“Menudo: Forever Young” won’t mark the first time that members of Latin America’s iconic supergroup have tried to reveal the truth of what it took to be a part of it. As the new docuseries from directors Angel Manuel Soto (“Charm City Kings”) and Kristofer Rios (“Havana Skate Days”) details again and again, each time more revealing than the last, Menudo alums have been speaking plainly for years about the exhaustion, neglect and sexual abuse they allegedly suffered under the thumb of Edgardo Diaz, the man who masterminded the boy band.
Over four episodes — two of which premiered at the Tribeca Festival, and all of which will be available to stream June 23 on HBO Max — “Forever Young” does its best to balance tributes to Menudo’s undeniable legacy with disturbing testimonies about the working conditions the group endured. (Diaz, per the series’ omnipresent disclaimer, did not respond to the filmmakers’ request for comment or an interview.) While some music historians and journalists contextualize the rapid rise and widespread influence of the group, much of the insight comes from former bandmates. Since Diaz infamously cycled out Menudo members once they hit puberty, the group encompassed more than 30 boys over 20 years. So it’s to the docuseries’ credit that it includes men from almost every stage of Menudo’s lifespan. (Ricky Martin, the most famous graduate by a mile, only appears in video flashbacks.)
There’s so much more to say about Menudo’s history than these episodes have time to explore. Some threads, like gay band members coming to terms with their sexuality in an environment built to exploit it, require more nuance than their glancing mentions can afford. But by the end, it’s devastatingly clear that many of these men have been waiting their whole lives not just to share their side of the Menudo story, but to understand it themselves.
In 1991, several members resigned en masse to come forward about their experiences. Roy Rossello, interviewed here, even went on a Brazilian talk show with his father to confront Diaz, face to face, about his part in perpetuating both physical and mental abuse; that Diaz managed to convince the studio audience that the teenaged Rossello was nothing more than a money-grabbing opportunist feels especially galling, given the rest of the series’ perspective and context. And yet at that point in time, “Forever Young” convincingly argues, Diaz’s influence even beyond the Menudo machine was simply too big for kids to puncture. Now, however, Diaz no longer heads up a multimedia empire, and the boys have since become men. For those who decided to participate, the reigning emotion surrounding this formative period in their lives isn’t fear, but a pulsing, righteous anger.
What subsequently emerges — especially in the series’ second half — is a damning portrait of greed run amok at the expense of children’s welfare. What’s most fascinating about it, though, is how none of these revelations are particularly new. The truth, as they say, is out there. What’s changed, or at least what its directors and participants appear to hope has shifted in recent years, is that the group’s fans might actually be willing to hear it.
“Menudo: Forever Young” premieres June 23 on HBO Max.
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