masculine-symbol that his father, Angel Gutiérrez (Jorge Perugorría), represents. Angel returns home from prison, demanding shelter from Jesus. Along with making other specific demands of Jesus, Angel insists Jesus quit performing at night. Performing drag is Jesus’s main source of money, but most importantly, performing is where Jesus finds community. Angel outright refuses Jesus’s financial and emotional sources of survival, demonstrating the strenuous relationship between blood relatives. Viva depicts the importance of building familial relationships outside of the rejection of “blood” families.
When Jesus asks Mama for the opportunity to be a transformista for Mama’s performance company, Mama asks, “¿por que quires hacer esto (why do you want to do this)?” Mama understands the prejudices that arise from being a drag performer in Cuba, asking Jesus if he’s prepared for the negative backlash. Jesus responds:
Es lindo. Verdad? Quiero algo por mi, mama. Yo no tengo nada. Ni nadie. Yo no tengo ni familia. (It’s pretty. Right? I want something for myself, Mama. I don’t have anything. Or anyone. I don’t even have a family).
For me, Jesus represent the difficulties many LGBTQ+ people face with their families; and, although Jesus knows he will be facing further opposition from people outside the performance company for being a transformista, Jesus knows it is best to face these prejudices with a family.
Viva redefines family, moving away from the traditional-family unit, opening up alternative forms of how families can appear. Viva is a beautiful film, reminding viewers of the importance of building new families when “blood” relatives are toxic for personal growth. I see Viva as a transformation from exhausted familial relationships to familial relationships of acceptance and happiness, where prosperity occurs in the representative LGBTQ+ individuals on screen.
— Miguel Soto, Associate Editor
OUT/CAST is currently accepting blog entries surrounding the topic of Transformation for the month of December. Interested in submitting? Check out the submission guidelines here.