The national mourning after Juan Gabriel's death has been reminiscent of the very public outpouring of emotion in the UK when Princess Diana died, also without warning. In spite of this shared collective mourning, contradictions in the figure of the icon became apparent almost immediately. While some press commentators congratulated a once-macho Mexico on its heartfelt devotion to this effeminate icon, others noted more skeptically that the same men weeping over the so-called divo de Juárez were also marching in demonstrations opposing the marriage-equality initiative proposed by President Peña Nieto. This new unanimity around the love for the instantly canonized Juan Gabriel was thus crosscut with an intermittent acknowledgment of the homosexuality of which he himself never spoke. In a famous formulation of the glass closet or open secret that was widely repeated on TV after his death, an interviewer on Univision had once asked him directly if he was gay. He had replied: “What you can see, you don't need to ask” (Lo que se ve, no se pregunta). Flagrantly visible, then, Juan Gabriel was also sternly silent, striking a knowing bargain with his socially conservative fans who would not ask if he did not tell. And he never took up a political position in favor of what Mexicans call “sexual diversity.”
Screenings: Letter from Mexico City: The Life and Death of Juan Gabriel
Paul Julian Smith, a Fellow of the British Academy, is Distinguished Professor in the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is the author of 19 books including Desire Unlimited: The Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar (Verso, 1994) and Dramatized Societies: Quality Television in Spain and Mexico (Liverpool University Press, 2016), and the forthcoming Queer Mexico: Cinema and Television since 2000 (Wayne State University Press). He has served on the juries of the San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain and the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico. Follow him on twitter @pauljuliansmith.
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Paul Julian Smith; Screenings: Letter from Mexico City: The Life and Death of Juan Gabriel. Film Quarterly 1 March 2017; 70 (3): 69–73. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2017.70.3.69
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