Men, Women and Cuba
by Tylette Martinez
The 2002 version of the Cuban Constitution declares that: “[t]he state guarantees women the same opportunities and possibilities as men in order to achieve woman’s full participation in the development of the country.” It sets the tone for the double standards and inequality that is still seen in Cuban cinema and society, despite being legally written out that all should be equal.
Contigo Pan y Cebolla follows what should be expected from a 50s era film when it comes to gender roles. In the film, the family’s son (Anselmito) dreams are encouraged, as he wishes to be a painter and is sent to art school. This is something that is mentioned frequently by his mother, who constantly reminds everyone that he is in his “fifth year in San Alejandro,” and that he has big things ahead of him. This is vastly different from how she speaks of her daughter Lalita, and how her education is portrayed. Lalita goes to a public high school, but on top of that is forced by her mother to attend many additional lessons that include piano, English, and dance. All these things are to help her find a good husband and succeed in life. Lalita absolutely hates all of this, and expresses her grief to her mother several times, but it falls on deaf ears. Though the mother (Lala) and Anselmito may disagree on things, for the most part he still gets to do what he wants to in life, while Lalita has to suffer and be molded into someone she doesn’t want to be.
In De Cierta Manera, the roles are not as glaringly obvious as in Contigo, Pan y Cebolla, but the presence is still felt. What makes this film unusual is the fact that it breaks from the norms in the sense that the woman protagonist (Yolanda) is depicted as a “stronger” character, with her love interest (Mario) ending up being the one who chases her. While this may seem “revolutionary” in the sense that the woman is not compliant, showing her defiance many times, a deeper look shows the roles and hypocrisy that lie underneath. An example is seen after Yolanda says that she speaks out too much, and Mario insists that it’s fine, saying that it just seems like that because of where they live. His accepting attitude is shown to be false when she arrives late to a date, and when he handles her roughly. After this treatment, she walks away and says to not talk to her like that, which quickly angers him. This contrast is just one of the instances of hypocrisy seen throughout the film, showing the traditional roles that underly the scenes.
Though technically made after in 2014, Contigo, Pan y Cebolla is set before De Cierta Manera (made in 1977), which was why I chose to use split screen and have the scenes from the film on the left side, “before” De Cierta Manera. Besides the order on screen, I also changed Contigo, Pan y Cebolla, a film originally in color, to black and white. This was so the focus would stay on the comparisons, and not shift from the common theme. In the scenes side by side, there are many similarities that are exposed, such as the conversation on the stairs between Lala and Fermina versus Mario and his coworkers. In this scene it seems to be as if they are talking about the same event, with Fermina crying to Lala about being the “other woman”, and Mario listening to a friend boasting about his time with a woman. At one point, Lala chastises Fermina for believing this man’s lies, while the other side shows the character lying about who he was with, saying he was taking care of his sick mother, and not seeing someone. These comparisons can also be made within the same movie, which I do using a few scenes from De Cierta Manera. In one side of one example, Mario is seen venting about breaking what he calls the “man code.” On the other side, Mario and Yolanda share a moment together, where he insists that he is “always a man” and needs to be “tough” on the streets. Yolanda makes fun of the way he is, acting out how he is with his friends, which is not at all how he is with her. This contrast shows the role of men and how the character of Mario is clinging on to the traditional portrayal that has dominated Cuba for years.
This message of hypocrisy and the double standards of Cuban society are concluded with the final song heard in De Cierta Manera. The song is of a man singing “if she shows you the empty part of a world of lies, and if she won’t look you straight in the eyes, leave her be, leave her to her hypocrisy.” This I found interesting because if any of the previous examples I have mentioned show anything, it is that the men in this movie are the hypocrites. They have lied and done actions that directly contradict what they have said, yet it is the woman who is called the hypocrite. The woman, of course, is the one to blame. All of this is to show that even in a movie that strives to be an example of an innovative, post-revolutionary Cuba, the ingrained traditional gender roles in film are still inescapable and an internal part of Cuban cinema.
- Cremata Malberti, Juan Carlos, director. Contigo, Pan y Cebolla. Amazon.com, 2014.
- Gomez, Sara, director. De Cierta Manera. YouTube.com, 2015.
- “The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, 1976 (as Amended to 2002).” Caribbeanelections.com, 2002.