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ART & POLITICS MARCHING TOGETHER IN THE U.S.
by Agustin Blazquez and Jaums Sutton
Let’s not kid ourselves: politics are a factor in the selection of who gets in and who gets out in the art field in the U.S. as in it is in totalitarian Cuba. Whoever says it isn’t so is either naïve or lying.
The laying of the foundation of the bias has been underway for decades as communists, socialists, progressives, liberals and all other enemies of the U.S. -- all with a definite far-left political agenda – have specifically sought employment and other associations with the information and art media. This privileged position affords control of what is seen and heard via the media that pervade our lives affecting the opinions of the population and easily tilting the political balance of the country.
A stealthy tool of this agenda is the installation of self-censorship into the minds of the people by pressing “political correctness,” that has become so pervasive in the learning centers of America. It dictates what is acceptable to like and what is not. Resisting results in being ostracized and harassed on the campuses of America or denying tenure to professors who think differently as in the case of Cuban American Juan J. Lopez at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In my article with Jaums Sutton “Political Correctness: The Scourge Of Our Times,” published in 2002 by The Washington Dispatch, NewsMax and CubaInfoLinks, I discussed the origin, the developers and the purpose of this aberration ruling America today.
I looked it up. It was developed at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany, which was founded in 1923 and came to be known as the “Frankfurt School”. It was a group of thinkers who pulled together to find a solution to the biggest problem facing the implementers of communism in Russia.
The problem? Why wasn’t communism spreading? The “answer”? Because Western Civilization was in its way. What was the problem with Western Civilization? Its belief in the individual - that an individual could develop a valid idea. At the root of communism was the theory that all valid ideas come from the effect of the social group of the masses. The individual is nothing. And they believed that the only way for communism to advance was to help (or force, if necessary) Western Civilization to destroy itself. How to do that? Undermine its foundations by chipping away at the rights of those annoying individuals.
One way to do that? Change their speech and thought patterns by spreading the idea that vocalizing your beliefs is disrespectful of others and must be avoided to make up for past inequities and injustices. And call it something that sounds positive: “Political Correctness.”
Inspired by the brand new communist technique, Mao, in the 1930s, wrote an article on the “correct” handling of contradictions among the people. “Sensitive training” – sound familiar? – and speech codes were born.
After Hitler, in 1935, the Frankfurt School moved to New York City where they continued their work by translating Marxism from economic to cultural terms by using Sigmund Freud’s psychological conditioning mechanisms to get Americans to buy into Political Correctness. In 1941, they moved to California to spread their wings.
But Political Correctness remains just what it was intended to be: a sophisticated and dangerous form of censorship and oppression imposed upon the citizenry with the ultimate goal of manipulating, brainwashing and destroying our society.
As an artist in the U.S. for 20 years, I have noticed this constant rejection because I was a Cuban American exile. The famous Cuban writer living in London, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, had warned me about it. But I was naïve and thought that since my art doesn’t have any connection with Cuban politics; I would be able to overcome it. But I was wrong because I was an exile. That automatically made me a person who didn’t like the Castro regime and Castro is an icon of the left, in charge of the art field in America.
It is not that my art wasn’t good. I specialized in Egyptian art of the pharaonic era (as far away from Cuba and politics as I could get). For the quality of my work I was honored to receive an official invitation from the Egyptian government to visit their country. All in the middle of an Egyptian art craze because of the 1976 Tutankhamun exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. The Egyptian Embassy sent a press release announcing the invitation and trip. I never got a single comment or review.
I had many great exhibits but none was ever reviewed. They gave me the silent treatment. One time, the reviewer from The Washington Post came to my exhibit! The front entrance of the gallery had a huge banner advertising my show, which occupied the first and most of the second floor of the gallery, except a little room on the back displaying another artist. His subject matter was dissected bodies showing the bloody organs.
The reviewer wore blinders like a horse because she apparently didn’t notice my work. Instead she gave a glowing review to the other artist.
But what made me decide that I shouldn’t continue fighting the wall of rejection in the art field in the U.S. was my presence at the People Magazine 10th anniversary party in Washington, D.C. Since my work wasn’t getting any attention, I decided to dress very bazaar, as other artists do. When I entered I certainly got a lot of attention.
Two yuppie-looking female reporters from the magazine approached me and started a conversation. They seemed to be very interested in me and my work, which wasn’t even part of the exhibit, for as long as they thought that I was French, Italian or from some other European country. But they keep asking me where I was from. I kept not answering. But the answer to that question became their only focus, so I finally said, “I am from Cuba.”
It was as if I had pressed their magic button. Both reporters did a Michael Jackson half spin and left me in the middle of the room, as they would throw away a used piece of toilet paper. They both knew and followed the rule precisely. So in 1988, I gave up.
It’s not just my case, Cuban American exiles in the art field have been suffering this discrimination for decades. It is true that we are free to create art, write or produce any documentary or film we wish to do, but they don’t let us in and play. The doors are tightly shut. And it all boils down to politics. They don’t accept us because of the political agenda of the people in power.
The late Oscar-winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros received the same treatment from the people in charge of the film festivals in the U.S. and from PBS because of his documentaries “Improper Conduct” and “Nobody Listened.” I was a personal friend of Nestor and I know what he went through. I also collaborated in a project with the brilliant writer Reinaldo Arenas who was constantly rejected by the U.S. literary establishment and died ostracized in abject poverty.
Other talented Cuban American documentalists and filmmakers in exile, like Mari Rodriguez Ichaso, Jorge Ulla, Orlando Jimenez Leal, Leon Ichaso and others have experienced this rejection from film festivals in the U.S.
Actually these in control reactionaries of the far-left don’t want our message to reach the American people. They don’t want the public to see anything that contradicts their dictums. That is very unhealthy and un-American, because it is censorship, which it is the opposite of what the Founding Fathers of this great nation had in mind.
As a writer and as a documentalist, my work has suffered the same fate as the others. Recently, my third documentary of a series, COVERING CUBA 3: Elian, in spite of being invited – because of its merits - to participate in the 2003 Miami Latin Film Festival, was rejected by the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, which never even bothered to reply to my application or my letters. The usual silent treatment.
PBS did the same and never replied to my letters. The PBS series Point of View (POV), as it did with my prior documentaries, rejected my newest one. The Documentary Educational Resources in Massachusetts and the Maryland State Arts Council also rejected my documentaries. [Award of government and private foundation grants also depend very much on political considerations. If you are not from the anti-American left, you don’t get anything.]
The American Films Institute (AFI) showed my first documentary of the series “COVERING CUBA,” in 1995 at a sold-out screening at the Kennedy Center. But this time in their wonderfully restored location in Silver Spring, Maryland, they told me after eight months, after viewing about 10 minutes of it, that my documentary was too controversial and they wouldn’t show it by itself.
I proposed having a Cuban American Filmmakers Festival so it can be shown in the context of other films made by other Cuban Americans. The film programmer seemed interested, but based on my experience and the status quo, I am not holding my breath. He advised me to send my latest documentary to the annual SILVERDOCS AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival.
But they also rejected it.
In spite of what the rejection notification I received via email said, deep down the real reason is pure and simple politics. What Cuban Americans do in the art field that is contrary to Castro, is automatically rejected.
Other controversial films and documentaries with an anti-America, pro-Castro, pro-communist slant or that are ambiguous about the crimes of the leftist regimes and critical of the right, are readily exhibited by the AFI , PBS and our educational centers in the U.S.
Also, while Castro's official artists get GRAMMY nominations, opportunities to sell and promote their CDs as well as very good press in the U.S., the real (and free) Cuban singers and musicians in exile suffer discrimination and closed doors. They would rather hire Castro’s official singers and musicians living in Cuba performing officially sanctioned music than exiled ones.
The hatred toward Cuban Americans was clearly exposed during the Elian Gonzalez affair, when the exiles were ridiculed, misrepresented, maligned and offended in radio, television and the press by their coverage riddled with derogatory terms created by the Castro regime.
In their places of employment in the U.S. Cuban Americans were intimidated to silence their opinion about the Elian case. Many felt like they were in Nazi Germany. And the final outcome with the shameful storming of the house of a humble Cuban American family in Miami proved that they were not far from reality.
This hatred is incomprehensible. Cuban Americans are a highly successful, hard working and law-abiding community that has been an asset to this nation and have contributed to the prosperity of South Florida.
But according to the “Political Correctness” that is ruling this country now, it is all right, even encouraged to discriminate against Cuban Americans for political reasons in the arts. They claim that art and politics are not mixed, in Castro’s Cuba or the U.S., but in the practice we know that is a great lie.
So, I encourage all Cuban Americans in the U.S. to call all their senators and representatives to urge them to stop this political discrimination against Cuban American artists in exile.
© 2004 ABIP
Agustin Blazquez, Producer/director of the documentaries
COVERING CUBA, CUBA: The Pearl of the Antilles, COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation & COVERING CUBA 3: Elian presented at the 2003 Miami Latin Film Festival and the upcoming COVERING CUBA 4: The Rats Below
Author with Carlos Wotzkow of the book COVERING AND DISCOVERING and translator with Jaums Sutton of the book by Luis Grave de Peralta Morell THE MAFIA OF HAVANA: The Cuban Cosa Nostra.
For a preview and information on the documentary and books click here: ABIP