Tuesday, June 18, 2024

ESPN documentary on Maya women’s softball team to premiere at LA Latino film fest

An ESPN documentary about a Maya women’s softball team in Yucatán is set for its world premiere on Sunday at the Los Angeles International Latino Film Festival.

“Las Amazonas de Yaxunah” is a 52-minute film produced by ESPN Deportes and narrated by Yalitza Aparicio, whose portrayal of a housekeeper in the 2018 drama “Roma” made her the first Indigenous American woman ever nominated for the best actress Academy Award.

“Las Amazonas” was produced in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of ESPN Deportes and will be shown on the network during Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, which runs from September 15 to October 15.

The Maya women’s softball team breaking stereotypes in huipiles

The ESPN documentary follows the women’s softball team Las Amazonas de Yaxunah, whose players compete in traditional Maya dresses known as huipiles and don’t wear any shoes. Yaxunah is a village of fewer than 800 people in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán, not far from Chichén Itzá.

One of the major themes in the film is how the players have had to break stereotypes about women competing in sports, especially in an insular Indigenous community where feminism doesn’t exactly flourish.

The movie poster for "Las Amazonas de Yaxunah," featuring a photo of a women's softball player wearing a huipil stands at home base holding a bat and surveying the field.
“Las Amazonas de Yaxunah” will have its world premiere on June 2 at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. (ESPN)

When they first began playing six years ago, they were criticized for playing sports in the first place. Before that, there were no women’s softball teams in the Yaxunah area, and now there are four.

Their team nickname, the Amazonas, alludes to the legendary women warriors known as the Amazons.

“If it were up to the chauvinists in our village, women would spend their lives slaving away with chores at home, caring for the children and working on the farm,” pitcher María Enedina Canul Poot told Mexico News Daily last year. “Sport was a no-go for women, but we had enough, and decided to tell our husbands, fathers and brothers that we would play whether they approved or not.”

A founder fed up with machismo

Still an active player in her mid-50s, María was the main founder of the team, which includes players from 14 to 63. As a child, she used to sneak out of her home to play baseball with the boys.

When local officials wanted to start a Zumba exercise class to help women get in better shape, María had other ideas — and the softball team was born. Within a few years, there was even a state tournament for women’s softball.

A viral video of the women in action led to invitations to play exhibition games across Mexico, and last year, the Amazonas’ profile rose even more when they beat a local squad 22-3 in an exhibition game at Phoenix’s Chase Field, the ballpark of the Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball. Later, one of their players threw the ceremonial first pitch before a Diamondbacks game against the San Francisco Giants.

María Enedina Canul Poot, founder of the Amazonas softball team, wears a huipil while weaving in her home.
As a child María Enedina Canul Poot snuck out to play baseball with the boys of her village. Now, she’s traveled across Mexico and internationally to play on the softball team she founded. (Mark Viales/Mexico News Daily)

The synopsis of the film on the L.A. Latino film fest website says, “In a small Mayan village in the heart of the Yucatán jungle in México, a group of women began playing [softball] with a makeshift bat carved out of a tree branch.”

It continues: “What ensued was a fight against sexism that would change their lives. Playing barefoot and in traditional Mayan dresses due to lack of resources, Las Amazonas became a traveling softball team that both challenged cultural norms and brought a new generation closer to their Mayan traditions. The documentary captures their trips across Mexico and their continued fight for equality in their town.”

A trailer of the film, directed by U.S.-based filmmaker Alfonso Algara, is available for free online.

With reports from La Jornada Maya, ESPN and Los Angeles Times en Español

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