The dark eyes of Ignacio de la Torre are piercing and look right into your soul. But those eyes hide a secret of their own: The handsome Mexican congressman, who has just married the daughter of the country’s President, is gay.
About 120 years ago, on November 17, 1901, Mexican police raided a house in Mexico City where they found 41 men from the country’s elite upper-class gathered for a night of revelry.
Except this wasn’t just any party. It was a secret club of gay men who indulged in sex, booze, and the occasional live performance, with many in drag.
The scandal rocked Mexico’s high society, and it was rumoured that one more man had attended the ball – the President’s son-in-law, de la Torre.
As the story goes, de la Torre had been allowed to go free because of his status. It has never been confirmed whether or not he was there, but the congressman is thought to have been gay by historians, and to have led a double life.
Now this salacious tale is being told on Netflix, starring Alfonso Herrera, who does a great job portraying a man consumed with guilt and desire, while trying to keep up appearances with his wife Amada, played by Mabel Cadena. The film is beautifully shot, with sweeping views of old Mexican architecture, and there is great sensitivity paid to the relationship between Igacio and Amada, both victims to the society of their time.
A lot of the dialogue and plot development is fiction, of course. But in real life, the 41 men were arrested at the ball for “offence to morals and good manners”, and the event marked the first time that being gay was openly discussed in the media in Mexico.
The scandal left its mark on Mexican society, and created a taboo around the number 41. To this day, many buildings do not have a 41st floor; there is no 41st army battalion, and often hotels and hospital skip room 41.
Speaking about the film, Herrera said that through the dramatised retelling of the story, those involved in the film wanted to “honour” the gay men who were targeted by police.
“We wanted to portray these men as men who wanted to be free, who wanted to be happy, and I think that [director David Pablos] did this in a very accurate way — in a very safe way — where they could be themselves,” he said.
“I think that this film talks about what happens if you really want to be yourself and perceptions of society… This story talks about people wanting to be free, wanting to not feel attached or feel that they need to behave in a certain way in order to be accepted.”