I noticed many of Hollywood’s worst and dumbest recently returned from a visit to the totalitarian island prison known as Cuba.
The group included the editor of Vanity Fair, the head of MTV, the president of CBS TV, movie producers and talent agents.
Reportedly, they had a good time with Fidel Castro and found Cuba to be “the most romantic, soulful and sexy country” they had ever visited.
Not surprising. These Hollywood pilgrimages to Cuba have been going on for a long time. And this latest excursion reminds me of a personal experience I had more than a decade ago.
A good friend of mine, and one of the best reporters I’ve ever worked with, Merle Linda Wolin, got a feature assignment from the entertainment magazine Premiere to visit Cuba and report on the renowned cinema school headed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Wolin, by way of background, was one of the founders of Mother Jones magazine and her “progressive” credentials were impeccable. I had the pleasure of working with her as her editor when she served as Latin American bureau chief in Mexico City for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Though, indeed, Wolin was personally sympathetic to the causes of the left, as a reporter she always sought the truth — no matter what the assignment.
Shortly after the Sandinistas assumed power in Nicaragua in the 1980s, Wolin spent weeks on the scene, interviewing all the top officials of the Marxist government and digging in all the right places. Her six-part “Portrait of the Enemy” series for our paper was, perhaps, the most devastating profile of the Sandinistas ever written.
So, from my point of view, she was just the right person to explore Cuba’s cinema school and its links with Oliver Stone, Sidney Pollack, Spike Lee, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Robert Redford and other Hollywood icons.
What Wolin found did not surprise me, but it did shock her editors at Premiere:
- Student work at the cinema school was subject to censorship like everything else in Cuba;
- Cuban intelligence agents permeated every facet of the school and watched over all activities like hawks;
- Fidel and Garcia Marquez played Hollywood like a flute — entertaining stars, persuading them that the cinema school was a bastion of freedom and creativity and that real art, not propaganda, was the result.
Wolin interviewed Antonio Valle Vallejo, Garcia Marquez’s former personal assistant at the school who defected to the United States. Valle explained the school was little more than a Cuban propaganda operation whose principal objective was to use the film project to expand the Cuban political model throughout Latin America while improving the police state’s image around the world.
“The school is the hook for Hollywood,” said Valle. And, back in the early 1990s, Redford was the fish. He fell for the bait — hook, line and sinker.
Meanwhile, the story inside the story was even more interesting. When Wolin finished her major investigative piece for Premiere, her editors were aghast. They spiked the story.
“Our liberal readers will never believe this,” Wolin was told.
Despite having invested tens of thousands of dollars in the research and travel, Premiere decided not to share the information with Hollywood. Wolin switched gears and wrote the story for the New Republic.
But it’s no wonder Hollywood has never learned the painful lessons Redford learned from his exploitation by Fidel and Garcia Marquez. The entertainment industry magazine that uncovered the details never published a story for Hollywood.
So, the occasional pilgrimages to the island police state and its famous film school continue. The names and the faces change, but the money and influence they bring with them continues to bolster the lie that Cuba is interested in art and that its film school is somehow independent of Castro’s totalitarian political policies.
It’s no surprise, because Hollywood supported Soviet Stalinism until it was no longer possible to do so and remain fashionable. Castro’s Cuba is one of the last remnants of Stalinism — the evil ideology that murdered and enslaved hundreds of millions. And Hollywood is still making excuses for it, providing cover, dressing it up and even subsidizing it.