Star of queer Guatemalan drama ‘Jose’ denied US entry for film’s premiere

By : John Paul King of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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Above: Enrique Salenic stars in “José” (Photo courtesy YQ Studio LLC/Outsider Pictures)

“José,” a Guatemalan film directed by Chinese-born American filmmaker Li Cheng, won multiple awards internationally during the 2018-19 international festival circuit, including the prestigious Queer Lion award at the 75th Venice Film Festival. Made in a neorealist cinematic tradition, the film is described as “a nuanced and vivid look at being gay in Central America.”

The film follows the titular character José, a closeted 19-year-old who lives an impoverished life with his street vendor mother in Guatemala City – a place dominated by conservative Catholic and Evangelical Christian religious values. When he meets an attractive migrant from the Caribbean coast, he finds himself falling in love for the first time. The blossoming relationship pushes him to rethink his closeted life and before long he is contemplating a drastic change that will require a leap of faith he is still reluctant to take.

The movie is set to open in New York City Jan. 31, with a roll out to theaters across the rest of the U.S. starting in February; however, the film’s star – a young newcomer named Enrique Salanic – will not be able to attend the premiere because he was denied access into the U.S. under the current  administration’s stance on immigration and travel – particularly when it comes to people from Latin American countries.

According to a report in Screen Daily, Salanic – who was educated in the U.S. and has traveled extensively with the film to many of its international screenings – has twice been denied a non-immigrant travel visa by the U.S. embassy in Guatemala.

The first application was made in November by Paul Hudson, head of the film’s U.S. distributor, Los Angeles-based Outsider Pictures; the embassy rejected it, arguing that Salanic could be a flight risk if he were to enter the country. Hudson then sought the aid of Congressman Ted Lieu, who wrote a personal letter on behalf of the young actor which was submitted with a second application. That request was also denied.

According to the publication, a copy of the embassy’s original rejection letter states that a requirement of a successful visa application is a residence in a foreign country which the applicant “has no intention of abandoning,” before going on to pronounce, “you have not demonstrated that you have the ties that will compel you to return to your home country after your travel to the United States.”

Salanic won a scholarship to study at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, which he did from Aug. 2011 to May 2015. He now lives with his parents in Guatemala, but does not have a residence of his own – meaning he does not meet the necessary criteria according to the letter of U.S. policy.

Salanic has garnered much praise from critics for his performance in “José” – but with less than a week before the New York opening, and no indication from the U.S. government that it is likely to make an exception to its hard-line stance, it looks like he’ll be denied the opportunity to attend the film’s U.S. premiere.

With or without Salanic, “José” will open at New York’s Quad Cinema Jan. 31, with a Los Angeles run to begin one week later, starting Feb. 7.

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