A new four-part docuseries called Menudo: Forever Young dives deep into the darkest elements of the famed Puerto Rican boy band.
Co-director and co-executive producer Kristofer Rios explained in a recent interview on the Factual America podcast the difficulties of exposing uncomfortable truths about the beloved musical group from the 1980s and 1990s. You can listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or right here:
“The first two parts really do celebrate the band, and all of its contributions to pop music, and all of the sort of barriers that the boys broke for Latinx musicians; Puerto Rican musicians. But the last two episodes really kind of delve into some of the harder things that the band members experienced while they were in the band,” Rios said.
“Not much of what we reveal in the docuseries had not been published or had not been sort of exposed before, but I don’t think that many fans knew about it. And so, for us, it was a tricky balance between celebrating the band, but also talking about these harder things that we felt were necessary, that the band members themselves, in our conversations with them — this is what they were putting forward.”
As the docuseries explains, members of Menudo could only stay in the band until they turned 16 years old, ensuring a constant rotation of 12-15-year-olds — hence the “forever young” title. And when new members joined the band, they had to submit to a hazing process, Rios explained.
“There is this behind-the-scenes culture — you come into the band and you’re hazed, naturally, right? I mean, any system, any culture, you have to adapt to it. But the hazing is very specific and very much about getting the new band member to conform to this behind-the-scenes culture, right. And so, and if you don’t conform, if you don’t fit, that’s it, you’re out,” he said.
“But from a perspective of a performer who wants to be in Menudo, they audition for Menudo, like, this is the opportunity of a lifetime, right? So, why would you squander that, right? So, what you’re going to do is you are going to conform, you are going to adapt, you are going to try to fit in this behind-the-scenes culture.”
Rios described the hazing as designed to get the band members used to a level of abuse “that most people would never tolerate.”
“In the series, Angelo [Garcia], he shares a story about being raped a series of times. And that’s a very extreme story. I don’t want people to walk away with the impression this happened to all the band members, because that’s not true, right. But what is true is that there was a pervasive behind-the-scenes environment where these boys were — I mean, they were being sexualized, you know, on the album covers, in the merchandising, right. That didn’t stop once they went home,” Rios said.
Menudo: Forever Young is now streaming on HBO Max. The docuseries is co-directed and co-executive produced by Rios and Angel Manuel Soto. Here are the time stamps from the Factual America interview:
00:00 – The trailer for Menudo: Forever Young.
04:40 – Where you can watch the docuseries.
05:20 – How the fans of Menudo have reacted to the documentary.
07:48 – The historical significance of Menudo.
15:25 – The importance of the band singing in Spanish.
18:24 – The conditions the band members had to work in.
22:22 – The physical and mental abuse the boys were put through.
25:25 – The issue of the band members being sexualized.
30:05 – How Kristofer got involved in the making of Menudo: Forever Young.
36:25 – The challenges of interviewing former members of the band.
41:43 – What it was like meeting the ex-members of Menudo.
43:45 – What we can take away from this documentary.
Factual America uses documentary filmmaking to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy, and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main Image: A still from Menudo: Forever Young courtesy of Factual America