Soy Cuba (1968) is a film which gives a glimpse, though somewhat biased, of the pre-revolutionary society in Cuba. The film was directed by Mikhail Kalatozov of the Soviet Union. Broken into four chapters, the film looks at both rural and urban life in the few years leading up to the 1959 revolution. Overall, the film was well made visually yet overtly one-sided in showing the political and social climate of Cuba at the time. Having “Cuba” as the narrator at the beginning and end of each chapter was an interesting touch leading one to believe the land was telling the story of the nation.
The opening scene of the film depicts a time before colonialism. It shows a “pure” Cuba before the influence of any Western nations. The narrator speaks of the land before Christopher Columbus arrives. This opening sets a negative tone with regard to international influence.
The next two chapters of the film proceed to show how the Western powers, primarily the United States, damaged Cuba and its people. The first chapter depicts business men, assumed to be American, objectifying Cuban women in a club. The innocent Cuban woman in forced into prostitution as a means of supporting herself because of poverty. One is left with the notion that the American businessmen are simply using the Cubans with little care for their well being.
The second chapter of the film shows a cane farmer and his sons harvesting their crop. During this scene, the landowner informs Pedro that the land had been sold and this would be his last harvest. Pedro proceeds to destroy his home and crops in anger. This depiction is again directed toward American investments in Cuba. The purchasing of land by investors outside of Cuba is presented as stealing from the native workers.
The third chapter is focused on the revolutionary movement by young university students in Havana. The United States is again vilified by the film when seamen chase a woman through the streets. This chapter shows how the revolutionaries moved throughout Havana to spread the leftist ideology and undermine the current government under Batista. The group of revolutionaries are violently dealt with and depicted as martyrs for the cause in this chapter.
The last chapter shows the actual revolution taking place. A chance encounter between a revolutionary and a farmer leads to the farmer taking up arms against the military. He is forced to do so after a bombing raid leaves his son dead. This chapter depicts the downtrodden Cuban people in a heroic light as they fight for freedom and to regain their lost land.
The film is very biased towards the socialist viewpoint during the time period. The depiction of Cuba being damaged by Western powers is not entirely accurate. Eckstein takes a economical approach in assessing the state of Cuba relative to other Latin American nations pre- and post revolution. She determines that Cuba did improve economically in the post revolution years, yet the break with the United States and other Western powers kept the progress to a minimum (530). Where the socialist revolution did make improvements occurred in the social and health care sectors. The land redistribution was not successful simply because of the socialist nature of the revolution, as Eckstein points out, due to the fact that other nations, such as Nicaragua, had some success without a socialist revolution (519). Health care improved significantly after the revolution. The health care system is practically universal and available to all citizens (527).
Although race was not a significant theme in the Soy Cuba, de la Fuente shows how the socialist revolution aided in eliminating racial tensions in Cuba. The nationalist tone of the revolution did not focus on race, but did gain some equality among the racial groups of Cuba. De la Fuente points to the elimination of “institutionalized discriminatory practices” and redistributions as favoring the black Cuban population (60-61).