Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Rethinking Caliban: Shakespeare and Césaire in the Negrometraje of Sergio Giral

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Rethinking Caliban: Shakespeare and Césaire in the Negrometraje of Sergio Giral

Article excerpt

In each grain of sand there is a landslide


Sergio Giral's negrometraje trilogy constitutes one of the most radical social commentaries on the contemporary reality of Afrocubans in 1970s revolutionary Cuba. In this article, I will specifically address Giral's negrometraje trilogy; El otro Francisco (1974), Rancheador (1976), and Maluala (1977), and his reappropriation of the various incarnations of the Caliban figure, specifically from Shakespeare's The Tempest and Aimé Césaire's A Tempest, as a symbol of Afrocuban identity. My contention is that Sergio Giral uses both Shakespeare and Césaire's Caliban figure as a symbolic representation of Afrocuban identity in revolutionary Cuba. Each movie introduces viewers to a progressive conceptualization of Caliban. In the first film, El otro Francisco, Caliban is a victim embedded in hegemony. In the second film, Rancheador, the viewer encounters a Caliban who straddles both hegemonic and counterhegemonic cultures. Finally in the third film, Maluala, Giral introduces a Caliban who is deeply situated in a counter-hegemonic culture, maintains contact with hegemonic culture, and is also confronting the possibilities of a post-hegemonic culture. This allows him to not only interrogate previous constructions of Afrocuban identity, but also to reimagine and propose new social possibilities for this subjectivity during a time in the revolution when the tensions between the tenets of the revolution and the expression of racial identity were particularly taut.

Negrometraje is a derogatory yet popular term that translates euphemistically as "black feature film." This is the term applied to the 1970s films of Sergio Giral and others whose cinematic work dealt with themes of slavery and slave rebellion in nineteenth century Cuba. This term was used, as opposed to the general term of "largometraje," which translates as "feature film" that is applied to all other films, excluding documentaries, commonly referred to as "cortometraje" or, short film. Other films that pertain to the negrometraje genre in Cuban film include, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's, La última cena (1976) in addition to Humberto Solás' Cecilia (1982) (Hidalgo).

I approach the term and genre of negrometraje as a revolutionary revision of the nineteenth century Cuban anti-slavery narrative. As a revision of the genre, "negrometraje," follows the goal of the original nineteenth century discourse in that it seeks to, "challenge history and rewrite in narrative discourse a different version of the same history" (Luis 2). But negrometraje differs from its nineteenth century roots by corresponding to the specific temporal and social context of the Cuban revolutionary period. Additionally, an underlying theme of the filmic genre of negrometraje is the role of language as a tool of hegemony its integrationist potential, and resulting self-awareness within the sphere of hegemonic discourse. While language for Saussure, Levi-Strauss, and Lacan yields the insights of structuralism, anthropology, and psychoanalysis respectively, for Gramsci, language is virtually a metaphor for hegemony. In a Gramscian world, language is "intricately connected to how we think about, and make sense of the world. Thus it is central to politics, and hegemony" (Ives 72). Language then becomes an integral part of hegemony, shaping the way that individuals interact in society. It is language that acts as a portal to hegemony and inclusion or exclusion from its structure is a metaphorical representation of one's place within societies structured in dominance. Giral's negrometraje films are constructed in part around this exploration of language, its possession, interpretation and full integration or exclusion from all that it entails. Viewed as a whole, the films of Giral's negrometraje trilogy illustrate the evolution of Afrocuban consciousness and its contrapuntal relation to hegemony.

Césaire's Caliban and Negrometraje

In Giral's negrometraje trilogy Shakespeare's Caliban from The Tempest, and more specifically Césaire's interpretation, serves as a vehicle for his probing interrogation of Afrocuban identity and consciousness in 1970s revolutionary Cuba. …

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