There’s an unwritten mandate woven into the fabric of most documentary films: to edify and to make the world a better place. That’s usually a pretty straightforward proposition. Docs that champion the needy, marginalized and dispossessed connect audiences to many important social causes. Of course, this can get a little tricky when you disagree with the social cause, as I’ve written about when I blogged about Expelled, the doc advocating Intelligent Design. But to make a sweeping generalization, most docs are made by liberals and viewed by liberals.

Mari Paz Vega in Ella Es El MatadorHowever, it can get really tricky when you have two conflicting liberal social agendas, and the film addresses just one, and pretty much ignores the other. I’m talking about this week’s POV broadcast of Ella Es el Matador (She Is the Matador). The film is a noble and refined depiction of two women asserting their identity and reaching for their dreams in a male-dominated culture. And, yet, they’re doing it at the expense of the bulls. It’s women’s rights versus animal rights. And although some of you may roll your eyes, I imagine others will seethe at the brutality depicted in Ella Es el Matador (She Is the Matador).

I liked this doc. It’s beautifully shot and well constructed; the main subjects, two women matadors (well, one aspires to that title), are very compelling. I found myself rooting for them all the way. And yet, as a former animal rights advocate, I was intrigued by how the cruelty of the sport was diminished. Although the women talk passionately and sincerely about the deep relationship between the bull and the matador, and one even uses the word “cruelty,” there’s little acknowledgment that bullfighting is a controversial subject. But, I mean, even if there’s tradition and respect and honor and all that going on, you still have animals being killed for sport.

Honestly, it doesn’t bother me too much personally, because the cruelty that goes on in factory farms dwarfs bullfighting and I’ve moved on to other worries beyond saving the world’s furry, four-legged population. But I’m curious — are there any animal-rights folks who found Ella Es el Matador (She Is the Matador) objectionable? And, if so, does the unfair treatment of the women in the film — women who take bullfighting so seriously, and who appear to be such valiant, good people — diminish that objection?

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kind Singles, including the bestselling Kind Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen