Books, Film, Music

Las Chuntá by Genevieve Roudané

A documentary about tradition, community, and queer identity in Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico

Sebastian Zinn ’18 | March 19, 2019

The opening scenes of a striking new documentary film, The Chuntá, by Genevieve Roudané ’08, show the mid-January streets of Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico, crisscrossed by bright, polychrome banners of papel picado (“pecked paper”). The film, which had its U.S. premiere at the Portland Film Festival in October, provides a glimpse into the world of the Fiesta Grande de Enero (the Great January Feast), a festival honoring, among other figures, St. Sebastian, the patron saint of the LGBTQ community.

Roudané, a filmmaker who has lived in Mexico for eight years, attends every year with about one million other people. The festival traditionally features female characters known as Chuntás (meaning “maids”), performed by men who dress in costumes including handcrafted garments, floral garlands, and makeup, and dance through the streets of Chiapas.

There are several different Chuntá gangs in Chiapas, and Roudané’s documentary focuses on the dynamics between two of them. One is strictly traditionalist, allowing only cis-gender, heterosexual members to join (known as Jerry’s gang), and the other is a dissident gang, lead by “Auntie” Esther Noriega, who allows people of any gender or sexual orientation. 

The Chuntá character has its roots in Chiapa’s precolonial history, and has been alive in the collective consciousness of Chiapa since its resurrection 36 years ago. Since the revival, Esther’s and Jerry’s gangs have argued vehemently over the meaning and “identity” of the Chuntá character. Jerry claims that the Chuntá is a “symbolic manifestation of the world turned upside down” and so the Chuntá character must be played by a straight, cis-gender man who dresses in “women’s” clothing. One of his gang members asserts, “Those men who dress as women are crossdressers, but we are Chuntás.”

Auntie’s gang views the Chuntá as a vehicle for realizing what the Chiapas community wants the future to look like. Isauro Vidal, a member of Auntie’s gang, says, “The Chuntá represents how the world should be; we all help each other.” Auntie’s inclusive approach is gaining traction. She points out that “even if the other [gangs] say I don’t exist,” her gang is famous. Roudané’s documentary dramatizes Auntie Noriega’s legacy as a living patron saint of her local LGBTQ community. 

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