By Garance Franke Ruta, yahoo.com, December 16, 2015
HAVANA — The moment that Mariela Castro Espin met Rory Kennedy on a Monday evening in early December seemed to encapsulate all the promise of a Cuba in transition as relations with America thaw.
Here was the niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro agreeably posing for pictures and gabbing with the niece of former President John F. Kennedy and daughter of Sen. Bobby Kennedy.
More than half a century after their uncles faced off during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the two scions of legendary political families sat down for an in-translation tête-à-tête at a dinner at the San Cristobal paladar, or private restaurant, in central Havana.
Mariela Castro led the annual parade against transphobia and homophobia in Havana, May 2015. (Photo: Desmond Boylan/AP)
The moment came toward the tail end of an evening of good food, music and well-aged rum sponsored by HBO in celebration of Jon Alpert’s documentary “Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution,” about Castro’s emergence as the most prominent gay rights advocate in Cuba.
Of all the unexpected facts about Cuba today, perhaps none is more so than that the 53-year-old Castro daughter — straight, married, a mother of three — has become its most vocal political advocate on behalf of gay, lesbian, bi and trans rights.
Alpert traveled with Castro four times to tell that story in a 47-minute film that completes the work of the late filmmaker Saul Landau, famous since his controversial 1968 movie “Fidel!” for his pro-Cuban films. Kennedy, also a documentary filmmaker, was in town to showcase “Ethel,” about her mother, at the 37th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema here, where the Castro movie and other HBO documentaries screened amid others from across the Americas.
Set to air in the U.S. in June 2016, the film is sure to catapult Castro from a slightly controversial figure even in Cuba — where she is director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, or CENESEX, and a member of parliament — into one of the island nation’s most internationally visible political leaders.
If it is surprising to find the daughter of a sitting president leading the fight for gay, lesbian, bi and trans rights in a nation still struggling with a macho, often homophobic culture and where, under the leadership of her uncle, gay men were once sequestered in military camps — well, welcome to Cuba. In the United States, the gay rights movement was one of the new social movements of the 20th century, a grassroots civil rights fight against the government and social conventions that only began to draw the support of powerful politicians after decades of organizing work. In Cuba, the LGBT revolution is coming — and coming decades later — thanks to the support of an entrenched political establishment still wary about the influence of independent groups but bent on creating social change.