Narrator: Jennifer Maytorena Taylor.
According to Sonja de Vries’ short, rather superficial new documentary, “Gay Cuba,” there has been substantial improvement in human rights for gays and lesbians in 1990s Cuba. Composed of interviews with a dozen or so homosexuals, docu sports a new angle in its more overt discussion of lesbians, in contrast with previous films that have focused on men. Following a brief theatrical run in L.A., “Gay Cuba” should get exposure in film festivals and specialized venues for socio-political, nonfiction works.
For decades, homosexuality was regarded in Cuba as a “sickness and moral aberration.” Men of “deviant” sexuality not only lost their jobs but were often sent to rehabilitation camps. Rigid laws encouraged police raids of gay gathering places and discriminatory treatment by the society at large.
Things began to change for the better in the late ’80s, and markedly improved in the ’90s. Interviewees talk about the 1994 movie “Strawberry and Chocolate” as a breakthrough experience with repercussions beyond its popularity as a film. There are no longer any sodomy laws in Cuba — the only criminal violations regarding sex are those involving violence and coercion.
The National Center for Sex Education was apparently instrumental in propagating the idea that a deeper cultural transformation in the areas of gender and sexual orientation was needed to fully implement Castro’s socialist revolution. Docu includes interviews with officials from the military and the ruling party who express benevolent views toward homosexuality, claiming that gays could be effective union leaders and revolutionaries.
In more than a few moments, “Gay Cuba” comes across as a somewhat shallow, agenda-driven docu, one that goes out of its way to present a positive portrait of gay life in Cuba. Most of the interviewees, many of them women, belong to a younger generation of homosexuals, with all reporting greater acceptance of their lifestyle; there are hardly any dissenting views on display.
Lacking thematic focus and visual shapeliness, “Gay Cuba” gives the impression that it was made rather quickly by an outsider. But the picture that it paints is so hopeful, compared with “Improper Conduct” (1983) and “Nobody Listened” (1988), Nestor Almendros’ landmark docus on oppression and human-rights violations in Cuba, that one wants to believe its evidence truly reflects a new era for gays and lesbians under the Castro regime.