Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Is This Movie Pro-Castro?

On the recommendation of Ace-of-Spades (IIRC), I saw the movie Before Night Falls about the gay Cuban dissident Reinaldo Arenas and based on his autobiography of the same name. Arenas was imprisoned by the Castro regime for a couple of years in the '70s, fled to America during the Mariel boatlift in 1980, and, dying of AIDS, committed suicide in New York in 1990.

Arenas was a poet and novelist. Although Arenas was ostensibly imprisoned for publishing outside of Cuba without a permit, the movie portrays, apparently accurately, the source of his antagonism towards the regime as being its policies discouraging homosexuality. Arenas doesn't seem to have had much of a problem with dictatorship as such, only to his own persecution by it.

But in the movie, the Cuban campaign against homosexuals wasn't especially brutal as persecutions go. For instance, Arenas' first arrest was in response to an accusation of molestation. This was false, but nonetheless properly a crime. Homosexuals were subject to roundups, but not massacres; on the contrary, the homosexuals being arrested didn't even look especially intimidated. Cuban prisons were cramped, ugly places, as Third-world prisons tend to be, but neither Arenas nor any other prisoner is shown being tortured.

What was portrayed graphically was the homosexual activity. In this respect, the atmosphere of the movie reminded me of nothing so much as Midnight Cowboy, whose gross sexual content initially earned an MPAA "X" rating. From what I recall of its retrospectives, Midnight Cowboy set out to portray the grizzly brutality and misery of that kind of life, and succeeded brilliantly; the filmmakers acknowleged that the film could never made under today's orthodoxies.

But, what was the intention behind Before Night Falls? I don't know. I don't think I'm alone among straight men in being viscerally put-off by depictions of male homosexual activity, but its entirely possible that the filmmakers counted on straight audiences being conditioned (or intimidated) into bearing this with approval. But it's also possible that the movie set out, in the guise of a pro-gay polemic, to subtly imply that, yeah, this kind of behavior needed some discouragement. For the record, I'm against Castro's particular methods of discouragement . .. unless the alternative is what we actually have now: dissidents from homosexuality suffering our own persecution.

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