Boxeadora, a short 16-minute documentary by American filmmaker Meg Smaker, starts with a brief foreword, “Since Castro’s revolution, Cuba has won more Olympic Gold Medals in boxing than any other country in the world”.
Pretty mean feat for a small country, considering most of their opponents would be from nations with a lot more financial backing in sports. But that’s the thing about Cuba and boxing. It’s such a big sport there that their national boxing stadium shown in the film is pretty well equipped. People believe that Cubans are naturally gifted in boxing because as pregnant women dance the salsa and cha-cha, their babies pick up the rhythm and motion in utero, making them more coordinated. Cubans and boxing, therefore, are a perfect fit.
For Cuban men, maybe. But for Cuban women, not so much. While female boxing in most of the Western world is not as popular as male boxing, it’s not banned like it is in Cuba. “Cuban women should be showing off their beautiful faces, not getting punched in the face”, the film quotes Pedro Roque, Head Coach of the Cuban National Team. So what do you do if you’re Cuban and have a passion for the national sport, but you’re a female?
Boxeadora tells the story of the only female boxer in Cuba – Namibia Flores Rodriguez. She explains that, “the government says boxing is too dangerous for women”. But despite these odds, Namibia is determined to become a professional boxer, and with only 2 years left to go before she becomes too old to compete in the Olympics, she continues to train – secretly – in a gym and with a coach that will support her dream.
Smaker, herself a boxer, follows Namibia through her training schedule, her life and her visa application to fight outside of Cuba. She hits hurdles and roadblocks, but for her, boxing is an escape from the problems of everyday life. There is no other way to live. There is no other point to her life. “My church is my boxing gym”, Namibia tells us. She would represent another country to compete, but her medal would be for Cuba. Boxeadora briefly interviews Namibia’s coach, who believes that if she were living in any other country, she would have every chance to be a champion boxer.
On the surface, Boxeadora portrays a woman who is running a fool’s errand to pursue a dream that may never come true. Sometimes she doubts herself, “I am training for nothing”, Namibia says matter-of-factly, at one point. But this film is not about the reasons why you should give up; it’s about why you should keep going.
It offers a fascinating slice of life in Cuba, and highlights the fact that all over the world, people are fighting for their right to pursue their passion, and that without that right, life would be empty. In broken English, Namibia explains, “Life is like boxing; you don’t lose when you’re knocked down, you only lose when you don’t stand up”.
Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 16 minutes
Boxeadora screened as part of the 2015 SXSW Documentary Shorts Competition. For more information and tickets please visit the official SXSW Film Schedule.