Cuban Actress Yordanka Ariosa and the “Star System”
By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES — More than a week after the news about Cuban actress Yordanka Ariosa’s Best Actress Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival were published, one cannot help but notice that, while a number of newspapers around the world divulged the story, Cuba’s official press completely ignored it in its print editions. Juventud Rebelde only offered brief coverage in its online version, seen by only a small percentage of the population.
El Rey de la Havana (“The King of Havana”), based on a book of the same name by Cuban novelist Pedro Juan Gutierrez (whose Dirty Havana Trilogy went unpublished on the island), was filmed in the Dominican Republic, because the shoot was not authorized in Cuba. This helps explain why such a big story was not covered at home.
Thanks to this award, Ariosa has earned a place for herself among the acting elite, not only in Cuba, but also at the international level, showcasing the talent of Cuban artists. Granma newspaper’s deliberate omission is a good pretext to address a more global issue faced by Cuban actors and actresses.
One of the significant developments seen in Cuba after the triumph of the revolution was the dismantling of the “star system” and so-called “celebrity” or “gossip” magazines. The cultural institutions created by the revolution launched more intellectual and serious publications to replace the latter (something quite positive at the time).
Having said that, the stagnation of the institutions that stemmed from those decisions – which placed us at the other end of the spectrum – has led us to forget the essence of the actor’s work. It is a high risk job this business of “plumbing the human soul,” for, once you enter the world of the characters you portray, there may be no going back.
To trivialize the work of those who, knowing the dangers inherent to the profession, still decide to regale us with their performances, should not go unpunished.
If we were to walk down the streets of Havana and ask people the names of the young actors and actresses who star in Cuba’s current soap opera, I can assure you most would not know them. However, if we asked the elderly about the actors and actresses of their youth, they would no doubt recall their names, for they read about them in the magazines of the time.
Publicity is not all about vanity and frivolity, it is essential for anyone who works in the mass media.
To be clear, I am not speaking about a magazine that will tell me what brand of clothing so-and-so wore at this or that gala, I am specifically referring to the need to publicize the work of actors, the projects they are involved in, their careers, for now we have a situation in which actors in the same association don’t even know one another.
The lack of publicity is not only affecting actors. It holds for filmmakers, particularly independent artists, and for co-productions with foreign directors. If I were to go on, I could probably say the same thing about literature, architecture and painting.
This neglect, this silence, may conceal a certain degree of fear. The artist has greater freedom of expression that the rest of the population. To silence them means to place them in the shadows, minimize the importance and power they have. But fear is a dangerous feeling that paralyzes us and keeps us from moving forward. I wonder what will happen in Cuba the day artists are no longer afraid to freely express what they truly think about everything.
4 thoughts on “Cuban Actress Yordanka Ariosa and the “Star System””
It is not a coincidence that the unpublicized, officially-shunned actress, Yordanka Ariosa Gonzalez, happens to be an Afro-Cuban. The decision to deny publicity for this actress is part and parcel of the official policy of marginalization/exclusion of Afro-Cubans, which is shamelessly practiced by official institutions such as Cubavision Internacional. As far as the official Cuban media is concerned, the only roles for Cuban actors and actresses of African descent in film are those of slaves in historic re-constructions. Something along the lines of Alea Gutierrez’s “La Ultima Cena” and others even by Afro-Cuban film-maker, Sergio Giral. I have searched all over Youtube for Cuban films and I have not seen a single movie that portrays Afro-Cuban life in contemporary Cuba. In fact most of the movies I have seen so far do not have any Afro-Cubans in the cast. The theme is never centered around them. Programs on Cuban tv like Mesa Redonda typically feature non-black experts and panelists on whatever is being discussed.
So the impression one gets from official Cuban media is that Afro-Cubans are a tiny, insignificant, exotic minority in Cuba. They are only wonderful with their exotic religious dances and reconstructions of their historic roles as enslaved people. And, of course, they are very, very good “deportistas” and “musicos”. And, surely, considering all the noble, selfless, exceptionally-generous, well-known internationalist assistance to African countries, Cuba cannot be accused of racism. But how can one love the root of the tree (Africa) and shun the fruit (Afro-Cuba)? At every turn in the life of Cuba, from the post-revolutionary times, to the present day of historic developments in Cuba-US relations, we see non-blacks only as the sole political actors. From negotiating internal political problems with only the white Catholic hierarchy to the appointment of a successor to Raul in the person of Diaz-Canel and an ambassador to the US. Nothing ever changes. Miami can definitely agree and jubilate that, after all, the revolution too has kept Blacks in their proper place!
It is interesting that you bring up Camilo and Che. It is a tragedy that untimely deaths came to those close to Fidel with similar large personalities, so often. What a burden to have carried on without a way to share the spotlight with others of equal or greater stature.
The cult of personality is alive and well in Cuba. If you are not a Castro or someone willing to give full credit for your accomplishments to the Castros, there will be scant attention in your direction. The Castros have long realized, as this writer, Lynn Cruz implies, that allowing others to garner the spotlight undermines Castro power. Unless, of course, that famous person is dead. Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara come to mind.
Comments are closed.