Hollywood in HavanaUS Cinema and Revolutionary Nationalism in Cuba before 1959

Hollywood in HavanaUS Cinema and Revolutionary Nationalism in Cuba before 1959

Megan Feeney

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226593555

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book explores the US film industry’s presence and influence in Havana, Cuba during the first six decades of the 20th century. Especially beginning in the 1920s, Hollywood dominated the film business in Havana, where movie theaters, fanzines, and film columns multiplied prodigiously. But Hollywood’s reign did not affect any simple “Americanization” of Havana audiences, seduced into consent to the US imperial hegemony that so profoundly shaped life in Cuba before the 1959 Revolution. Instead, Hollywood in Havana finds that Cuban audiences, cultural arbiters, and men and women working in the local film business community engaged actively and complexly with Hollywood. They appropriated Hollywood content into the local context, and interacted with Hollywood business practices, in ways that fomented revolutionary Cuban nationalism, including its defining insistence upon national sovereignty, its celebration of freedom-fighting masculinity, and its profound ambivalence about the United States, which served as both an inspiring model of a prosperous democracy and a looming threat to Cuban sovereignty, democracy, and prosperity. Cubans found ample fuel for this ambivalence especially in films by leftist Hollywood filmmakers, who celebrated the United States’ democratic idealism and freedom-loving heroes but also offered compelling critiques of US failures and flaws, including its racial and socioeconomic inequality as well as its (extraterritorial) greed. Hollywood in Havana finds that Cuban film critics, moviegoers, and even revolutionary activists engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Hollywood that fueled Cubans’ demands for true independence and uncorrupted democracy, and even their willingness to raise arms towards those ends.