Golden Boy: A Look Behind the Glitter – Tribeca Review

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Golden Boy: A Look Behind the Glitter - Tribeca Review

Director Fernando Villena’s film chronicles a tale of athletic triumph, the height of fame and fortune, and almost destroying potential. It is a deeply revealing look into the life experiences that propelled the celebrated boxer to the zenith of his career and subsequently led to his undoing, marked by marital and parental failures, sordid scandals, substance abuse, and multiple allegations of sexual assault. It is an unvarnished portrait, narrated by De La Hoya himself, who comes across as a man ready to face the demons that continue to haunt him.

De La Hoya’s rise to fame in the ’90s was like something out of an inspiring fairy tale. Brought up in the rough neighborhoods of East Los Angeles by immigrant parents from Mexico, he was taught boxing by his former boxer father, Joel Sr., and urged by his mother, Cecilia, who died of cancer at 38, to secure an Olympic gold medal for her. When he achieved this feat at the 1992 Summer Olympics, the media turned the charismatic and youthful boxer into a star. Upon turning professional, he knew that only one nickname could capture his champion-next-door charm: Golden Boy. As De La Hoya shares in intimate black-and-white interviews, he grew up in a culture that valued intense machismo, alcohol-fueled celebrations, and disciplining children through violence. 

The frequent physical discipline from his parents led De La Hoya to experience psychological “disassociation,” where he became insensitive to pain. However, this upbringing also bred an anger within him that needed an outlet. Boxing, which he had been trained in from a young age, became the medium for venting his anger and grief, much of which centered around his mother. De La Hoya candidly admits that he used to envision his mother’s face when landing punches on his opponents.

Despite doubts about his capabilities, Oscar’s hard work and determination led him to face challenges like bouts against Felix Trinidad, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and moving up a weight class to take on Bernard Hopkins. However, this focus also lacked emotional fulfillment and created a tunnel vision that contributed to many of De La Hoya’s missteps. The Golden Boy does not offer excuses for De La Hoya’s actions – his brother, sister, ex-wife Shauna Moakler, and children all give their perspectives on his ongoing struggles and the negative effects they have had on their lives. Often, such documentaries approach their subjects with a nostalgic, gentle gaze, but Villena resists this temptation, providing an unfiltered view into De La Hoya’s life.

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