Director: Maceo Frost
Words – Rhiannon Topham
Namibia Flores Rodriguez, the subject of Maceo Frost’s new film Too Beautiful – Our Right to Fight, opens the powerful and personal documentary about her vigorous struggle to lift the ban on female boxing in Cuba with some of the misogynistic comments she’s received.
In Cuba, women are forbidden from the sport, which is considered as “too strong” for their gender and poses a serious risk to their beauty. The ban was influenced by the late Vilma Espin, wife of leader of the Communist Party of Cuba and current president Raul Castro, who thought boxing violated the physical and mental integrity of her fellow Cuban women. Namibia’s response? “If I want to get hit in the face, that’s my problem.”
It’s this kind of champion spirit that provided Namibia with the light to emerge from her darkest moments. From a childhood of immense adversity, when she was told by her grandmother that the only sport for her was “to clean and do the housework”, Namibia followed her non-conformist dreams to become an athlete – the best female boxer the world has ever seen, in fact. She’s an exceptional boxer because she’s got the signature Cuban coordination, her eccentric coach boasts – Cuban’s are inherently good dancers because they absorb the rhythm of their mother’s dancing from the womb, apparently, and Namibia is “100% Cuban”.
But the situation in Cuba is such that her world-class boxing prowess has never contributed to the national Olympic medal table or been iconicised like that of her male peers. Not only do current Cuban Boxing Federation rules dictate that she train alongside male athletes, in the famous El Trejo boxing club in Havana no less, but, at 39 years old, the film captures Namibia as she is only one year shy of the official age cap for the Olympic squad.
Namibia is adored by her friends, who turn to her strength of character for guidance. Her coach regards her as a daughter and source of great inspiration to Cubans, her fellow female boxers venerate her as the embodiment of courage and perseverance, and as viewers witnessing her remarkable power and self-belief, we become transfixed by her astounding quintessence.
As cars from pre-1950’s America line the streets of Havana, joviality mingles with tragedy and hardship dances with ambition but Namibia never loses her sense of pride for her home nation. Frost’s beautiful storytelling paints a soul-stirring picture of gender in Cuba, where women are defying the boxing prohibition to fulfil their fanatic passion for boxing and proving that, yes, Cuban women are beautiful, but they are also strong, with an ardent zeal for emancipating their own struggles as well as Cuba’s. Scenes of Namibia’s humble everyday life selling cakes door-to-door are stunningly interwoven with the intense physical assiduity she exerts to be the best at her sport.
But the most moving and symbolic moment of the film comes when Namibia stops mid run to play football on the street with a group of young girls, exemplifying the empowering message of the film. The juxtaposition of her anatomical and social potency with such sensitivity and determination to liberate the women of Cuba is a firm reminder that womanhood is not confined to one narrow definition or image.
You can see Too Beautiful: Our Right to Fight at Sheffield Doc/Fest, info and tickets available here: