‘The First Twenty: Queer Latine,’ the Documentary That Pays Tribute to LGBTQ+ Latines in Theater

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Image courtesy of ALL ARTS.

Perhaps few of you know about the Asunción Playwrights Project, the national competition held by Teatro Pregones between 2003 and 2013. For years, the Bronx-based theater organization has explored the intersection of Latino-ness and queerness. Now, a documentary sheds light on its trajectory and celebrates the artists who left a mark on its boards.

“The First Twenty: Queer Latino Voices at Teatro Pregones” is a documentary that explores the legacy of the Asunción Playwrights Project. The film features Jorge Merced, founder of the program, and past competition winners in a discussion of how their work laid the groundwork for the expression of queer Latino theater today.

As reported by The Body, Merced explains in the documentary why he named the program “Asuncion.” It is a reappropriation of a homophobic taunt he heard in a radio song as a child. “Assumption” thus became “a badge of honor.”

From its conception, Teatro Pregones’ Asunción Playwrights Project showcased the work of Latino playwrights exploring themes of difference and transformation at the boundaries of queer identity.

It was a competition that fostered a fun and genuine dialogue between playwrights, theater makers, the LGBTQ+ community, and the general public.

Founded by Merced in 2003 in response to the devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic, the project sought to offer organizational support to create plays made by and for the community.

As Merced told The Body, her goal was to provide LGBTQAI+ Latino playwrights with a critical space to create art that addressed their queer experiences and community engagement.

This devotion to visibility stemmed from her desire to preserve the stories of queer Latino artists and develop a well-documented history for future generations to access and build upon. Merced said this call to action grew out of the despair she felt after losing countless colleagues to AIDS and discovering that their work and legacy had fallen into oblivion because there was no system in place to preserve it.

“We have the mandate to document our own paths,” he said. “We can’t wait for somebody else to shine that light on us because people didn’t think that these types of conversations or plays or characters could emerge. But they did, and it was glorious.”

Now, “The First Twenty: Queer Latin Voices at Teatro Pregones” celebrates ten years of the Asunción Playwrights Project amid interviews and archival footage, shedding light on the trajectory of LGBTQ+ artists and plays at Teatro Pregones. 

Directed by Merced in collaboration with DominiRican Productions artists and Cedric Leiba Jr, the film explores “how a new millennium was shaped” for queer identity, expression, and storytelling in the South Bronx.

“The First Twenty: Queer Latino Voices at Teatro Pregones” is available through ALL ARTS on various streaming platforms, including Amazon, Apple TV, Roku, and ALL ARTS’ own app for Android and iOS devices.