Since Cuban film producer Carlos Vives died in Havana last week at 71, tributes have floated in from newspapers and websites across the Spanish-speaking world. Except, of course, in the United States, where because of Cold War-era political rationales Cuban culture remains largely a taboo topic.
By any measure, Vives was a cinematic mogul, with more than 130 works to his credit, including about 40 feature films. More significantly, he backed a number of movies that delved deep into the intricacies of Cuban society and the complex daily lives of ordinary people, while quietly challenging the island nation's communist orthodoxies.
One of these was the 1993 "Fresa y chocolate" (Strawberry and Chocolate), which was distributed in the United States by Miramax and may be Vives' best-known film outside of his homeland (he served as an executive producer).
Set in Havana in 1979, the movie explores the relationship between David, a university student, and Diego, a gay artist who is pushing back against the Castro government's policies toward gays and lesbians as well as its rigid, state-sanctioned notions of Cuban culture. Rising above political platitudes, "Fresa y chocolate" was "not a movie about the seduction of a body, but about the seduction of a mind," as Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wrote. "It is more interested in politics than sex -- unless you count sexual politics, since to be homosexual in Cuba is to make an anti-authoritarian statement whether you intend it or not."