Interview with actress Lynn Cruz, an extraordinary Cuban
Right, left or a third way?
HAVANA TIMES – Rather than trying to tell Cuba… I prefer to give the floor to the island’s inhabitants. The idea had been floating around my mind for a while and Lynn Cruz was in Marseille for the CineHorizontes festival, to present the movie Corazon Azul.
I made the most of the opportunity to ask her some questions about her view on contemporary and future Cuba, her personal projects and Europe’s role in all of this.
As night fell, we sat down at a terrace at the top end of the Canebiere. She’d just done some shopping at the Noailles market, where everyone meets. We left after a 40-minute conversation, the essence of which follows:
What role could Europe play in Cuba’s future? What is our responsibility as Europeans?
Lynn Cruz: I believe that the best thing for Cuba, which is a country that depends upon wealthy countries at the end of the day, would be for the influence of foreign powers to go hand-in-hand, without there being a leader.
The work European embassies do in the field of culture and film is very important. I’m here in France thanks to an open call for a grant by the Embassy, not only to make film, but also to get us out of Cuba and screen our movies abroad.
It’s great, because a small festival like CineHorizontes doesn’t have the means to invite us, even though our movie is on the program.
Big events have the advantage of opening up the doors for us to get international recognition, but when you don’t have a publicist, or even a producer like we do, the movie goes completely unnoticed. While at a small event like this, you feel good and the movie becomes more important.
If Cuba were to begin negotiating directly with the US, that would be terrible for us because there is no film industry that can withstand Hollywood. We saw this happen with Fast and the Furious when they were shooting in Havana: Cuban professionals became service providers for the movie, that’s it.
It was like a message from the future: This is what lies in wait for you. So, what was the point of 63 years of resistance and struggle?
How do you see Cuba’s future in a year’s time?
We’re really in a complex and difficult situation right now: the opposition doesn’t exist, they don’t let it exist. Politicians are masters in the art of playing for time, so struggles are dragged out and movements crumble away.
There is foreign opposition, of course, but in Cuba we can only talk about isolated opposition members or “cases of opposition”, like the protest outside the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020. It was a leftist movement, overall.
Now, if we look at what made the success of the song Patria y Vida, used during the protests of July 11, 2021 as an anthem because it is easier to say Patria y Vida than Down with the government, it was not only the fame of the artists, but a huge advertising budget, which could only come from Miami. However, it is difficult to imagine that those who finance these types of campaigns are from the left…
LEFT, RIGHT OR A THIRD WAY
However, today there is a group of young people in Cuba who reject the Homeland and Life slogan and prefer Homeland is Humanity. Neither Homeland or Death, nor Homeland and Life, but Homeland is Humanity. They are artists, students, libertarians, who do not identify with the ideology of Miami, with what they are trying to sell us as a successful model, the super modern car, etc., this very capitalist model, this unthinkable way of life for many in a country like Cuba.
Right now, there are more libertarian movements on the island, who have understood that every time an opposition emerges, it doesn’t necessarily come from the Right.
It’s a complex matter and makes me wonder: What is it we want to change? Plus, what is Cuba? I really don’t have an answer, except for we aren’t going to stop here, because intellectuals are very active, and yes lots are leaving, but lots are also staying.
At this point in the story, here are some biographical details to give you an insight into Lynn’s life:
Lynn Cruz was born in Havana in 1977. She began working as an actress at the National Theater and continued her career with different companies. In 2010, she received the lead role in Larga Distancia (Esteban Isausti) and later founded her own independent company: Teatro Kairos. In 2012, Miguel Coyula cast her for the role Elena in Corazon Azul, a dystopia with a strong aesthetic and clearly challenging in political terms. It continued to shoot for almost 10 years, marked by crises and changes in the national situation, after it was included ons State Security’s blacklist.
In fact, Lynn produces and acts in Nadie, a documentary by Miguel Coyula. That’s when the police and State Security break onto the scene to stop the audience from watching this movie, just like they did during the play Los enemigos del Pueblo, which she wrote.
In 2018, she was declared a persona non grata at any Cuban cultural institution. However, she created a work that was first screened in secret at the Higher Art Institute (ISA), in all haste. This went on to define her company’s poetry: they were ready to perform everywhere and without a predetermined stage design.
She is also the author of the book Terminal (2018), the documentary Desaparecida (Missing) the play Sala-R and Cronica Azul, a making of the behind the scenes of Corazon Azul.
In 2022, she was invited by Tania Bruguera to present her work Los Enemigos del Pueblo (Postmortem report) at Documenta in Kassel Germany, Huron Publishing published Sala-R and she began to write her next book, while traveling the world to present the movie that changed her life.
After being under police surveillance, and everything that had happened with the police and State Security… I used theater as therapy. Knowing that not everyone had this opportunity, I told myself: if I hate them, they’ll win. If I become full of hate, I’ll stop performing and thinking objectively. So, what can I get out of this situation?
At the end of the day, being censored was like seeing the light in the darkness, when they cast me aside, I could see society from a more detached position. It was really strange, like I was a foreigner in my own country, and I could also understand how the opposition abroad works. Very quickly, lots of strangers began to send me friend requests.
While people knew me, I’d only gained a certain respectability in the cultural circle for a movie I shot in 2010 (in Cuba, if you don’t act on TV, you don’t exist as an actress), and suddenly I was well-known but not for my work as an actress, but rather for my political action.
What happened then? I noticed that people wanted to get close to me. But me… I’m only fighting for my own freedom. I don’t have ambitions, I won’t free anyone.
Newspapers in Miami were calling me for interviews. Their headlines, I didn’t feel like they were my voice. Not any more than it was in Granma or Juventud Rebelde… I felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t me anymore. At that point, I had nothing left to lose and I carried on my own path. I slowly found my center.
It’s not that I like this oppressive situation, I just don’t want to stop being myself. Because this censorship business… it forces you to react somehow and enter a struggle that is a vicious cycle. Which ends up for many in jail or in exile.
But I don’t want to feel like I have to run away. So, I decided that I would just simply continue on my own journey.
POWER OF TRANSFORMATION
At the same time, I need to believe I can contribute my own grain of sand. I’m not sure it helps a lot, but I feel like what I do, if it transforms me, I can transmit something with a work, and that might also transform others. At least a little bit.
Do you have projects?
Yes, I’m writing a book at the moment. It’s a dystopia set during the pandemic, about how it was to experience that in a country like Cuba. It’s called El Pais del Si. We also started a new movie this summer when we were in Berlin.
What about Corazon Azul? Can people watch it in Cuba, or only at home?
We watch it at home every Sunday with up to 15 people, but other artists have also invited us. For example, at Art Brut, Instar, Omni Zona Franca in Guanabacoa and Coco Solo Social Club in Marianao. At Cine bajo las Estrellas (outdoor cinema), at the Norwegian Embassy (n.b. it was screened in November). We can hold private screenings at the moment, but you’re not allowed to announce it on social media. We have to pass under the radar.
In an interview with Diario de Cuba you said something that I found very interesting. “People can’t understand our reality outside Cuba if you don’t approach it from a fantastical point of view.”
Yes, how do you get people to understand, catch a non-Cuban audience’s attention about a Cuban story? I saw what happened with Corazon Azul, people reacted in every way. Showing things with a touch of the absurd, or fantasy, people understand it better and even laugh! Of course, Virgilio Piñera and other creators did this, not only Cubans, opting for mockery. In fact, if you tell Cuban reality in a realistic way, audiences think it’s a lie. So, I chose to call upon fantasy instead of reality.
And you, my dear reader, just have to go to film festivals to get the chance to see Lynn on screen.
Watch the Trailer for Corazón Azul