Soy Cuba, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, came out in 1968. Following the Cuban revolution, it shows the audience a few of the many struggles the Cubans encountered under the dictatorship of Batista, the basis for the revolutionaries being so eager to follow Castro. Upon further research, the scenes from the film that bring despair into the hearts of those watching are realized, making them all the more moving.
A couple of recurring ideas resonate throughout the film. The first was the horrible living standards many Cubans faced, while another was the ongoing battle by the students to bring the revolution to life. Also very apparent was the overall disdain towards Americans. “In Cuba, as in Latin America as a whole, 1950s anti-imperialist attitudes focused almost exclusively on the United States, and nowhere were anti-imperialist feelings stronger than among Cuban nationalists.” (Chasteen 266) The three Americans portrayed in the film are quite interesting characters. Their scenes are based in trashy parts of town. They are shown partaking in scandalous activities. When they speak, they are cocky, but seem ignorant. The negative attitude towards America is blatantly obvious, even before one of them takes advantage of a young beauty’s vulnerable situation.
Maria, otherwise known as Betty, is a beautiful young girl, seemingly with potential to have a decent life. She is loved, and could be seen to represent all of Cuba’s youth. However, their cruel reality has forced her to work nights, entertaining whoever can afford her. Of course in this particular instance, it is the money hungry, uncaring American. Taking her home from her night club to continue to pay for his evening, she takes him into her bed. This scene is interesting for two reasons. First, it well represents the idea Cuba had of America. America was overbearing, taking advantage of the control gained after World War II, leaving them to rot while they helped their enemies rebuild. They wanted to keep them under their thumbs in order to make a profit, while beautiful Cuba was unable to fight back. Also, the living conditions of the people in the makeshift shanty town where Maria lived were typical of how people had to survive. After World War II, “population growth accelerated as improvements in sanitation and health radically lowered the death rate. […] Latin American economies expanded, too, but not enough to meet the basic needs- much less the hopes and dreams-of the added millions.” (Chasteen 249)
In a separate story line, presented is a farmer who is happy, young, recently married, and with his first-born child. After their second is born, the wife dies, leaving him to raise them alone. Unable to support his family, he is reduced to a farm laborer, where he lives and raises crops on land that is not his. When he finally brings in a profitable crop, he is told it means nothing, the land had been sold to another, and he has no crop or place to live anymore. This type of situation was not uncommon before the revolution. “In societies where much of the population is involved in agriculture, land ownership constitutes an important component of social welfare. Land owners control production on their holdings, and they enjoy the social status that farm laborers do not.” (Eckstein 513) Sugarcane production was vital to Cuba’s economy, but those working the hardest for it were those receiving no benefits from it. Castro himself was the son of a sugarcane growing family. “The significance of Cuba’s sugar dependence has, however, changed. Sugar workers, for example, enjoy more social benefits, job security, and earnings in comparison to other workers than before the revolution.” (Eckstein 513)
In sum, the movie did a wonderful job giving insight to the condition Cubans were in before the revolution. Every story line was based in truth, representing many of the seperate struggles the people were experiencing, and the battles they fought everyday to find change. Even though conditions improved in many areas later, “the revolution has been no panacea to the island’s historic trade vulnerability.” (Eckstein 513) They still have problems, but the overall well being of the people has improved.