Throwback Thursday: Damien Cave on Hollywood in Cuba

This week’s throwback story is “Castro’s Casting Couch,” from our April 2003 issue. While U.S.-Cuba relations are thawing right now, with the two countries’ embassies reopening and increased American tourism likely to follow, Damien Cave’s feature recalls a time when some of the most prominent American visitors to the country were Hollywood directors and A-list stars. Filmmakers fell in love with Cuba not just because of its seemingly idyllic setting but because of its charismatic leader. Cave writes:

American film culture, moreover–with its love of the underdog, its happy-ending romanticism, and its inclination to resolve moral ambiguity into categorical good and evil–is fertile territory for Castro canonization. For those willing to look past the harshness of everyday Cuban life, Castro is the ultimate visionary, a Robin Hood who understood long before anyone else that battling the United States “will be my true destiny,” as he wrote in a 1958 letter to Celia Sanchez, his longtime lover and confidant. Castro, who’s outlived nine U.S. presidential administrations, embodies more than just pragmatic perseverance. His life is an epic.

But was Hollywood using Castro and his country as cheap film material, or was Castro using them for good publicity? The answer, as always, is more complicated than it seems. You can read Cave’s story here.

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Matt Connolly

Matt Connolly works for a labor union in Washington, D.C. He was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2015 to 2017.