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Havana and the Cuban Revolution as Seen Through Cuban Cinema Essay

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Updated: Nov 29th, 2021

On January 1st, 1959 Fidel Castro and his forces carried out a revolution against Batista’s autocratic, which was being backed up by the US. Nevertheless, there are divided opinions concerning the gains the revolution has brought about, the three movies Pérez’s Madagascar (1994); La Vida es Silbar (1998), and “Havana: the Making of Cuban Culture” paint a favorable picture of Cuba, so that the revolution is seen as having served its purpose – reforms. By considering the three movies: Pérez’s Madagascar (1994) and La Vida es Silbar (1998), and “Havana: the Making of Cuban Culture” by Antoni Kapcia, one gets the right feeling that there are several traits which are made to depict Cuba and its revolution.

The Historical Status of Cuba’s Politics

The first aspect of the Cuban Revolution is the description of the historical status of Cuban politics. In the book “Havana: the Making of Cuban Culture” written by Antoni Kapcia, Cuba is depicted as a country in search of its national identity. Through the depiction of the distance between the elite and the revolutionary masses, Kapcia presents Cuba as full of paradoxes.

Similarly, the historical element of the Cuban Revolution is depicted as a development that was supported in and outside Cuba through the presentation of the Russian tankers, the cruise lines, the slave ships, and the Spanish galleons (Burruaeto, 90). The Cuban Revolution is the result of not only the actions of the Cuban people and leaders but also the result of an agreement made by other different countries that made every effort to provoke and support the revolutionary actions in Cuba.

In Pérez’s film Madagascar (1994), the story seeks to undercut the Cuban revolution by depicting a troubled relationship between a mother and her daughter at the time of the Cuban economic crisis, when the United States of America put an embargo on the goods made on the territory of Cuba. This period of Cuban history was also known as the Special Period.

Though the economic conditions of the Cuban people represent only the background for the story of relations between mother and daughter, it is very important for the understanding of the film as a single unit. The crisis in economics of the country helps to analyze and compare it with the psychological crisis of the main character. The changes experienced by the main character are similar to the changes experienced by the people of Cuba during and after the 1959 Revolution.

There are different reasons and preconditions for the Cuban Revolution, but one of the major ones is that the population of the country did not have a desire to stand the authoritarian regime of the government. The free spirit of the revolution is concentrated on the gaining of liberty for the country. Thus the movies directed by Pérez Madagascar (1994) and La Vida es Silbar (1998) represent the historical background of the revolutionary actions and the life of ordinary Cubans.

“The Revolution was characterized by political confusion, ideological discovery and economic disruption, all underpinned by an ever-deepening process of radical social change, partly directed from above but mostly generating its empirical momentum on the ground” (Kapcia, 2005, 119). The Cuban Revolution lasted for half of a century because the conflict of the government and the population lasted for many decades and finally burst into the revolutionary movement established to release the country from the tyrannous power.

The representation of the Cuban Revolution makes people from other countries comprehend in a better way the peculiarities of the political and economic condition of the country and the way it affected the lives of common people. “If applied universally, some countries – those lacking the means to sustain national film production and distribution – would, by definition, simply never be able to lay claim to having national cinemas” (Hjort, 205). The films of the Cuban authors are the representation of the ethnic, social, and political situation in the country.

The cinematography in the case of different wars or revolutionary actions lets the filmmaker portray the conditions of the country before, in the period, and after the revolution. The movie industry is depicted from the point of view of the growth of national consciousness about stability in Cuba, the cognition of the importance of depiction of the country’s achievements.

The ideas about revolution were an integral part of the Cuban consciousness; they appeared in the minds of inhabitants of the free country of Cuba and then progressed in their hearts and souls. Cubans are freedom-loving people, due to this the revolution was inevitable; “progressive ideas may have been stimulated in Cuba more than elsewhere” (Kapcia, 2000, 41). All these passions are vividly depicted in the films made by Cuban filmmakers about life in Cuba, the Cuban Revolution, and the relations of common Cubans towards revolutionary actions.

The ideology was extremely important for the revolution in Cuba, though the country was considered to be free from ideological studies (Fowler, 83). The ideology is learned to analyze the reasons for the beginning of the revolution. The country of Cuba is represented as free from ideology, but even the movies portraying the life of Cuban people are full of expressions of change and freedom.

“Nationalist ambitions and frustrations provide important clues to the understanding of the republican period of 1902-1958, the bridge between Spanish colony and revolutionary government” (Fowler, 27). Thus the beginning of the revolution takes its origins in the prerevolutionary government, in the interactions between the Spanish colonists and the people craving for freedom.

The revolution made its contribution to the consciousness of the Cuban people; it helped to take a step forward the changes in the political, social, and economic life of the country. But the step was made into the future with new rules, new government, new regime, and new ideology. “Neither antirevolutionary nor blithely prosocialist, Pérez’s post-utopian view helps us to understand how Cubans are dealing with the transition from a socialist Fidelista state to something else” (Pérez, 26).

The Cuban films portray this kind of uncertainty by analogy with the main character: the transformations of the mother and daughter in Pérez’s Madagascar (1994) are similar to the transformations that the post-revolutionary Cuba and all its inhabitants had to experience. The revolutionary actions cause changes in all spheres of life.

The historical status of Cuban politics is a very contradictory issue from the point of view of diversities in the decisions made by the authorities. Thus the political situation in Cuba was the issue for struggle and arguments. The political status of Cuba is predetermined by the relations with other countries and the place of Cuba in the international political arena. Cuba was considered the country with an authoritarian regime and was the object of international rescue missions.

The whole world did not want to see Cuba as an independent state with its customs and traditions, economics and politics, social structure, and free people. Cuba was always considered a colony, a dependent state which can serve only as the resource of some materials, minerals, and chip working force. The Cuban people did not want to accept such destiny; they struggled against the relation towards their country.

The political leaders of the country and their decisions were the results of the agreements made by other countries’ leaders and authorities. But, finally, there came a leader who wanted to establish a new country independent from others, the leader who made everything possible to exclude the American interventions.

Preconditions for the Revolution

One of the preconditions for the Cuban Revolution is the domination of the United States of America over the economic issues of Cuba, its agriculture, finance, and industry; the Cuban market was dependent on the decisions and foreign policies of the U.S. government. The further actions made by the U.S. authorities threw Cuba overboard and made it an outsider in the economic and trade policies.

Another precondition of the Cuban Revolution lies in the interest of other countries in the changes made by the revolutionary movements. Thus Spain was interested in the revolution in Cuba as it was a Spanish former colony. The Soviet Union supported the revolutionary actions in exchange for some benefits, suchlike the deployment of missiles.

Fidel Castro was considered the enemy of the United States of America because of its loyalty to the principles of revolution. He was a great leader who removed the previous leader Batista and established a new regime excluding any interventions of the United States of America. Cuba is depicted between the two conditions of the historical epoch: the 19th century Cuba before the revolution and Cuba within the conditions of the 20th century including the revolutionary actions and their consequences (Childs, 34).

“There was very little commercial Cuban cinema: some eighty features were made between 1930 and 1958, mostly melodramas or musical comedies made at breakneck speed by adventurers” (King, 145). The films directed by Pérez Madagascar (1994) and La Vida es Silbar (1998) represent another kind of story; they portray the life of ordinary people within the economic, social, and political changes in the country.

Thus one of the international associations deals with the financial status and activities produced by the members of the association. “The Latin American Studies Association (“Association”) was organized to provide a forum for addressing matters of common interest to the scholarly profession and to promote effective training, teaching, and research in connection with the study of Latin America” (Latin American Studies Association, 29). The economical status of the countries of Latin America is the burning issue of the modern international society; the economics of Cuba is represented from different perspectives including the social status of the Cubans and their living level.

Economic and Social Status of Cuba after the Revolution

In the 1998 movie La Vida es Silbar, the writer seeks to portray Cuba and its revolution as being economically decrepit. The film as directed by Fernando Perez seeks to achieve this by delving into Cuba’s social way of life. For instance, that the economic state of Cuba is weak is well shown by the presentation of Mariana who dabbles with the idea of revoking her chastity vows just to play out the hotly contested role of Giselle.

This through subtlety depicts an economic strain in Cuba strong enough to ripple the Cuban social or moral ethics. This as such indirectly undercuts the place of the January 1st, 1959 Cuban Revolution which had been carried out by Fidel Castro on the account of political and economic reforms (Fowler, 22). The opinion is provided that people looked at the revolution as on the ability to gain something new, to receive something unknown that could change their lives for the better.

La Vida es Silbar is a movie, which perfectly depicts the social situation in Cuba. Chaban M. (2004) is sure that this film “serves as a barometer of the thwarted aspirations of present-day Cuban life” (Chaban, 494). The film is shot in the comedian nature but the problems are real, the main characters of the film may be named as the symbolical participants of the modern situation in Cuba. The film under consideration touches mostly on the problem of the Afro-Cubans. The symbolical social problems are depicted through a woman, called Cuba and her son. Cuba, the woman is the symbol of the state, who demands the constant perfection of her son’s behavior.

The state also tries to demand the perfect behavior of its citizens, which provides constant problems and conflicts in society. Citizens, in the face of Cuba’s sons, want to reach their happiness, want to be free, and individualize their demands while the state (the woman) wants all to behave in the structured and predicted activities, which do not allow them to provide their behavior. La Vida es Silbar movie tries to show the changes, which took place in the Cuban society, that the state wants all its citizens to tend to the single national idea, while people in the society want to be free in their decisions and looking for their happiness (Fernandes, 61).

One of the main social problems, which existed in Cuban society, was people’s inability to reach their desires, to be able to embody their dreams. This situation is perfectly shown in two movies, Madagascar (1994) and La Vida es Silbar (1998), where Fernando Perez “illustrated the anxieties Cubans faced during the Special Period, the desire for free artistic expression” (Perez, 34). So, why have these social problems appeared? Looking at the problem from the historical perspective, it may be easily found out that the contradictions between the ideals of socialism, which were promised to people, and the realities of Post-Soviet Cuba were the main reasons for the complications in the social life of Cuban people (Perez, 34).

Madagascar is the film that depicts the sharp problem of the Cuban people’s isolation from the other world, as they were restricted from the journeys abroad. From the current perspective, it may be easily understood people’s desires to know something new and strange for them. Showing the contradictions of dreaming socialism and the post-Soviet reality, the different opinions are introduced in the film. Laurita, Laura’s daughter is the person of the new generation, whose curiosity may never be restricted by the state’s intentions, while Laura is the person, who has used to Soviet politics and cannot understand her daughter’s desire to leave for Madagascar. The film shows people’s change, as some time later Laura is ready to follow her daughter’s steps and go to Madagascar.

So, what is significant in Madagascar? Which social problems are introduced there? The most important aspect of the film is that it shows the real place of people in Cuban society, the alternatives, which are offered for them, and whether they can receive these alternatives and follow the modern lives. Fernandes S. is sure that the director of the film wanted to provide the focus of the film on “the collective at the expense of individuality”, and how that focus “resulted in an impoverished sense of spirituality” (Fernandes, 72).

The film was created under the director’s criticism of the contradictions, which appeared in the 1990s and he showed his dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs in the film (Henken, 363). Furthermore, Madagascar shows the shift of the Cuban society in the direction of liberalism and democracy, which was possible only with the revolutionary movement which took place in the society (Avina, 106).

“Havana: the making of Cuban culture” by Antoni Kapcia is a socially and economically directed story, which depicts the changes in Cuba, which occurred. Antoni Kapcia tried to introduce the crisis, which occurred in the country in the 1990s. After the 1990’s crisis, the situation is changed for the better, and positive movements may be observed for now.

Havana is introduced as an economically undeveloped region, which is one of the reasons for the social problems in the city, along with other causes of it, where “the ‘circuits’ meet is the site not necessarily of conflict but of fusion, interaction, and gradual domination.., where the ‘informal sector’ is formalized, where migration fuels urban development ad where the external processes of capital accumulation extract the host city’s resources” (Kapcia, 12).

The problems, which appeared in the society, are explained in Kapcia’s Havana: the making of Cuban culture by the fact that Havana middle-class people lacked the economical strength and self-definition, on the level with the lack of political cohesion (Kapcia, 15). Moreover, the change in society occurred. The main social and economical problem of the country was the disbalance of the layers in the society, but after the revolution, the people’s social positions began to mix, due to the immigration in the region and the whole picture became more pleasant and supportive in the general view on Cuba, as the country which searched for some changes (Kapcia, 28).

So, considering the social and economical situation in Cuba after the revolution, it may be underlined that three movies are good examples of the social changes in Cuban society, as people began to identify themselves as national identities, as well as the economical situation began to improve after the 1990’s crisis, which took place in the country. Having appeared in the middle between the ideals of socialism and the realities of post-Soviet Cuba, the revolution took place, which decided some of the economical and social problems of the region.

The Concept of Prejudice in Cuba, in Respect to the Movies Produced

Among the movies which were produced in Cuba, their main theme portrayed prejudice among the Cuban writers. Among the movies are Pérez’s Madagascar (1994); La Vida es Silbar (1998) and Havana: the making of Cuban culture. In this case, Burruaeto and Nagy-Zekmi’s main aim is to delve into how racism and misogyny have been portrayed in Cuba, through the movies. Both Burruaeto and Nagy-Zekmi’s main intent is to explain the extent of social change which have taken place in Cuba ever since the times of the revolution (Burruaeto, 90).

The racial prejudices and their depiction in the movies are explained deeply by Eloise Linger and John Walton Cotman, who are sure that the racial discrimination in the Cuban society has disappeared as the mass acts, but the political leaders of the country are afraid of some separated racially prejudiced acts. Eloise Linger and John Walton Cotman say that “racism has virtually disappeared from Cuban society”, but here is the possibility for the “exception of individual prejudice, held onto by a portion of a disappearing elderly population” (Linger, 86). Even in the racial prejudice, the conversation is turned to the social problems, which have disappeared with the “first-post revolution generation” (Linger 86).

The change of the prejudice in the film industry may be easily followed through Elizabeth Ezra and Terry Rowden’s book, which introduces the film development and the changes, which occurred there. As an example, the La Vida es Silbar film is taken, which perfectly describes the changes in the cinema industry, which occurred in the cinema industry in Cuba (Ezra, 158). La Vida es Silbar depicts the problem of Afro-Cubans in the society, which is on the edge in the Havana region, and the cases of racial prejudice remain even now in the film industry (Childs, 11).

Moreover, the film industry also depicts the prejudiced attitude to the woman and its change after the revolution. The Cuban film industry usually introduced racial and misogyny as the usual themes in the films which were perceived as normal affairs, but with the social changes in the society, with the revolution provided, these prejudices appeared to be inadmissible and the changes in the film industry and the main themes of the films were reviewed. Of course, there is no insurance that people will follow all the rules and that racial prejudice and prejudice in the reference to the women will disappear immediately, but the changes may be already observed. Taking the films Pérez’s Madagascar (1994); La Vida es Silbar (1998) and “Havana: the making of Cuban culture”, it may be concluded that they are the main introducers of the changes in the film industry in the Cuban society and the opinion which is provided after looking at them.

From the historical perspective, it may be concluded that prejudices, which are observed in the Cuban film industry have come from social and economical problems. Concerning this, it may be surely agreed that the film industry in Cuba, as well as all over the world, is closely connected with the situation, which exists in society. The changes, which occurred in Cuba in the political, cultural, social, and economic spheres after the revolution left their print on the film industry in the society ad the prejudices, which existed before, are not the theme of consideration now, and it may be said that Cuban film industry becomes to be free from the prejudices as the result of the society free from prejudice as well.

The movies directed by the Cubans and depicting the life of this bright country are as well depicting the stereotyped aspects of Cuban life. Moreover, the film industry is the sphere where any prejudice or stereotype can be exaggerated to the extent that the observers would accept the depiction as the universal truth. This is the reason for the representation of Cuba as a free country with nationalistic ideas and ideology. The movies directed by Pérez represent the stories of ordinary people, their lives and conflicts, the generation gap, and ideological obedience.

Nowadays Cuba is portrayed from the point of view of the general notions, but the films directed by Pérez Madagascar (1994) and La Vida es Silbar (1998) depicted the true life of Cuban people, full of problems and crises. The life of ordinary people in Cuba did not differ much from the life of ordinary people in the United States of America or the Soviet Union. The oppression and prejudices were an integral part of the revolutionary society as well as they are the indicators of inequality now.

Nevertheless, the prejudiced attitude and oppressions were not recognized as a problem; “according to Fidel Castro, ‘women’s oppression’ and ‘racial oppression has been eliminated by the revolution” (Lumsden, 185). The authorities did not admit that any kind of oppression or prejudice existed in Cuba. Thus it was not allowed to depict in the movies the non-existent things and notions.

The oppression towards women was not portrayed in the contemporary movies as it was believed that the revolutionary movement changed the attitude of society towards the oppressed social groups. The depiction of the oppression was not sanctioned by the Cuban government either was any other mention about this unequal attitude.

As mentioned at the very beginning of the discussion the three movies Pérez’s Madagascar (1994); La Vida es Silbar (1998) and “Havana: the Making of Cuban Culture” paint a favorable picture of Cuba. This picture is represented from different aspects of contemporary life. The films depict the relationships within families, the conflict of generation within the family, the ideological approach to the ideas of revolution, the ways of achieving the goals, the lives of common people in the period of the Cuban Revolution.

The crisis in the sphere of economics is regarded as the background for the development of changes in the psychological attitude of the ordinary woman. The revolutionary situation in the country is the field where actions of the movie stories take place. The movies of the Cubans are considered from the point of view of prejudiced attitudes and oppression as well as the prosperity, economic growth, changes in the political and social life of the country.

Conclusion

From the three movies discussed in this paper: Pérez’s Madagascar (1994); La Vida es Silbar (1998) and “Havana: the making of Cuban culture”, it can be concluded that their theme revolves around various factors which includes: social, cultural and economic transformation status of Cuba after the revolution; the prejudice among the elite and the revolutionary masses in Cuba; the Cuban cinema industry and how it has evolved over time; the global outlook and affairs of Cuba as a country from the times of the revolution up to the close of the 20th century; and to give an objective historical account of the growth and dynamism the Latin American movie and cinema industries have realized.

Works Cited

Avina, Rafael. Cinema et Musique. Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2000.

Burruaeto, Jorge and Silvia Nagy-Zekmi. Positivism, Racism and Misogyny in Latin America. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.

Chanan, Michael. Cuban Cinema. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Childs, Matt. Eighteen-Twelve Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against the Atlantic. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2008.

Ezra, Elizabeth and Terry Rowden. Transitional Cinema: The Film Reader. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, 2006.

Ferenandes, Sujatha. Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of a New Revolutionary Cultures. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2006.

Fowler, Will. Ideologues and Ideologies in Latin America. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997.

Henken, Ted. Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

Hjort, Mette and Duncan Petrie. The Cinema of Small Nations. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

Kapcia, Antoni. Cuba: Island of Dreams. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2000.

Kapcia, Antoni. Havana: The Making of Cuban Culture. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2005.

King, John. Magical Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America. New York: Verso, 2000.

Latin American Studies Association. Annual Report 2007. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Web.

Linger, Eloise and Walton Cotman. Cuban Transitions at the Millennium. Maryland: International Development Options, 2000.

Lumsden, Ian. Machos, Maricones, and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Perez, Louis. Cuban Studies. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.

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