Known around the globe as the 9th wonder of the world, Joan Marie Laurer largely known as Chyna is one of the most influential wrestlers in the annals of wrestling history. She was the first female WWE Intercontinental wrestler and was more than a valet like many female peers. Chyna was an active wrestler, competing amongst other men in the squared circle. Unfortunately, like many others in the business, she fell upon tragedy. Her fall from her peak in the WWE led her through harsh trials and tribulations, culminating in her untimely death in April 2016. She was only 46.
Surprisingly, the year before her death was documented. The Reconstruction of Chyna, directed by Erik Angra, had Chyna return from teaching in Japan to reclaim her spot in the wrestling world. Instead, it killed her; with the documentary scrapped, the archived footage would return for Vice’s documentary, directed by Marah Strauch. Vice Versa: Chyna dives into her final year, and more importantly, it exposes the men who lead her to her death.
The original production team led by Angra were parasites, latching onto Chyna to ride her coattails to success. Angra’s unique idea as director was to bond with Chyna by abusing drugs with her, partying with her, and simply recording the outcome. His complete lack of empathy for her struggles could be due to his own struggles with heroin. He was actively using it during their filming.
Her manager, Anthony Anzaldo, convinces her to return to the comic convention scene, signing autographs. He takes her to places like Las Vegas, where one’s vices can be easily accessible—forcing her to reunite with her estranged family and face issues from her past when she clearly needed help dealing with what was present. Chyna was still abusing prescription drugs, and it’s appalling to see the footage and find him helping her order pills on the black market. Anzaldo helps her deceive her doctor about what drugs she was consuming. Under the guise of being her spiritual support, he pushed her further into her personal darkness.
And you find these events in the final year of her life parallel her wrestling career from men like Triple H, Vince McMahon, and Sean Waltman. You see the men who had used her for their own personal benefits, and when they no longer needed her, she was disposed of. Her firing from the WWE is a harsh blow for someone who was such a groundbreaking and feminist icon to the wrestling world. Chyna tried to argue she was worth more to the multi-billion dollar corporation and demanded a raise. However, her former lover, Triple H, had an affair with the bosses’ daughter. They couldn’t be bothered by the drama of the affair and Chyna asking for more money.
They left her with nothing, not even her name, and erased her from the annals of WWE history. Sean Waltman, formally known as X-PAC, would get involved with Chyna near the later end of her wrestling career outside the WWE. They’d released a sex tape. This would later be part of the adult entertainment career that would allegedly prohibit Chyna from being honored in the WWE Hall of Fame. Yet, Waltman would be allowed to return in Wrestlemania 31 to represent D’Generation X. While Chyna is completely removed despite being involved with the infamous stable from its inception.
The most harrowing moments of the documentary come with Chyna’s final interview. In her cries for help, Angra, who later admits to being high on heroin at the time, completely ignores her pleas. She is struggling, realizing she needs help, and all they do is continue to film. He later admits, he felt like he killed Chyna. And I agree, he did, along with her manager Anzaldo who decidedly takes her ashes, to sell her out one last time in one awful and inappropriate memorial.
Anzaldo has a smile on his face as he recalls the final message he ever got from her was that she hated him. He seems to relish the thought, and it’s a disgusting display of apathy from the men in the last year of her life. The saddest outcome from all of this was her belief that she didn’t think she was this incredible success. Despite her issues, despite the abuse, and her downfall, there will be no one who can possibly replicate what she did.
In a business where copying winning formulas is very common, no one out there can even be who she was. She was a colossus, a feminist icon; she was a wrestling pioneer. She is Chyna, and there’s no one better.
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