The communist regime governing Cuba recently blocked the screening of a film in which a character describes founding father José Martí as a “fag” and a “turd,” later arguing that Martí’s image – co-opted by the communists despite his affinity for the United States – was “sacred” and not subject to public scrutiny.
The film, titled I Want to Make a Movie, was scheduled to premiere in part on April 7 at a youth film festival. The filmmakers behind the project have not completed the final edit of the movie, and it is unclear what the context of the insults to Martí are.
Director Yimit Ramírez argues that the context of the remarks are a rant by a young character who rejects the label of martiano and disparages the political icon. Cubans are incorrectly taught in schools that Martí was a founder of what became of the communist Cuban Revolution.
The Cuban Institute of the Art and Film Industry (ICAIC), a government agency, announced the banning of the incomplete film last week by declaring the film “disrespectful” and any critique of Martí outside of the scope of free speech. It is worth noting that “disrespect” is a crime in the Cuban penal code, typically used to persecute dissidents who speak openly about human rights violations on the island.
In its statement, the ICAIC wrote that “in the film, a character expresses himself in an unacceptable way towards José Martí. An insult against Martí, however it may come about and in whatever context, is an issue not only of concern to the ICAIC, but to all of our society and all who share his values around the world.”
“It is not something that can be admitted simply as a matter of the freedom of expression in creation,” the agency asserts.
The Cuban regime also deployed its state propaganda arms to attack the filmmakers. In a column for Rebel Youth, a communist publication, author Luis Toledo Sande declares Martí “sacred” and anyone who questions any of Martí’s political convictions or historical significance an “enemy of the Revolution.”
“Enemies of the Revolution have taken to uselessly hurling falsehoods against whatever Martí belief they feel … or to trying to sully his revolutionary stance, when not openly denigrating him,” Toledo writes, adding, “It is natural that, here, veneration for Martí is massive and takes on the mark of the sacred – not in the abstract, but tied deeply to national salvation.”
“It would be very bad if the ICAIC, or any other cultural institution in the country, ceded to so-called valid freedom of expression to denigrate the nation’s highest ideals and values,” he concludes.
Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, also published a tirade against the film. “Disparaging Martí is inadmissible,” the propaganda outlet asserts. “Offending him in word and deed is an insult felt deeply by the immense majority of Cubans.”
In a Facebook post partially reproduced by Cuban outlet 14 y medio, director Ramírez asserts he wanted to “open up a debate with the public” and feared the worst for his still-incomplete movie when government agents demanded a copy of it on a USB flash drive. He also noted that he was urging agents not to schedule the movie to premiere yet because it was not yet ready and that he was aware of the government selectively editing other directors’ movies in the past.
Ramírez expressed little surprise at his censorship. “We didn’t count on them [the government] to make the movie, and we made it that way, completely independently. It would be beautiful to see the movie in theaters, but the truth is … that they control the theaters here, and there are many other ways for people to see it,” he wrote.
Cubans typically share illicit artwork through USB drives.
Martí was a poet and political writer who played arguably the most significant role in turning the people of Cuba against the Spanish monarchy, stating that Latin American colonies should follow the example of the United States and establish a free society. He lived in exile in New York for some time – Central Park boasts a large statue of Martí on horseback – and, while generally impressed by American society, feared that Washington could take over Cuba and prevent the establishment of a free, sovereign society there. He died in 1895, at age 42, after abruptly charging into a battle against the Spanish. Before his death, he wrote critically of socialism and championed freedom of expression, a fact the Castro regime regularly fails to mention when extolling the intellectual leader of Cuban independence.
In his announcement of a rapprochement with the Castro regime in 2014, then-President Barack Obama attempted to ingratiate himself with the communists by citing one of Martí’s most famous quotes, but he omitted the critical clause that concludes it: “Freedom is the right that all men have to be honest – and to think and speak without hypocrisy.”
As a final insult to his memory, the regime buried Fidel Castro in the same cemetery as Martí and Tomás Estrada Palma, the first president of Cuba.