“Cuba was living proof that David could beat Goliath,” narrates Jihan El-Tahri at the start of Cuba, An African Odyssey (Cuba, une odyssée africaine). And as such, the tiny nation became an emblem—for others seeking liberation from colonial rule, for world powers seeking to confirm or expand their status, and for Cubans themselves, imagining themselves a bold, maybe not so new paradigm for independence.
El-Tahri’s fascinating documentary, produced in 2007 with the French-German television network Arte, is screening at Maysles Cinema 15 October, where it will be followed by discussion with Jihan El-Tahri, moderated by Hellura Lyle; the reception features music by DJ Clive Bean. It traces the complicated history of Cuban efforts to help African independence movements during the Cold War. From Congo to Angola, Africans were rising up against colonial powers, and many rebels saw the Cuban Revolution, and Fulgencio Batista’s ouster in 1959, as a model. As Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were feeling the effects of their success, they designed to help spread the movement to other oppressed peoples. “Humanity has said, ‘Enough, and has set itself in motion,” Che pronounces as he makes a case for Congo’s struggle. “Its giant steps will not stop until they lead to true independence.”
The film considers how Africa provided a complex test for those nations who meant to exploit it, including the US and the Soviet Union, determined to spread ideologies and consolidate their own powers. Yet, the film argues, Cuba remained a player with something to prove as well as a variable threat. In illuminating Cuba’s efforts in Africa, the documentary underlines some little known complications and also helps to unravel some lingering myths.
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