Aristotle and Dante’s trans director says LGBTQ+ coming-of-age film renounces ‘stereotypes’

Max Pelayo as Aristotle (L) and Reese Gonzales as Dante (R).

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe film director Aitch Alberto says it’s time to ‘redefine’ the narratives that shape the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities on screen.

Based on the best-selling 2012 young adult novel – and veritable BookTok sensation – Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the newly-released LGBTQ+ coming-of-age film tells the powerful story of queer friendship and budding love between two Mexican-American teens in 1980s Texas.

The highly-anticipated adaptation – from trans filmmaker Alberto and produced by Hamilton‘s Lin Manuel Miranda – was released on Friday (8 September) in US cinemas and stars Max Pelayo as reclusive 15-year-old Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Reese Gonzales as Dante Quintana.

Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria plays Dante’s mother, Soledad, while Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez (CODA), features as Aristotle’s father Jaime.

The original novel received critical acclaim – and a 2013 Stonewall Book Award – for its vital exploration of racial identity, sexuality, family and gender roles.

Now, director Alberto has acknowledged the power of telling a story that goes “against the tropes” normally levelled at the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities in TV and film. In an interview with People magazine on Thursday (7 September), she explained the importance of telling this queer teen tale from a fresh perspective.

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Alberto told the publication she approached the film through a “lens that feels gentle, specifically when it comes to Latinx stories in a way we haven’t seen before.”

The filmmaker continued: “I wanted to make this because it so plays against the tropes we’ve seen and the stereotypes we’ve seen. I just refuse to play into that. That’s not the work that I want to put out in the world.”

While Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe does include darks themes of homophobia and violence, Alberto said she wants to explore these themes in a way that doesn’t “perpetuate trauma porn in a way that we’ve seen redundantly over and over again.”

“It’s time we start pushing that narrative,” she continued, “redefining those things to reflect the world we live in and just give people a different option of how they can look at themselves, how parents could look at their kids.”

Expressing her hope that the film will be “universal” and “relatable across the board”, Alberto touched on the importance of representation, stating: “This is a story about people we don’t often see on screen. This is a story made by people we don’t often see behind the camera.”

Aristotle and Dante director Aitch Alberto.
Aristotle and Dante director Aitch Alberto. (Emma McIntyre/Getty)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe will be hoping to move the needle forward for LGBTQ+ Latinx characters, which in the last two decades have included Ugly Betty’s trailblazing gay character Justin Suarez (Mark Indelicato), One Day at A Time’s lesbian icon Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Michael Cimino’s Victor Salazar in Disney+’s Love, Simon spinoff series Love, Victor.

However, there is still a long way to go, as Alberto told Forbes in a separate interview that it took seven years to finally bring Aristotle and Dante’s story to screen.

“I don’t think the industry saw the value in a story about two brown boys that go on a very gentle journey of self-discovery, but I think through the cultural script we had, it made it undeniable,” she said.

The film comes two years after author Saénz published a sequel, Aristotle and Dante Dive in the Waters of the World. A potential big-screen follow-up could depend on the film’s success in the coming weeks.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is now in US cinemas. There is currently no UK release date.