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Posted August 26, 2006 by publisher in Cuban Movies

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There’s a mole on the left side of Charlize Theron’s neck that you could call her identifying mark. Somehow, this helps you get a fix on her. As an actor, she is often so physically consumed by whatever role she is playing - be it put-upon mine worker in North Country, lesbian serial-killer in Monster, beehived Britt Ekland in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers; ambitious southern wife in The Devil’s Advocate - that if it weren’t for this marker you could lose her completely. She’s a shape-shifter.

A recent metamorphosis took her towards producing, with spectacular success, on Monster, the film that won her the 2004 Oscar for best actress. She took no small risk on the movie; the entire previous output of its writer and director, Patty Jenkins, consisted of a single short that Theron was begged not to watch. “There was nothing she’d done to convince me she was a good director,” says Theron. “I just had a feeling. But I have been wrong before. Very wrong. I’ve been in situations when I’ve said to myself, ‘Can I have rope please? Or some blades?’”

Now she has turned to documentary, producing East of Havana (directed by Jauretsi Saizabitoria and Emilia Menocal), which last week saw its British premiere at the Edinburgh international film festival. Charting the experiences of talented young hip-hop artists Soandry, Mikki Flow and Magyori, it is part document of a musical movement, and part meditation on loss and exile, with some of its most affecting material relating to Soandry’s elder brother, Vladimir, who escaped Cuba a decade ago for the US.

The film determinedly declines to romanticise life in Castro’s Cuba, pushing home again and again that these artists work in a climate of censorship and in conditions of dire poverty, denied human rights such as the freedom to travel. And it goes beyond that: there is already controversy brewing about its pro-American politics. Bizarrely, there is no mention of the US blockade; responsibility for the worsening conditions in Cuba during the “special period” of the 1990s is laid firmly at Castro’s door.

Theron’s own view is that “the foundation of Cuba is censorship. You have to ask: would I take the free healthcare and education and accept being a prisoner in my soul?” The kids in the documentary are immensely articulate and literate, and spend a lot of time scribbling lyrics in their notebooks; it is ironic that their education has given them the means but not the opportunity to express dissent. “It’s like having a key without a lock,” she says.

Theron’s ease with the political stance of the film perhaps stems from the fact that, like the subjects of the documentary, she was brought up without the luxury of democracy, albeit in a state of a drastically different complexion than Cuba’s. She was born in the former mining town of Benoni, just outside Johannesburg in South Africa, and settled in the US in her late teens, when she was training as a ballerina while modelling to pay the bills (the latter she calls “my waitressing job”). The freedoms of the US, she argues, are of immeasurable value, and in danger of being taken for granted. “In countries where things are going well, people tend to forget the things that are really, truly important. It was interesting screening this film in America. Everybody grasps on to Cuba, but as soon as the conversation comes round to America and you see how this material reflects on the US, it’s quite devastating. People are very scared to say anything that might come across as unpatriotic. But if you really, truly love a country - and I love living in America and I have a freedom that I never had in South Africa - then you should worry about those things.”

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on August 26, 2006 by MiamiCuban

    Well, I guess a documentary about Cuba that fails to mention the 47-year-old embargo makes about as much sense as a documentary about the erruption of civil war in Iraq and not saying a word about the invasion and occupation. 

    Considering the timing of this documentary, with the recent changes in Cuba, I wonder who or what might have motivated her to do this?  Also, her own South Africa is brimming with stories waiting to be told, so why her sudden focus on Cuba?

    Here’s the link to a video on a Cuban rap group.  Does anyone know if it made it into her documentary?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOuTGUosMIs

  2. Follow up post #2 added on August 27, 2006 by J. Perez

    Wonderful and very talented actor, however, MiamiCuban posts a very interesting question, why the preocupation with Cuban artists and society when her country of birth is being ravaged by AIDS and social problems abound?

  3. Follow up post #3 added on August 31, 2006 by Pete Chavez

    I am Cuban and I am very passionate about what happens to women and children in Darfur.  I care what happens to the people of all religions
    and denominations of Lebanon.  I care about the woman (from Chechnya) on the front page of today’s New York Times whom was brutally beaten and head /eyebrows shaven then painted green and paraded and kicked before the house of her husband (all of this for alleged accusations of adultery).  I am very passionate about these people and problems in the world and yet I am Cuban.  One reason that I can think of that makes this fact so; would be that I guess it’s because I happen to LIVE IN THE WORLD!!!  And although nothing would move my heart and soul in interest and call me to action greater than anything in the world than that of my people, the Cuban people. To find political and personal freedom, economic prosperity and to look to the future for their children with excitement and optimism instead of dread and despair.  Yet I would still feel passionate and I’d still care about all the other places in the world where inequality, injustice, hunger, human squalor and poverty are an everyday obstacle to overcome.  So let Charlize Theron have her opinions and especailly her passions for young people in Cuba and any where else where she may be in empathy with people in a struggle where through her celebrity she would be in a positon to draw attention to their plight.    And if next year I go to work on a documentary about the ongoing genocide of ethnic black Africans of Darfur, I hope that I would not have to endure the hollow criticisms from some less than balanced website in the country that would ineffectually try to discredit a point of view that is not shared by them by simply casting suspicion over the auters intentions,“Why on Earth would a Cuban put his attention on Darfur when there are so many problems in Cuba”.  I HONESTLY DID NOT KNOW THERE WAS A RULE!  Thanks again fellas for the enlightentment.  By enlightenment I mean I am realizing that I am getting the opinions of two teenagers or that of two narrow minded censurs from the land of “my way or the highway land”.  Cheers

  4. Follow up post #4 added on August 31, 2006 by J. Perez

    Relax Pete, this is a free country and we are just expressing opinions. There is no rule, you are right about that, however, as the old saying goes, “charity begins at home”

  5. Follow up post #5 added on August 31, 2006 by Pete Chavez

    Oh I see, in other words we don’t like Charlizes opinion so why doesn’t she go home and focus on her own country but if you did agree with her you would be aplauding her.  You see I don’t see this as a question of opinion.  I see this as an inability to have a dialogue of ideas/points of view within the constraints of social plurality.  I find that most Cuban’s on both sides of the Florida Straits suffer from this syndrome.  I unfortunately notice this in the most trivial places and in the most innocent remarks.  We’re so under developed guys, so underdeveloped.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on August 31, 2006 by J. Perez

    If you call under developed someone who has a different idea or point of view, who’s under developed?

  7. Follow up post #7 added on September 01, 2006 by Pete Chavez

    Dear Mr. Perez,
    You are missing the point again.  I will try one more time.  Charlize Theron’s reality is that of a girl raised in a onesided pseudo democracy where black people natural to that region were treated worse than dogs (or so I hear).  She left at age fifteen, came here and found her “American Dream”.  I would find her take on Cuba at best stimulating or at least worth listening to because her point of view stems from a background that is so out of the ordinary from our own particular Cuban/American experience.  So perhaps there is a greater element of objectivity and freshness that we can use to examine our own beliefs.  If not that, then at least learn further the practice of tolerance for those that we oppose/oppose us.  I am not calling us underdeveloped because our opinions can be different.  I am calling us underdeveloped because we shut down and shut out as a culture when we don’t hear what we want to hear.  It is precisely this inflexibility of our national character that collectively keeps a lunatic meglomaniac tyrant in power for nearly fifty years and keeps a neurotically hysterical and cruel embargo afloat for just about as long.  All of this of course to the amusement and delight of all our neighbors in the hemisphere.  The best thing that happened to me when I was an infant was that my parents took me out the hell hole that Cuba was becoming and is today.  Then the next best thing that happen to me was when I was 20 years old and that was that I took myself out of the onesided nightmare that is Miami.  Now I am forty years old and still trying to learn how to think properly and form wiser opinions.  And yes, I am totally open to your opinions too, that’s if I read any.  I hope my efforts have not been lost on you.

  8. Follow up post #8 added on September 01, 2006 by MiamiCuban

    Pete:  No one is criticizing Charlize for her documentary.  She has a right to her opinion and a right to express it.  But others also have the right to opine on her film, whether it be about its merits or its flaws. 

    But what makes her project suspect, to me at least, is the fact that she chose not to mention the embargo, which is an extremely important and integral piece of Cuba’s landscape.  Without that piece of information, the film is, at best, less than truthful, and at worst—-politically motivated, especially given the timing.  If you were to watch a documentary about America’s civil war and it never mentioned slavery, wouldn’t you at least question the producer’s knowledge/motivations?

    There’s no need to go into a long tirade about all the charitable work you do.  We were merely bouncing around a few opinions, and I don’t get from Perez’s comments that it’s about “my way or the highway”, as you said.  Charlize is still a phenomenal actress, and no one will be boycotting her films or anything like that, so relax.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on September 01, 2006 by Pete Chavez

    MiamiCuban: {“long tirade?”, “charitable work that you do?”, “so relax?”}
    Your last paragraph (as in all your other postings) betrays your placid demeanor and exposes that entrenched passive intolerance that I am pretty sure not even you are aware of.  I’ve read quite a bit of your opinions on all the other posts of this site and although I find you relatively smart (at least articulate), your characterizations of other opinions only serve to snuff out the slightest bit of crediblity that you might have as a serious thinker.  You render yourself impotent to stimulate, inform and perhaps influence.  REFLECT! GOSH!

  10. Follow up post #10 added on September 02, 2006 by MiamiCuban

    My apologies, Pete.  You’re right.  I should not have gotten personal.

  11. Follow up post #11 added on September 02, 2006 by J. Perez

    My opinion is that your statements are patronizing and I wish to end this conversation.

  12. Follow up post #12 added on September 02, 2006 by Pete Chavez

    to Miamicuban: No worries,  always happy for peace but thanks.
    to J. Perez: Flattery will get you no where.

  13. Follow up post #13 added on September 04, 2006 by Cubana

    As a non-Cuban and non-American I would ask the following question: why should Miss Theron’s documentary mention the American embargo? It appears to be about the Cuban hip-hop movement and the misery of exile. What has that got to do with the American embargo? As far as the rest of the world is concerned with its dealings with Cuba the question is what embargo? The rest of the world can happily trade with Cuba or holiday in Cuba with only minor irritations i.e. your American Express card does not work there and there are no hoards of fat Americans on vacation - or is that an irritation wink

    This concentration on the American embargo is only made by those who seek to use it as the scapegoat for all the ills of Cuba or by Americans who are so arrogant that they think that anything they do (good or bad) is wholly responsible for something.

  14. Follow up post #14 added on September 05, 2006 by Pete Chavez

    I don’t understand why they must think that anyone that may bring to light some injustice in Cuba (imposed on Cubans by Cubans) with out of course blaming the U.S. for it, must have some nefarious ulterior motive.  It could not possibly be an honest, disinterested objective impression. 

    The U.S. dropped big boy on Hiroshima and Nagasaki fifty years ago and the Japanese didn’t sit around complaining “woe is me, let’s take it out on our own people,” and look what they did with those four rocks in the North Pacific Ocean with zero natural resources.  They were perhaps the most crippled group in wartime modern history and yes even though the bombs were in fact horrific,  they rose to be the first firstworld indrustial nation in Asia.  And we are hear discussing the shit ouf luck aspects of being born a rapper in Cuba or being born in South Africa and doing a film on Rappers that can’t Rap in Cuba.

  15. Follow up post #15 added on February 02, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    We have been looking for theaters playing the movie but must be going out on limited release. All we have for the most current information is here.

    Cuba consulting services

  16. Follow up post #16 added on February 07, 2007 by johny B

    Cheers for Theron, who chose to include an all encompassing view of a reality when others (see above) are happy to turn their back on human rights abuses as long as it doesn’t affect them.
    The paper thin superficiality of those who ask why she doesn’t focus on her own country shows just how ethnocentric and racist some can be in defending the undefendable. We should applaud all who shine a light on human rights abuses, even wheb dilettantes who depend on the freedoms they are not willing to fight for try to silence them.

  17. Follow up post #17 added on January 21, 2008 by Ines

    I agree with Pete Chavez on the point that too many Cubans think that to be pro-Democracy is to be pro-Communist and/or Socialist.  I think that anyone who can vote in the USA should feel free to vote for any party on the ballot which they believe needs to get some work done for the interests is represents.

    By the same token, an actress can portray any character they get the opportunity to let speak to the world.  I think Charlize Theron is fantastic, and for all we know, a movie about South African life experience may be on her agenda.  The script may be in the works.  Yes, let plurality be.

    Nevertheless, I agree that the embargo should have been mentioned, fearlessly showing the intended and the unintended consequences.

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