Rethinking Cuban Civil Society: Something Deeper than the Truth

Directed by María Isabel Alfonso, Ph.D.

37 minutes / Color
Spanish / English subtitles
Release: 2019
Copyright: 2018

Since the mid-1990s, Cuba has seen a rise in independent media, and a resurgence of movements fighting against racism, for economic justice and LGBTQI rights, and for greater democracy and citizen participation. In RETHINKING CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY, Cuban academics, journalists and bloggers, and writers and musicians grapple with what it means to encourage healthy public participation and dissent in the context of Cuba: a country under embargo in which foreign-funded dissidents seek to overthrow the government, and at the same time a country in which the Communist Party has placed itself above the state.

In city parks and apartments, on stairwells, in classrooms, and in magazine offices, everyday Cuban citizens grapple with these questions. Can more competitive elections and greater democracy exist in a one-party state? How can LGBTQI activists successfully influence government policy? Why are economic reforms shutting out marginalized populations, and what can be done about it? Can the government help encourage a healthy, independent media eco-system? And how much of the stifling of civil society can be blamed on the embargo and how much is simply home-grown?

Thoughtful and engaging, the film is conveniently divided into chapters on class and activism, media, Internet and the blogosphere, political opposition, and Cuban civil society across international borders. RETHINKING CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY explores a critical issue in Cuba’s ongoing evolution, raising questions about the role of independent organizations and what it will take for them to flourish under the current regime.

“Cuba is an easy country to get wrong. It is a testament to María Isabel Alfonso's abilities as an interviewer and a thinker that she identified so many of the most important commentators in the debates in Cuban civil society, and won their trust to be interviewed on camera on this topic. Those who teach Cuban studies will definitely find the documentary useful, but so too will the general public, particularly in the U.S., because it sheds light on a conversation in Cuba which receives insufficient attention in the media.” —Karen Dubinsky, Queens University

“The much-needed new documentary RETHINKING CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY directed by María Isabel Alfonso refuses to yield to the kind of pleasure that critique of one of the so-called last bastions of communism can provide spectators by placing them in a superior and pure position.”  —Jacqueline Loss, University of Connecticut
“With clarity and conviction, Cuban men and women engage in a conversation on the need to open up a space for the public expression of ideological, political, sexual, racial, and religious differences in a new Cuba. Alfonso has accomplished in a little over 30 minutes what many Cuba travelers are wont to miss.” —Iraida H. Lopez, Ramapo College

“RETHINKING CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY succeeds in illuminating the moment of awakening Cuba is currently experiencing. The film focuses on an often ignored but vibrant, diverse, and dynamic segment of Cuban civil society that self-defines as both socialist and critical of many government policies while maintaining distance from the so-called opposition. It sheds light on a group of intellectuals and civic leaders that are playing an important role in the shaping of Cuba’s future.” —Luis Carlos Battista, Stephen M. Rivers Memorial Fellow, Center for Democracy in the Americas

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A film by María Isabel Alfonso, Ph.D.

Select Accolades

  • Official Selection, Conference on Cuban and Cuban-American Studies
  • Official Selection, Latin American Studies Association LASA Film Festival
  • Official Selection, Forum on Russia and Latin America in a Global World
  • Official Selection, EXODOCS Documentary Studies Conference


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