The documentary Mamachas del Ring succeeds because of its two main women: protagonist Carmen Rosa, a champion cholita wrestler from Bolivia, and director Betty M. Park, best known as a U.S. television producer. The film follows Carmen as she feuds with local wrestling promoter Juan Mamani, attempts and fails to build a rival league based on her notoriety, and struggles to maintain her close friendships with fellow cholitas. Carmen’s headstrong attitude makes her both a fascinating and frustrating documentary subject. Her troubled narrative offers viewers insights into the unfair disadvantages for women venturing into male-dominated spaces, but the film refuses to showcase Carmen as a victim of her circumstances.
Still, it is Park who makes the film more compelling than a straightforward “women in sports” film. Her direction reflects on the role of media spectacle in sustaining and shaping participation in popular sports. Playing up the spectacle of cholita wrestling, the film reinforces the personal dramas in Carmen’s life (and signals where its sympathies lie) through overly exaggerated claymation ring matches in the style of Celebrity Deathmatch. Park also draws attention to the role of television in building up the cholitas’ personas and popularity. A brief scene halfway through the film shows Carmen’s visit to a local entertainment news show to promote her upcoming fight. Through Park’s direct observation style, the scene reveals the cheesiness of the TV segment’s content (Carmen demonstrates a fighting move on the show’s male host) and the appeal of such “low-brow” content (and Carmen’s persona) on the crew working behind the scenes.
The film ends with Carmen watching herself on television, a recording of a match from her heyday as champion. It’s a quiet and powerful moment, a reminder of media’s punctuating power in the making and breaking of popular heroes.
Juan Llamas-Rodriguez is assistant professor of transnational media in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at the University of Texas at Dallas. His research and teaching mobilize media theories to critically analyze social phenomena on a global scale.