Afrocuban Religions in Sara Gomez's One Way or Another and Gloria Rolando's Oggun

By Ebrahim, Haseenah | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Afrocuban Religions in Sara Gomez's One Way or Another and Gloria Rolando's Oggun


Ebrahim, Haseenah, The Western Journal of Black Studies


Abstract

This paper explores the depiction of Afrocuban religions in two films -- Sara Gomez's One Way or Another (1974/1977) and Gloria Rolando's Oggun: Forever Present (1991). A (Western)feminist's analysis of Gomez's One Way or Another characterizes Abakua and Santeria as "voodoo" -- not only collapsing three different Afro-Caribbean religious traditions, but also reflecting Marxist biases that exclude (ironically) a recognition that Gomez's depictions of Abakua and Santeria reflect a gendered perspective. Rolando's Oggun reflects a recent trend in Cuban cinema to celebrate Afrocuban religious practices. Oggun's stunning visuals, compelling song and dance sequences, and fascinating mythology provoke a desire to understand the role and impact of this remarkable religious tradition in Cuban society.

Introduction

For us, film is the most important of the arts.(1)-Lenin

The history of Cuban cinema is of particular interest to anyone concerned with examining cinema from a global perspective, constituting as it does, a trajectory intended -- from the very beginning of the Revolutionary period -- to undertake a "decolonization of the screens."(2) How does this "decolonization of the screen" fare, however, when one considers the intersection of race and religion in Cuban cinema? This paper will explore the depiction of Afrocuban religions in two Cuban films -- Sara Gomez's De cierta manera/One Way or Another (1974/1977) and Gloria Rolando's Oggun: Forever Present (1991). The two filmmakers I discuss in this paper, Sara Gomez and Gloria Rolando, represent what, perhaps, could be considered two "generations" of post-Revolution Afrocuban filmmaking in Cuba, in the sense that as Afrocuban women filmmakers, they negotiate(d) substantially different political and social milieus in regard to the acceptability of acknowledgment of African ancestry in post-Revolution Cuba.(3)

The late Sara Gomez joined ICAIC, the Cuban Film Institute, during the early years of its existence -- one of only two black filmmakers, and the only woman director there for a considerable period. Gloria Rolando is a contemporary filmmaker determined to celebrate her African heritage. Rolando has traveled to the United States on several occasions where her documentary film, Oggun (1991), has appeared at several festival screenings.

Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean islands and is located only 90 miles (150 km) south of Miami, Florida. Cuba is an archipelago consisting of two main islands and about 1600 tiny islets in the Caribbean Sea. As a socialist state, Cuba has long been a thorn in the flesh of its powerful neighbor and ideological antagonist, the United States. The US imposed a trade and financial embargo against Cuba in 1962, after the Cuban government expropriated American economic interests in Cuba.

The 1990s have been a particularly challenging period for Cuba, a period generally referred to as "the special period", a term Castro has used to refer to the current economic and political crisis in Cuba resulting from the disintegration of the ideological and trade support of the former Soviet Union, intensification of US trade embargoes and internal political and economic instability. The widespread changes within Cuban society, many of which are a response to external developments in geopolitical alliances, have prompted a reevaluation of the entire Revolutionary paradigm among Cubans. Nevertheless, there appears to be a consensus that the country cannot regress to its pre-1959 past.

It was in March 1959, less than three months after it came to power, that the new Revolutionary government established the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC), often referred to (in English) as the Cuban Film Institute. The Revolutionary government's conviction that film could play a critical role in social transformation may have been influenced by the friendship between Alfredo Guevara, ICAIC's first director, and Fidel Castro. …

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