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of Havana”), based on a book of the same name by Cuban novelist Pedro Juan Gutierrez (whose Dirty Havana Trilogy went unpublished on the island), was filmed in the Dominican Republic, because the shoot was not authorized in Cuba.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.