The death of Fidel Castro in November has once again cast light on the dilemma that is the former Cuban dictator. Whilst he certainly cut a memorable figure on the world stage to say the least, internationally, opinions on Castro are mixed. His death evoked an impassioned sorrow in his native Cuba, the economy grinding to a halt as nine days of mourning were declared; and yet, elsewhere (I’m looking at you, USA) his death was cause for celebration. It’s not often that a global figure evokes such bipartisan opinion – will he be seen ultimately as a liberator or oppressor? Hero or villain?
It’s the stuff that would make compelling viewing on the big screen. The life of the dichotomous dictator would have a plot-line that would outstrip ‘House of Cards’ for political drama. His is the story of an idealistic young rebel, stealing away in a boat in the middle of the night to overthrow the dictator in power and triumphs – only to lead his people long enough to become a cigar-chomping, communist caricature with a murky record of human rights violations. If that weren’t enough excitement, he somehow also managed to survive 600 increasingly outrageous assassination attempts.
And yet; where is Castro’s story in film? The movie industry’s treatment of Castro is just as befuddled as the global media’s reaction to his death – with love and hate divvied up in equal measure. The heavyweights of Hollywood have certainly maintained a flighty, uneasy admiration of Castro – Steven Spielberg visited Castro whilst attending the Cuban Film Festival in 2002, Kevin Costner attended a private screening for Castro of ‘Thirteen Days’; Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford have spoken out in support of Castro – the list goes on.
While Castro has been the star of many a documentary, dramatic and cinematic accounts of his life have been lacking. When it comes to movies, Castro is always the bridesmaid to Che Guevara’s bride. Even Castro’s own cameo as an extra in the 1946 movie ‘Holiday in Mexico’ was cut out of the final film. Guevara’s story has been told and retold in films, including in 1969’s ‘Che!’, 2004’s ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ produced by Robert Redford and 2008’s ‘Che’. Castro’s story is just as complex, politically charged and morally ambiguous. After all, the old adage ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ certainly applies here. Whilst Che has become a figure of protest, with his face plastered over t-shirts and posters world-wide, Castro remains a figure of divisive contention. Perhaps Hollywood has tiptoed around telling the story of Castro’s rise to power for fear of evoking exactly the public reaction Castro’s death has elicited.
Now that interest has been renewed in Fidel Castro following his death, I’d bet my last cigar that we’ll see a historical drama covering the life of the leader some time in the next couple of years. Castro’s reign, which outlasted twelve US presidencies, is prime for a big-screen biopic. The cinema reels are already in motion; the ubiquitous Jennifer Lawrence is already teed up to produce and star in the story of Marita Lorenz, a former lover of Castro who was sent by the CIA to poison the Cuban leader in the 1960’s, a story covered by 2001’s German documentary ‘Dear Fidel’.