Back in 2021, The Nobodies’ DJ Accident Report dignified hall of fame luchador Cassandro with the title “patron saint” of the LGBTQ pro wrestling community, noting the ever-present determination and spirit of the exótico (a wrestler that portrays a typically effeminate, queer-coded character in lucha libre) in the face of discrimination, copious injuries and violent attacks from audiences and wrestlers alike.

Cassandro’s 35-year legacy of survival, success and expressing joy in the face of those who tried to snuff his sequin-riddled flame is a touchstone for the current landscape of LGBTQ identities in pro wrestling, as evidenced by the LGBTQ pro wrestling tournament that bears his name, the Cassandro Cup. But both the tribulations and charm of his journey seep even deeper into the man behind the persona, Saúl Armendáriz.

Unpacking such a rich, vital story as Cassandro’s is challenging to fit into a 100-minute film, but director Roger Ross Williams and star Gael García Bernal capture the spirit of the leyenda in confident, brutal honesty in “Cassandro.”

It’s no secret that “based on a true story” films play fast and loose with details of their subjects to varying degrees (see the recent “The Blind Side’’ controversy), and “Cassandro” is no different. The film presses the first 10 or so years of Cassandro’s career into its runtime and switches a few things around, such as replacing his exótico mentor Baby Sharon and LGBTQ exótico contemporary Pimpinela Escarlata with Roberta Colindrez’s wonderfully played Sabrina/Lady Anarquía. Still, it does so without losing the emotional core of its central figure.

Gael García Bernal as Cassandro

Cassandro wants to be an exótico that wins. It is a simple motivation, but it mirrors Armendáriz’s desire to overcome the inherent homophobia present within the world of pro wrestling and in everyday life. Finding Cassandro unlocks something new within Armendáriz: a new confidence rooted in his queerness that endears him to pro wrestling fans, many of whom shouted homophobic slurs at him initially.

The film paints a beautifully tragic portrait of the opposite in Armendáriz’s secret lover and fellow pro wrestler Geraldo, played by Raúl Castillo. The happiness that jumps off the screen when they are together and the steely, desire-filled looks they give each other when around others speak to their connection.

However, underneath it lies the truth that Geraldo cannot join Armendáriz in living openly as himself. Beyond a responsibility to his wife and kids, Geraldo witnesses the duplicitous nature of wrestling’s acceptance of Cassandro and LGBTQ people as a whole.

The emotional core of the film is Armendáriz’s relationship with his mother, played by Perla De La Rosa, who accepts her son and defends his identity in the face of hate yet also harbors some level of resentment towards him because his coming out pushed his father out of their lives.


Armendáriz feels a sense of responsibility to her, whether that is simply a child’s devotion to a parent, a sense of guilt for his role in his father’s absence or both. This emotional weight hangs over the film constantly while still letting the love at its foundation sparkle.

Armendáriz’s story is a complicated one, and the film doesn’t shy away from it to its benefit. All the relationships, triumphs and pitfalls of this period of his life are brought to the screen starkly without devolving into sensationalism. Every piece of the film is rooted in reality and never loses the weight of its subject’s life, even if details aren’t one-to-one with the historical record. In doing so, “Cassandro” emulates the essence of pro wrestling and the queer experience while giving audiences the quintessential story outlining the mixing of both through the lens of one of its most revered figures.

“Cassandro” is now playing in select theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime Video.