Fidel Castro: from movie extra to super star (and vice versa) logo-notic...

Young Castro, first dancer to the left, in the film Holiday, Mexico, 1946.

Fidel Castro: from movie extra to super star (and vice versa)

Fidel Castro: from movie extra to super star (and vice versa)

Fidel Castro worked as an actor in three Mexican musicals.

Young Castro, first dancer to the left, in the film Holiday, Mexico, 1946.
Young Castro, first dancer to the left, in the film Holiday, Mexico, 1946.


By Lioman Lima @liomanlima   from México

Fidel Castro dressed as a rumba dancer for the occasion. He was gussied up in a shirt with frilly sleeves of lively colors, wore black satin pants and attempted to move his sturdy hips to the rhythm of the song and dance. The place of the fiesta couldn’t be more eloquent for the future: the home of a cantankerous U.S. ambassador in the movie Holiday in Mexico from 1946.

It wouldn’t be the last or the first time that the future Comandante played the role of a rookie movie star. In other words, as an extra. At least that’s what the  Mexican Guild of Technical and Manual Workers in Cinematographic Production believes and looks forward to making a movie about young Castro’s life and his second-rate incursions into acting. 

“This addresses a topic that is unknown and very controversial: the fact that Fidel, in his youth, acted as an extra in several movies in order to earn a living,” states Juan Carlos Garrido, director of the Guild and principal promoter of the film, slated to debut in October of 2016. 

Apparently, during his younger years while exiled in Mexico, Castro used of his Latin good looks to make cameo appearances in two other musicals,  Easy to Wed (1946) and Bathing Beauty (1944), as well as some of Mexican director Juan Orol’s movies, which researchers are still trying to identify in the archives. 

(Young Castro is the second male dancer on the left appearing at minute 2:10 of the trailer for Holiday in Mexico)

According to Garrido, during the research work they discovered that Castro not only demonstrated his potential as an extra in the movie studios, but he would also drag into the race of the Oscar of anonymity Ernesto Guevara, a young Argentine whom he had met, as all cognoscenti of Che Guevara know, “at the home of María Antonia.”

In Cuba, nobody talks about this. Several movie critics and historians consulted by Univision were perplexed by the idea of imagining the protagonist of the revolution as an extra in third-rate movies. 

“Even if that were true, here (in Cuba) it will always be a lie, as you can imagine. And if that move is made, they will never show it here. Not as long as things remain as they are,” was the email answer from a specialist at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry, the principal organization on the island with ties to the seventh art. 


A star is born?

Should it have its premiere next year, the new film biography of Castro would turn out to be evidence of how life sometimes follows a spiral between its beginnings and its endings. Having to do with how it returns us, in some ironic way, to the nothingness where it began. 

The young man who assumed the role of an extra before starting a revolution has returned to play the same role 70 years later. And as all extras, he assumes with distrustful discipline the role to which age and circumstances have relegated him: sporadic appearances in front of cameras, photo ops, and little or no speeches. While other principal characters fight over the political destinies in the movie of the nation. 

It has been a slow process consisting of the loss of mental faculties and leadership, something that has had two fundamental causes. On the one hand, his illness forced him to step away from power in 2006 and on the other hand, the evidence presented by the Raúl Castro government that a new look was needed, is the opinion of British historian Sebastian Balfour, author of Fidel Castro: a Political Biography. 

The London School of Economics professor states that, despite the obvious tendency toward invisibility, it is difficult to know for certain what influence Castro wields over the current political scene in Cuba. But he doubts whether Fidel is acting as an antagonistic toward his governing brother. These are no longer the times of Hamlet. 


Nonetheless, Cuban political scientist and historian Rafael Rojas reads some signs of nonconformity in the latest smoke signals from the ideologue of the revolution and in other signs that appeared previously, when Raúl Castro inherited the conductor’s baton and began to lead the unanimous band of the government and the Communist Party.

According to Rojas, the reforms initiated by the general stirred taciturn death rattles from his convalescent brother, especially concerning the stated intentions of opening doors to the private sector and cutting the umbilical cords leading to Caracas and the “Bolivarian axis.” 

One of the climaxes of the latent distrust, he assures us, took place during these past eight months, when Havana and Washington decided to lay aside, at least on the diplomatic level, that of maintaining appearances, the stubborn dispute that was the basis for Fidel Castro’s politics, discourse and public life since his ascent to power. 

In Cuba people were all was asking one another, discretely, what would El Comandante say about that dubious gamble his brother was taking? But all was an arduous silence for a month, after which Fidel wrote his opinions in a letter directed to his "compañeros" of the University Students Federation – the ideological organization made up of students of higher education – which the official government press reproduced on 26 January 2015. 

In that text, Castro went into a harangue about why he did not trust United States policy (no longer referring to “The Empire,” as he used to do before then). But he did say that he was supportive of the rapprochement.


Last August 14th, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Havana and Castro was unable to remain silent in response to such a bold step. Again he wrote, this time about one of his favorite topics: the embargo-blockade and the damages Washington was under obligation to pay in order to make diplomatic normality possible.  

What is certain is that, absent any payment of indemnities, and with the embargo still in place, the octogenarian Cuban leader has again seen the Yankee flag waving above the Havana skyline. An unthinkable ideological paradox for generations of Cubans and for himself, as was also his downfall, noticeable even in the décor in homes throughout the island. 

In Cuban homes, there is no longer an abundance of gigantic pictures of El Comandante – prominent beard, impeccable olive green uniform and menacing index finger – which up until a few years ago presided over living rooms and entryways, in the same spot as where, prior to 1959, as a pious tradition they would place the likeness of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Nor do doors display obligatory posters that read “Fidel, this is your home” or other flattery along those lines. Now his name is rarely heard except following shouts of “viva…” at the end of speeches, in repetitions throughout speeches, and during the long harangues that are recited in Cuba, as he well taught everyone to do for almost any reason. 

The long road toward the farewell

Since his resignation and the transfer of power in July of 2006, Castro’s appearances have tended to be in black and white, in the guise of columns written in the island’s newspapers, which he himself calls “Reflections.”


On many occasions, the national press would only offer one or two pages for commenting on the news from the previous day. The rest of the pages were filled with long diatribes directed against “The Empire” or dissertations on world hunger or the dangers of a nuclear war. 

The “Reflections” diminished in their timing, content and judgment. They ended by taking about the expansion of the universe and about the benefits of yoga and moringa, a plant of Asian origin that Castro saw as an ideal substitute for eggs and milk. 

Such was his passion that he ordered the distribution of small plants, their roots and dirt held in sacks, for cultivation in several Cuban provinces; an action that brought on the increased use of antidiarrheals and salts for rehydrating many people who did not know how to use the herb as a food. 

Nothing new. On the island everyone remembers when Castro thought of surrounding Havana with a borderline of trees to reduce the impact of hurricane winds or when he designed an experimental complex for increasing milk production: having the cows wear a special kind of spacesuit to cool them down as these cows produced little milk because they had not adapted to the tropical heat. 

Over time, he stopped publishing the columns and his appearances became more and more sporadic. And his prolonged absences are still the target of speculation by the media and by mortuary conjectures. 

Latest images of the shipwreck


In Cuba, almost nobody asks himself or herself where El Comandante is when he hasn’t appeared for months. On the contrary, almost everyone is asking where the "commander" is whenever he reappears. Where did he end up, what became of him?

The image of a strong and defiant man around which the imagination of the international left hovered has deteriorated into fond pictures of a frail old man, for whom it is humanly difficult not to feel compassion. 

For Ana Covarrubias, director of the Center for International Studies at El Colegio de México, the latest photographs of Castro published by the press are the irrefutable metaphor of the closing of a chapter in Cuba’s past. 

One sees a person that is a far cry from the image of the hardy guerrilla fighter to which we became accustomed. He is a Fidel grown old, very weakened. And in some way that also operates at an imaginary level in those who see him for everything he stood for. These are images that are sending a clear message: it is the end of an era and the beginning of another, one that we do not know where it will lead us,” ponders the person who is also a member of the Mexican Council on International Affairs.

Perhaps because of this, Covarrubias believes the Castro’s demise will not draw the media commotion that would have been raised some time ago. 

“Fidel’s death will of course have a strong impact; but it will not be the same as it would have been 10 years ago. It will be an event that will leave its mark on several generations; mostly on those who grew up with the revolution, not so much on the younger folks. The younger ones are more focused on the future, on the changes that can occur for making theirs a better future, without having to leave the island. And that is not what Fidel means for them,” she said. 


Thus, Castro has had the rare privilege of being witness to his own death, of acting it out during these latter days as an extra on the international scene. Not a physical death, at the end, but just a bureaucratic transaction; but instead one that is slower: that of indifference, that of oblivion. 

In some way, Castro already attended his long funeral ceremonies without realizing it, with the same innocence with which Fidel danced 70 years ago in a Technicolor movie at the residence of a Yankee ambassador. 

Lea aquí en español: Fidel Castro: de actor de reparto a estrella (y viceversa).

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