Xela de la X founded Ovarian Psycos – a bicycle collective of Los Angeles Latinas who ride together in solidarity and to send a feminist message from the streets to high-crime neighborhoods afflicted with domestic violence – as "a refuge for the runaway, the throwaway."
The bandana-wearing "bicycling brigade" provides a sense of empowerment for the members, many of whom have experienced a trauma, long term abuse and/or feel marginalized as women in male-dominated communities.
The group has closed, monthly "Luna rides" during the full moon and hosts larger rides to which they invite more of the surrounding community. Male riders are not allowed on the rides which creates some flack from the community both in real life and on social media. However, it’s made clear that most of the cycling world is already male dominated, and the Psycos are very open to including people who may look like men and/or are biologically male, but identify as women.
During the 60-minute documentary of the same name by Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle, we meet numerous members of the group, including Xela, a hip-hop spoken word artist and a single mother, who was sexually abused by her father, but her religious mother refused to believe her. We also delve inside the world of Evie, a student who rides with the Psycos despite her mother’s disapproval and internally struggles with her choice to put her time and energy into the collective rather than a job.
All of the documented women are extremely articulate and natural on camera. They offer insight into both women’s and Latinx issues. But unfortunately, the documentary doesn’t dig deep enough into more of the women's lives for us to feel a strong emotional impact.
It is, however, inspirational because it reveals how determination and desire can build community from the disparate and often fractured lives of women living in East L.A.
The film needed grittier footage of the rides and commentary from the members to better convey what the group provides for themselves as well as the community. A white male bicycle shop owner even questions in the film if what they’re doing is meaningful enough to constitute a "movement."
Psycos members who were present at the Oriental Theatre showing on Saturday expressed an initial lack of trust between filmmakers, who are white, and the Psycos, which might account for this lack of thoroughness in representation.
For those of us already familiar with the film’s themes, we are aware of the positive impact of a large mass of masked women riding the streets of high-crime neighborhoods at night. While feeling a sense of pride and inner-strength, these strong women are taking space and forcing male-dominated communities to acknowledge them. They are also infusing troubled communities with positive energy, which is healing and inspiring for any neighborhood.
Perhaps more contextualizing would have helped deepen the film other than a brief commentary about the Chicano Power movement in L.A. in the ‘60s. Also, more explanation of why the women chose to reclaim the word "psycos" would further send the message to mainstream viewers.
In short, we leave "Ovarian Psycos" wanting more. This is usually a good thing, but there seems to be an opportunity lost here: the chance to fully illustrate the abstract aspects of how a group of women riding together in the night is important, meaningful and enough.
"Ovarian Psycos" screens tonight, Monday, Oct. 3, at 9 p.m. at The Times Cinema as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.