In his award-winning documentary, Ivan Olita walks alongside the muxes of Juchitán, a diverse community which is accepted in society regardless of their transgressive approach towards gender and sexuality.
Ivan Olita transports us to the small town of Juchitan to explore the muxes community, a group of individuals who are accepted for their third gendered identity. Muxes defy gender and live between the binary, assigning as neither male nor female. In his short film, Olita promises power and pride through a diverse cast who are accepted, if not thoroughly appreciated, in their small society.
You capture a variety of different personalities practicing different activities, some day-to-day and others more extravagant. How did you manage to find a well-rounded cast?
Well, the casting process was pretty interesting. It took a while to go through the whole casting. You know, really, the idea was to find people that could represent the whole community. Its less about what they really do and its more about how what they do can give a nice portrait of what we’re trying to communicate with the film. I was pretty interested in muxes that were serving purposes for the community. For example, there is one muxes that drives cabs, which I found really cute because it’s not very common. Whereas, usually, muxes serve the community in creative ways. So, if you go to Juchitán, everyone you talk to will tell you that they are very creative, they’re special, they have a special eye. So, often times you find them as fashion designers, like Almendra. Or, decorators for parties. But, there is also some muxes in public offices.
It took a week or so, we just met with them, and felt their vibe. Whether they were into what we were doing or not. They’re all very different, there is very intellectual muxes, simpler muxes, they’re is teenagers and older muxes. So, as in every community there is a lot of heterogeneous feel and we kind of wanted to communicate that.
The documentary presents a very positive attitude towards sexual freedom in Juchitán, do you feel there were any negatives to assigning as muxes?
It’s a very complicated topic. Yes, there are. As globalisation advances, they’re actually able to understand what’s going on in the world to an extent. They still don’t really grasp the amazingness of how they’re accepted within the community, from such a small town in Mexico. Sometimes, it’s weird to hear them complain about their situation because clearly, they are accepted. But, sometimes I do understand what they mean because around Juchitán, there is still a lot of discrimination. It’s kind of a safe haven, but it’s weird because its just a small village, and then obviously the whole regionm which is called Istmo, is like that but overall its very complicated for me to say honestly. Like, how being a muxes impacts them - as everyone who’s a minority they obliviously struggle to find their way in life but to a Western gaze they’re obviously very fortunate.
So, I think, like in most situations, the truth lies in the middle. There are some that more fortunate, and there are some that are less. Overall, I would never say to be a muxes is easy. But the idea that being a muxes is traditionalised and that they exist within the society, and the society found a place to tolerate and accept them, and to find a social role for them. That’s something that’s pretty cool, that we are not used to.
As a director who travels around, do you ever feel the place you are visiting influences what you produce?
A 100% - It’s a mutual relationship, because I also influence the place. The place influences me because obviously you want to direct something keeping in mind where you are, and the place might influence me later, because I saw something that stuck with me. At the same time, I influence the place, because otherwise what would be the reason for me to do it. The point of view is very important and sometimes the point of view becomes a political asset. People say why should you tell the story. Why should I, a straight white man, tell the story of the muxes? I do think I have the right to tell the story and my point of view, obviously in a respectful way, it’s the point of it all.
You captured the essence of the subject well in nine minutes, but since the matter has so much depth, did you feel like you had to edit out stories you still wanted to tell?
Yes, we shot a lot and had to edit out a lot. You need to constantly make choices, especially with a film like that, that does not form a linear narrative, it’s more of an inspirational, surreal and dreamy portrait of a community. You need to make choices because you need to use your point of view and transport people on a journey rather than telling a specific story with specific chapters or points where something happened to her. Turning of plots etc.. In this way, I’m trying to paint a fresco of what is going on in the community. Therefore, you have to edit, because if you don’t, you’re not painting the fresco, you’re just splattering it on the wall.
While the life of the muxes looks promising in your documentary, did they express any wishes for the future?
They did express wishes for the future. In the documentary, one of them says she wants to own a store of garments. Some other want to leave Juchitán, because they find its not international enough. They want to become transsexuals, and undergo operation, which will not make them muxes. They’re very influenced by the West. So, in this instance, muxes that are more traditional, they don’t like that because they feel very complete in their ambiguity. New muxes want to become binary, become women, they don’t like this non-binary idea. Whereas as real muxes don’t feel like they are completely women, they feel like they are just muxes.
So, to answer your question, yes, they have a lot of goals and wishes and they’ll change. Some want to continue to spread the tradition of the muxes and some want to fly away and live in Mexico City where they’re going to do their thing, and some others are content with their current situation. It really depends.
Unfortunately, what happened is that, a year after I shot the documentary, Juchitan got hit by the earthquake in Mexico. So, obviously they went through a struggle, and survival was the most important element. But, they’re all safe, just rebuilding their houses. Its already a small poor village, and I could not imagine after the earthquake, how was their condition. I think now it’s better, so I’m really happy.
director IVAN OLITA
director of photography LUIGI MARTINUCCI
words PRIYESH PATEL
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