Five years after Chavela Vargas’ death at age 93 on Aug. 5, 2012, a documentary about the iconic singer and actress aired for the first time in the U.S.
Chavela, which was shown in some 14 U.S. cities in October 2017 -- including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco -- centers on a historic 1991 interview, when Vargas was 72 years old. The date marked Vargas’ return after a 15-year absence due in part to alcoholism. It was an extraordinary comeback, with Vargas earning a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, selling out performances at prestigious concert halls around the world and becoming a muse to film director Pedro Almodóvar.
Costa Rican by birth, Vargas ran away to Mexico City as a teenager, and by the 1950s, she was one of her adopted country’s biggest singers, thanks to a raw, unique voice. Vargas was also openly gay, unheard of at the time.
“If you’re a lesbian, you’re marginalized,” Vargas says in the documentary. “I put on pants, and the public was stunned. Both men and women were into me. Everyone.”