“José,” the award-winning feature film about a gay teen in Guatemala, opened to critical acclaim in New York and is coming to South Florida this weekend, but its young star will not share in the accolades.
The U.S. consulate in Guatemala City twice blocked a visa application for Enrique Salanic to enter the country to promote the film at screenings, citing a “flight risk” because he lives with his parents and has no permanent address in the U.S.
Miami filmmaker Robert Rosenberg, representing Outside Pictures, was quoted in The Wrap:
“It broke my heart that such a talented young actor like Enrique, who is the star of our movie, is being thwarted in pursuing his career by our own government in the U.S. Our policies should encourage this kind of ambition and success, not trap Central Americans in their countries, as if they were less than human.”
Director Li Cheng, who is also gay, is scheduled to address the issue on the Norm Kent Show on WWNN-95.3FM on Feb. 14 and notes the situation perpetuates many of the negative impressions the world has of America.
“[The film] is really a page ripped from today’s news headlines,” Cheng said in a statement. “The crises of young people, single mothers and dark-skinned peoples in Guatemala frames the film’s story. Guatemala has become an increasingly violent and dangerous place, where more than half the people live in poverty.”
In Cheng’s story, co-written with George F. Roberson, José is a typical teen — head constantly buried in his phone — struggling to eek out a life with his mother in a dismal slum. He’s not only struggling with poverty and those awkward teen years, he also has a secret. The introverted boy hooks up with men and then lies about his comings and goings.
When he meets Luis, a migrant construction worker, José immediately senses a future where he can love and be loved unconditionally. Unfortunately, he struggles with this newly discovered intimacy and retreats to the safety of his mother and their familiar existence.
In many ways, Cheng’s film is the stereotypical coming out story that pervades LGBT film festivals, still. But Salanic brings a depth to the character — coupled with the dark setting amid contemporary events — that makes the film still feel fresh and especially relevant.
At a time when LGBT immigrants are often lost in the caravans and mass deportations, “José” puts a spotlight on their plight during the darkest of times.
“José” opens on Feb. 14 at Miami-Dade College’s Tower Theater in Miami, the Classic Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale and Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton. Check local listings for show times.