Soy Cuba, a 1964 Soviet Union/Cuban film, chronicles the struggles of Cuba leading up to the Cuban revolution in 1959. The voice of Cuba takes the audience through a myriad of events to bring the viewer into a position of understanding the fight the people were in for their freedom. The film begins with Cuba talking about Columbus coming to her shores and how she thought he would bring happiness but what he brought was tears.
The film changes to a more modern Cuba with night clubs and excitement. A man sings a song called “Crazy love.” Perhaps it is a metaphor for how Cuba felt about the modernization that had taken place, and even though they loved it, it had come at a high price.
Americans are portrayed as rich men who get what they want, i.e. women in the bar, and rant that “nothing’s indecent if you have enough dough.” Perhaps another insight into how the Cubans felt about American involvement in their economic development or their manipulation of it.
One particular woman, Maria, worked at the club where the Americans partied. She wore a crucifix and did not seem to enjoy her job, but her economic status had forced her into the occupation of working in a brothel. When she took the American home with her that night, she took him to her shack in the slums. The American wants to buy her crucifix because he collects them. This appears to be yet another metaphor for how the United States was perceived as the Imperialist enemy during this time period, as a nation which collected smaller ones and did with them as they pleased (Chasteen 260). Maria’s situation was meant to imitate the situation of Cuba and its relationship with the United States. When Maria was caught in her compromising situation by her Cuban boyfriend her facial expression alluded to the reality that she knew to be true, any hope she had for changing her situation ended with her involvement with the American.
The American was begged for money by the Cuban children as he left the village. Sad, hopeless faces everywhere. He could not get out fast enough.
Cuba speaks and says that he came there to have fun, so have fun. Don’t look away. Wasn’t it a happy picture? For Americans, Cuba was casinos, bars and hotels, but Cuba was also the “hands of the young and hold crying out for money.”
An old man, standing on the porch of his shack in the rain remembers his wedding day and his life with his wife and child working in the fields, but his reality had grown into a more dire place. Death and falling on bad financial times put him a position to have to work for others and be indebted to them.
He’s a sugar cane farmer who has lived his whole life in debt and he says that life is worse than death. His only hope lies in his sugarcane crop. Those hopes are soon dashed.
While he harvests the crop, senior Acosta rides up and tells him that his land and home have been sold out from under him to the United Fruit company, best known for its banana production, but as portrayed in the film, was instrumental in the sugar production. Once again the little man was trampled under the feet of greed.
Cuba asks who is responsible for the tears and blood? The film then cut to a picture of Batista, the ruler of Cuba, whom the United States backed.
The last two stories take the viewer into the struggles of the revolution. In the city, protests take place against Batista and in the forests of the mountains revolutionist fighters gather to organize to fight for their freedom. They meet with much resistance, many losing their lives, but they continue to fight until they reach victory.
Cuba spoke again of the two paths for the citizens of Cuba, slavery or star. The star path was marked by blood and it was the path to revolution and freedom.
The revolution was a call to the farmer, student, and worker to join the fight for equal opportunity and education for all.
One aspect that the film did not focus on was the racial discrimination that was taking place in Cuba. The film portrayed the revolution fighters as a group fighting for a better life for all races, social and economic genres. According to “Race, National Discourse, and Politics in Cuba: An Overview,” that was not the case stating, “Cubans have been trying to find unity and common ground for at least a century and have frequently perceived race as an obstacle to reaching this goal.” To help achieve this goal, Alejandro de la Fuente stated, “Institutionalized discriminatory practices were eliminated as early as 1959.”
This drive for unity made Castro a popular man in Cuba. The following quote expresses his view on the racial problems that Cuba faced:
“The correction of historic injustice cannot be left to spontaneity. It is not enough to establish laws on equality and expect total equality. It has to be promoted in mass organizations in, party youth…. We cannot expect women, blacks, mixed-race people to be promoted spontaneously….We need to straighten out what history has twisted.”
Castro had more to fix than the racial problems of Cuba when he came to power. Cuba was “one of the most developed countries in the region” according to Susan Eckstein in Impact of the Cuban Revolution.
The film did get the importance of US capital correct in the economic life of Cuba. Eckstein points out the importance it played in agriculture and industry before the revolution. She points out that “In 1958 Cuba probably had the second largest amount of United States investment in Latin America.” That American presence was definitely felt in the film. The presence of the American businessmen was prominent to the first half of the film and they were portrayed in a less than favorable light.
The overall consensus of the film was that with Castro in power the lives of those who had been denied social freedoms and economic opportunity would improve and Eckstein pointed out that, indeed, “The greatest impact of the revolution has been on low-income groups. The revolution improved the availability of social services, and it made access to the society’s resources more equitable.”