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Notes on a Movie

Una Noche

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Last week, I went to see a movie called Una Noche — a movie about Cuba. I never would have seen it, but Charles Lane wrote about it, in an article titled “Cuba’s hard truths exposed.” Then Ron Radosh told me about it. (He would write about it here.) So I went.

I regard it as a bit of a miracle — a movie that portrays Communist Cuba realistically. All of my life, I have seen movies whitewash Cuba. Indeed, whitewashing Cuba is one of Hollywood’s minor specialties. I blinked in amazement at seeing Una Noche.

(We had a similar experience in 2000, with Before Night Falls.)

Ever since Castro seized power in 1959, really, the weight of American culture has been in favor of the dictatorship. Journalistically, academically, cinematically — the weight has been on the dictatorship’s side.

I think of Herbert Matthews, the New York Timesman who did for Castro something like what his forebear, Walter Duranty, did for Stalin. In more recent times, I think of CNN’s Anita Snow and the AP’s Lucia Newman. Those names are bitter in the mouths of Cuban democrats.

Academia? Well, let me quickly tell a story I have told before. When I was in grad school, they invited Armando Valladares to speak (which was a bit of a miracle). He was known as the Cuban Solzhenitsyn, for he was a writer who had spent 22 years in the gulag and lived to tell about it (in Against All Hope).

But the university would not let him appear alone — would not let him speak to the kids alone. They had to pair him with a professor, to give the pro-Castro side (i.e., to whitewash).

And who, would you say, is the most frequently quoted professor in articles about Cuba? I’d say Wayne Smith, by miles. It has been that way for, what? Twenty years? Supporters of the democratic opposition get much less ink.

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The parade of Hollywood figures who have trooped to Havana to sit at Fidel’s feet — and then promoted him and defended him around the world — is too long to detail. I’ll toss out a few names: Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss — all the beautiful people.

You remember what Carole King did, right? She sang to Castro “You’ve Got a Friend.” He sure does, countless of them, in free countries, especially in the United States.

Obviously, the hard Left has given the dictatorship its full-blown support. But the soft Left has done its part too. I mean people like the editors of the New York Times and Barbara Walters. They count more than some political-science prof at Bennington or wherever.

One of the reasons Una Noche amazed me is that I saw it shortly after the death of Saul Landau — the American leftist who made films glorifying and lying about Castro. If you want to know more about Landau, see what Ron Radosh wrote about him, here. (The two knew each other.)

Obits about Landau, of course, whitewashed his beliefs and his career. The headline in the Times was “Saul Landau, Maker of Films with Leftist Edge, Dies at 77.” Leftist edge! Priceless! “Leni Riefenstahl, Maker of Films with . . .”

Landau, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore — these are the kind of people who make movies about Cuba. They have covered up the reality of Castro’s island for years.

Bizarrely enough, Una Noche was shown in Havana. Someone in some ministry must have made a horrible mistake. The people went nuts for the movie. Then it was banned.

The movie was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Again bizarrely, the Cuban government let the actors in the movie (young Cubans) travel to the festival. Two of them defected during the stopover in Miami.

I’ve often wondered why the dictatorship lets people go, ever. Baseball players, ballerinas, singers — whenever they have a chance, they defect (many of them). Maybe the regime figures they’re more trouble at home than in exile.



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