Is Censorship of Artists a Tradition on Cuban TV?

By Eduardo del Llano* 

Filmmaker Eduardo del Llano

HAVANA TIMES — Over the past three years, several members from the Vivir del cuento (Living by one’s wits) team, including the director and the more well-known actors, had asked me to write for the program.

I told them yes from the beginning, but then we didn’t see each other for a while, they didn’t get in touch with me, until July this year when we ran into each other again. They asked me again and I accepted once again, but this time they did call, just three days later.

Look, I told the director, my experience with TV hasn’t been a very good one, but I like Vivir del cuento and the actors are my colleagues, so I’ll start straight away. But first, I must warn you that another film and TV director (let’s call him C) interviewed me in June 2015 for a summer program he had, and as soon as it was aired, they took away the program from him, that is to say, not just that specific episode, but they canceled his slot and warned him that I was banned from appearing on TV. I’m telling you this because I don’t want to write just for the fun of it. The director of Vivir del cuento (let’s call him N) told me rubbish, things aren’t like that anymore, that I shouldn’t worry and that I should start working.

A month and a bit later, in September, director N and another writer from the program called me excited to let me know just how much they liked an episode I had sent over to them and that they were going to film it in October, along with another three written by different writers. That really made me happy, because it’s not easy to adapt your work to a medium that you aren’t familiar with and this team is demanding, like they should be, so I was clearly justifying the confidence they were giving me.

In mid-October, it all went belly up. N told me, sad and in the dumps, that I had been right from the very beginning; that those higher up had accepted the other three programs but not my one. Without explaining why. He suggested that I not write anything else until the matter is cleared up.

But, I sent another piece that I had recently finished anyway.

I want to clarify that in the episodes I handed in to the team, I didn’t try to be aggressive with anyone: I kept the normal social satire that appears in Vivir del cuento but I didn’t try to be especially blunt.

Director N and other members from the team who I spoke to later, are convinced that it’s a personal issue with me, that a piece of work isn’t being censored but instead it’s me. Therefore, this isn’t about specific content being prohibited – which would also be disputable – but that it’s been decided that a creator is excluded from TV because of an argumentum ad hominem. That is to say, that the higher circles in TV will continue to continue to censor me even if I write Storytime with Aunt Tata.

Today, I ran into director C again and we were talking about how things are not only like this, but that excommunicating artists has been happening throughout history is quite a noble tradition in Cuban culture, especially on the small screen.

He told me that right now there is a certain film critic who used to lead a regular segment and he came up against someone from higher up in a debate; as a result, he can no longer appear on TV and not only that, but a dozen episodes that had already been recorded won’t be broadcast, which means money thrown down the drain, among other things. (And TV doesn’t have a lot of money, I thought; to prove it you don’t even have to go inside a studio, walking through corridors and looking at the ceiling is enough). We also spoke about Virgilio Pinera and Juan Carlos Cremata, and many others [blacklisted over time].

Until now, the problem with me has only been limited to TV, as my relations with the Book Institute, the Comedy Promotion Center and even with ICAIC (the Cuban Film Institute) remain reasonable and there is mutual respect.

Hell, censorship isn’t even coherent. That said, the excommunication, the ukase against me was issued during the time of the former president of the ICRT and it continues in force regardless of the fact that this body has a new president.

For family reasons that I won’t go into, this kind of work, writing articles and programs from home, is almost the only thing I can do right now… which doesn’t mean I would accept any old thing, but like I said before, I like Vivir del cuento, it’s an interesting challenge and many people in the team are friends of mine.

However, the thing is that those above can take it away from me in a single stroke, against the explicit wish of the artists and technicians who called me to come and work with them, not caring how the episode ended up, not giving explanations to the team or me, nobody showing their face and telling me why I was given this sentence in the first place.

Of course, I can easily imagine some official from this caste of unhappy people who believe that artists need to be docile and stalwart (like my colleague Frank Delgado, another veteran in these battles, would say) gathering up directors or sending them a message to warn them who the outcasts are this season.

Do they want to leave me without options, force me to emigrate? Not a chance. Let them leave.

*Translation by Havana Times of the original appearing in the magazine Cine Cubano.