In East of Havana, Producers Charlize Theron; Clark Peterson; Megan Riley-Grant and Juan Carlos Saizorobatoro, through the provocative photography of Christophe Lanzenburg, tell the story of the rap group (tribe) called El Cartel whose goal is to unify all Hip-Hop Culture in Cuba to strengthen the people in their bid to revolutionize the tiny Island Nation of Cuba. As the title would suggest, East of Havana are the cities of Alamar and Cojimar which is where all HipHop, Rap, and Dance began in Cuba. The people who live in these two cities are extremely poor and predominantly Black (African-Cuban).
Through the words of Rap Artists from the regions such as Mikki Flow, Magyori(a female), and Soandry, who also belong to El Cartel, it becomes apparent that part of the cultural revolution which they seek is an economic change in the quality of their lives. Good direction by Emilia Menocal and Juaretsi Saizorobator combined with strong editing by Fernando Vilenauva and excellent music by Paul Heck, Frederico Fong, and El Cartel makes East of Havana a treat to watch and to listen to.
If there is a flaw in East of Havana, it is that everyone involved with the project glosses over the fact that musicians in Cuba - as are poets- are being oppressed, suppressed, and imprisoned for speaking what is on their minds and in their hearts about the Cuban Government and about the Society in which they live. We know from listening to the words of Mikki Flow, Magyori, and Soandry that they as a group seek freedom in all aspects of their lives. And We, the viewers, are made aware that something is amiss when The Festival, which the film builds up towards, is cancelled due to Hurricane Charley which is not destructive enough to warrant canceling The Festival.
But, we are never told the real reason why The Cuban Government cancelled the Festival: which is The Government’s fear of a unified people rioting in the streets of Cuba to demand change. In spite of the slick treatment which this film is given, however, I highly recommend this documentary and give East of Havana ten roses on a scale of from one to twelve.
Cleo E. Brown is a moderate Republican an educator on staff in New York City, New York. She is also a free lance writer and an Editor at HHR Blog. She holds a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis and has done work on a Ph.D. in Education at The University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California.