Peak Cuba fever has effectively come and gone. The celebrity sightings have waned, the Hollywood film shoots are nowhere to be found, and the hordes of international news crews packed up and left with Obama and Pope Francis. But the socialist island nation of 11 million is still puttering along, struggling to retool its dysfunctional system and maybe give its citizens a much-needed leg up. And underneath all of the exotifying narratives and pervasive clichés, it’s a place just like any other, where everyday folks laugh, cry, and pursue their dreams.
So thankfully there’s an international news outlet like Al Jazeera English to cut through all those tired stories of struggle, politics, and sensuality, in order to bring us an expansive vision of everyday life as experienced by a diverse cross section of Cuba’s citizens. The channel’s new six-part documentary series, entitled My Cuba, is part of an ongoing project that seeks the to dig deeper into the realities of different countries via personal stories. In the case of My Cuba, Al Jazeera’s team will bring us a slice of life from six Cubans of different racial, regional, and yes, socioeconomic backgrounds.
The first episode in the series aired this past Monday and profiled beloved local comedian Luis Silva. Famed for his character Pánfilo, Silva recently garnered some international press when Obama stopped by his weekly sketch comedy show for a visit. But the episode “Being Pánfilo,” is about much more than Silva’s humorous alter-ego, and uses his fame as a way into the life of a man who is as close to a celebrity as one can be in Cuba. Over 25 minutes we follow Silva from his home to a nightclub gig, then to his old neighborhood and finally a taping of his show. It’s an unexpected window onto the life of a humble entertainer who lives well, but seems to be more inspired by the love of his countrymen than by material gain.
Airing on Monday evenings and available for streaming online, future episodes will profile ballerinas, wedding planners, rumberas, and country clowns, taking us from Havana, to Matanzas, and all the way to the island’s eastern backcountry. For anyone who’s still wondering what really goes on behind the hype, this is an unprecedented opportunity to savor the real Cuba in all its complexity.