It was an historic evening at the screening of Aristotle and Dante, a queer story set in the Borderland. Fans of the YA novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz packed the theater to watch the movie when it opened at the Alamo Draft House in El Paso.
“I think our voices are not always heard and especially for queer youth trying to find a place in the world, in their community, in their city,” said Enrique Perea, at the special screening in September. “ I think it’s one of those things where you think about, hey, my story needs to be heard and I matter”
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, published in 2012, tells the story of two boys in El Paso juggling high school, and growing up while learning more about themselves and the love they feel for one another while they defy social and cultural norms.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is the executive producer with Aitch Alberto, a transgender film director. The movie feature several well-known actors including Eva Longoria and Eugenio Derbez, both prominent Hispanic voices in the film industry.
The film opened across the country in September and Sáenz toured several cities to promote the movie, but he said it was especially gratifying to hold a screening in El Paso where he lives. “I feel like I’m at home, cause that’s how I always feel when I’m here, this is my home, this is where I belong.” Sáenz said.
Sáenz’ book and now the movie explores possible difficulties that can come with being queer and Mexican-American. Queer youth may often struggle to come out and speak to their families because of cultural and religious stigmas as well as the concept of machismo.
Carla Carrizales, 22, said she identified with some of the scenes in the film that focused on family.
“Especially something that is so vulnerable such as your sexuality and trying to be open and trying to connect with your family. That is a very cut off type of thing. Kind of like how Ari can’t really communicate with his dad.” Carrizales said. “I feel that it took me so long to just to talk to my dad in general because he’s very cut off, very…like he really didn’t really talk to me until I had to kind of force him kind of like how Ari had to keep on talking to his dad to just be able to make a connection with them.”
There have been other other queer movies like, “Call me By Your Name” and “Red, White and Royal Blue” in recent years. But they did not focus exclusively on Latinx characters and families. Sáenz says he does not hope to “convert” people’s way of thinking, but wants audiences to be open to the story as a whole.
Sáenz has led the way as a YA author focusing on queer stories that elevate Latinx voices that are not often heard at home.
“It’s a coming of age story and you’re trying to make sense of yourself, your identity and then especially when it’s hard being a teenager in a Mexican American community. So I think the story is very powerful,” Perea said.
After the screening, the audience listened to a Q&A with Sáenz. He answered questions from journalist Mónica Ortiz Uribe and the audience had a chance to ask their own questions.
“It’s so powerful because it’s, well, it’s based in El Paso. So a lot of these references are very close to home and then being part of the LGBTQ community myself, it really, it really connects in a personal level,” Perea said.
Saenz recently announced the movie is now available on streaming services. Fans were ecstaticn in the comments on his Nov. 15 Instagram post , many saying the wait was worth it. As of right now, It’s only available to stream in the U.S. on YouTube and Apple TV.
The next question is whether or not Sáenz’ second book in the series, Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World, will also be turned into a motion picture.
But, as of now, with these two books and the movie, queer youth across the globe are expressing hope on social media their stories will continue to be shared by Sáenz and others.