When it comes to providing stock villains to Hollywood, nobody has been more prolific and creative as Russia. When in doubt, American filmmakers fell back upon the tried and tested Communist menace and eureka, a Russian villain.
But when there were too many Russian villains, they invented Cuban ones (cue Red Dawn). That was before Barack Obama offered a hand of friendship to this tiny island.
The country checked all the boxes for US’ frenemy: The US severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s revolution sparked fears of communism spreading to the Western Hemisphere. Domestic politics in both countries contributed to the continued estrangement well after the Cold War ended. It didn’t stop Hollywood from giving us famous Cuban characters like Tony Montana in Scarface but there was little else thanks to the ban.
After the revolution, American actors and filmmakers were banned from shooting scripted movies and shows since the ‘50s. Hey, but you saw films set in Cuba, didn’t you? Well, here is how Hollywood did it without putting a foot in the country…
* In The Godfather 2, Micahel Corleone confronted his traitorous brother Fredo in Havana. Actually, Dominican Republic had to stand in for the Caribbean island.
* In the 2006 movie Miami Vice, Sonny Crockett jet boats to Cuba to drink mojitos. The scenes were really shot in Uruguay.
* In Golden Eye and Die Another Day, James Bond fights villains in Cuba. In reality, Puerto Rico and Spain stood in for the island.
The United States spent decades trying to topple Cuba’s communist government. Washington attempted economic strangulation, the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and CIA assassination plots against Fidel Castro -- including the legendary, but unproven story of sending him an exploding cigar.
Now, Obama has bet that soft power will achieve what muscle could not. So the economic sanctions have been lifted, Obama is in Cuba and so is Hollywood. Shows are being shot on Havana’s streets, big-ticket projects are looking at the country and one indie film has already been finished there.
Don Cheadle shot for Showtime series House of Lies in Havana. The actor said, “It’s definitely so cinematic, the places to shoot are so scenic. You would hope there would be more crews here, if that works for the governments. It’s a place that deserves to be brought onto the world stage.” Conan O’Brien has shot his show in the country.
Papa, which premiered at this year’s Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, was the first American production to be shot on the island in over 50 years. It has Ernest Hemingway as its protagonist, a man loved both in Cuba and the US.
However, the Caribbean country’s big break, cinematically, could be Fast and Furious 8 known for their gravity-defying stunts and screen-flooding explosions. After blowing up cars in Dubai, Rio and other scenic locations, the film’s director F Gary Gray is scouting Havana for the next in the series. An Ethan Hawke film is reportedly also in the works which will be a collaboration between Hollywood and the island’s underfunded film sector.
It seems, like Obama, Hollywood is also asking Cuba, “What’s up?”