“As a Mexican immigrant, it’s frustrating to have to dig so much deeper for the stories of queer people of color,” says brilliant queer filmmaker Leo Herrera.
Herrera worked on The Fathers Project, a sexy, surreal film about what our world would be like had we not lost a generation to HIV. And so when we wanted to create a film about queer Latino sexuality, he was the first person who came to mind.
Although Herrera’s past films have delved into topics such as queer sex, HIV and PrEP, depictions of Latino sexuality are too often just about HIV and safe sex. For the film En Cuatro, we wanted to craft a story that wasn’t about disease but about all of the exciting elements of queer Latino sexuality. We talked to Herrera about making the film, sexuality and the cultural impact of telenovelas (Latin American soap operas).
Here is Leo Herrera’s En Cuatro:
Hornet: What did making this film mean to you?
Herrera: En Cuatro is a valentine to Latino sensuality, to the bond that ties all brown men, no matter our background or the way we express our sex and gender. Queer Latino men rarely have the chance to see our sex outside of safe-sex campaigns and the fetishization of our brown bodies in porn. In this American climate, it doesn’t matter if we’re a Mexican immigrant or a Puerto Rican from Queens, we are treated much the same way.
As a Mexican Immigrant filmmaker, this film is a small step in confronting my own internalized homophobia, racism and colorism. En Cuatro pays homage to the telenovelas I grew up with, the love scenes where censors pushed the boundaries while our abuelitas (grandmothers) and mothers watched. Yet as gay boys, we were never represented, and as we get older, much of our queer history is dominated by the narrative of white men.
As an artist in my 30’s, it’s crucial for me to help break this pattern along with the global community of incredible Latinx artist, performers, historians and professionals, including the four featured in this film.
You describe this project as a valentine to the Latino community. What does that mean?
Inclusivity is so crucial in all of my other works, that it was a joy to create something specifically for my Latinx community. Not only did I get to feature some of my favorite performers and colleagues, but also create something in the style of the steamy sex scenes from the evening telenovelas I’d watch with my aunts and mother, featuring an old song from the golden age of Mexican cinema.
What’s been your experience around the intersection of being queer and Latino?
So many queer Latinx are forced to give up our heritage, our home towns and sometimes even our extended families. This culture is something we have to actively seek out once we get older, a point that was brought up in the film’s interviews.
This is a journey for many Latinx folks, but eventually, you come to either be proud of your background or shed it all together. I don’t judge those choices, but I’m very happy and proud to have a connection to my culture that’s become stronger as I’ve gotten older.
How has your queer Latino sexuality informed your filmmaking?
The passion the guys talk about in the film — and that telenovela-style of filming sex scenes, trying to push the boundaries while remaining PG-13 — is something that is part of all of my work. I’m a hopeless romantic and optimist, loud and colorful (especially after a few tequilas), and those are traits usually associated with my people and can be found in all of my films.
How did you come to balance sex and sexuality during this film?
It all came down to chemistry, pairing the performers with someone they would be comfortable with and letting them just interact with one another (after a couple of drinks, of course). I almost felt like a voyeur at moments, because they were so natural with one another.
Although I’ve filmed porn scenes before, I find what we don’t get to see a lot more interesting. There was plenty of erections on set, but it’s much more sexy to keep those to myself.
What were you hoping most to say about the queer Latino experience with this film?
I was aiming to pay homage to this stereotype of the “passionate Latino.” Sometimes stereotypes are rooted in a sliver of reality and embracing them can be empowering, especially when in the mainstream and straight media we are either seen as victims or “bad hombres.” I wanted to showcase not only how passionate these men are, but also how passionate I can be with a camera and editing, with a simple, elegant set up that will allow us to let sparks fly.
What cultural elements have influenced your sexuality?
I’m embracing my Latino heritage in my work and even in my personal life more. There can a lot of pressure for some Latinx folks to be almost militant about our culture, to constantly have to prove how “brown” we are.
For me, I speak Spanish, grew up an undocumented immigrant, I cleaned houses with my mom as a teen, so I have nothing to prove. However, I’ve also often found myself unaware of my own assimilation, of times where the white male narrative has dominated my work, personal and sexual life.
As I’ve grown older, I’m learning to embrace the beauty of Latino boys and where I intersect with them. For example, if I’m hanging out with a boy from Puerto Rico, even though I’m from Mexico, there will still be a ton of similarities I won’t experience with other men.
It’s been a natural, wonderful progression, and that’s what made this film so well timed: Just as I’m having a love affair with my own brown skin and the brown features of other men, I got to film them and put all that affection and sexuality into a short film.
How do we detach disease from our sexuality so that queer Latinos have more representation that just HIV-prevention campaigns?
Most of all of general queer history has been actively attacked for hundreds of years, and the history we do have is usually framed within the cis white male narrative. When Latino men are featured in any art or porn, it usually involves heavy fetishization or us as victims of disease and poverty, immigration and lack of health access.
Creating project like this — by Latinx folks, for Latinx folks — not only allows us to feel proud of ourselves, but informs our larger queer family who we are, so that we can be a stronger LGBT community.
In the present, this clip will be seen by young Latino boys who are finding their own sexuality, and in 20 years, there will be a record of a group of five guys that got together in a big San Francisco house to film some softcore scenes and get buzzed and talk honestly about our experiences, and that’s a wonderful feeling!