Queer Girl Friday: Li Cheng’s ‘José’ Wins Queer Lion at Venice Film Festival


The results are in, folx: the winner of this year’s Queer Lion at the Venice Film Festival is “José”! The romantic Guatemalan film hails from U.S.-based director Li Cheng, and follows José (Enrique Salanic), a young 19-year-old living with his mother (Ana Cecilia Mota) who finds new love, Luis (Manolo Herrera), amidst a sea of dead-end hookups. Their meeting pushes José into a painful self-reflection as the gay youth struggles with first love and his relationship with his religious mother.

According to Cheng’s director statement, the film purposefully focuses on close relationships between mothers and son, a “key feature of Latino culture [where] a traditional morality [co-exists] with extreme maschismo, violence and religiosity.” Furthermore, the film “re-thinks popular images of Latin American (sic) that often feature idyllic places and white faces but where most people are urbanized, poor and dark-skinned.”

The announcement came via Twitter (check out below):

Followed up this morning with snaps from the Queer Lion awards ceremony, where Cheng and stars Salanic and Herrera accepted their well-deserved accolade:

The jury praised the film for its passion and emotional storytelling in a statement, saying:

“Sensitively written and beautifully performed, this passionate portrait of a young man’s journey in search of emotional fulfillment, shows the complexity of a same-sex relationship against the background of the harsh life in contemporary Guatemala.”

“José,” I’ll admit, wasn’t my first pick for a Queer Lion winner; I backed “The Favorite,” which did win the Grand-Jury prize and a Best Actress award for Olivia Colman. However, “José” is a fantastic film that more than deserves the recognition it’s received. Cheng lived in Guatemala for almost two years doing research for the film, doing extensive interviews in 12 Latin American countries before choosing Guatemala for “José’s” setting. He’s attempted to accurately represent mother-son relationships in Latino culture and LGBTQIA+ youth’s struggles to survive in conservative, impoverished countries, a decent aim that centers queer lives in a beautifully told story. Getting this kind of recognition from one of the biggest film festivals on the planet shoots this small indie film to new heights, and I’m excited to see where “José” goes this awards season.

Will winning the Queer Lion push “José” closer to gold in the Oscars race? Discuss in the comments below!