For your average worker in Cuba, it’s a good day when a tourist picks up your beer tab after some enlightening conversation. After all, whether you’re on the side of Cristal or Bucanero, dropping a dollar on a can of refreshing beverage in La Perla del Caribe is tantamount to taking a day’s salary, throwing in some hops, and fermenting it. But it goes without saying that things on the island are rapidly changing — rapidly and furiously, that is — and the latest Hollywood UFO to crash land in Havana with tens of millions of dollars worth of crew and equipment is, you guessed it, Fast and Furious 8.
Turns out Dominic Toretto’s official backstory has him as Cuban-American, which conveniently allowed the franchise to hop on the newly relaxed film production laws between the U.S. and Cuba and shoot about 12 minutes worth of screen time in and around Havana. Images leaking from the set show the usual suspects in the usual souped up cars cruising down the malecón or hobnobbing with locals around the emblematic Centro Habana neighborhood, but among Habaneros the production reached almost mythical status in the weeks before the crew touched down. With open casting calls for extras and small location notices popping up in nondescript allies across the city, Fast and Furious 8 became the number one trending topic on Cuba’s national social network, Radio Bemba (note: not an actual internet service).
And indeed, it turns out the studio behind Fast and Furious 8 has actually been revolutionizing the local economy by paying discounted Hollywood day wages to local helpers. In a country where the catering budget on a Hollywood production could pay monthly salaries for a few thousand workers, the going rates of USD $50 – $100 for extra duty, or $800 a day to lend your classic car to the production, are the equivalent of a giant collective Oprah giveaway sequence. (“You get $20! And you get $20!”) Washington Post Latin American correspondent Nick Miroff first reported on the windfall via his Twitter account in which he seemed to call out naysayers accusing the Hollywood production of oppressing locals.
Of course, paying background actors $50 for a day under the sun could get any Hollywood producer in trouble for violating minimum wage laws (and established union rates) stateside, but in the case of Cuba we can say it’s win-win.