Stop in the name of love

"There's no way the [Communist] Party is going to accept an independent point of view," he says with weary resignation in his voice. Shaking his head, he adds, "They wanted me to make documentaries with safe subjects, like 'One Hundred Years of Cuban Cars.'"

Just as frustrating to Echeverria was the lack of support he received from his professional peers. "There's a solidarity between transvestites in Cuba you won't find among Cuban intellectuals," he explains. "There's plenty of intellectuals that are gay, but they're mostly in the closet. They're either scared or too concerned with competing for foreign sponsors." In contrast he relates how the circle of drag queens he filmed all pooled their resources to purchase materials for costumes and makeup -- even collectively hiring a lawyer for an arrested friend. Meanwhile colleagues of Echeverria, who previously had offered the use of editing facilities after hours, or provided cut-rate film stock, now refused to get involved with such a controversial subject. Relying almost solely on the black market, Echeverria was shocked recently to discover the price for renting a camera and lighting equipment in Cuba was exactly the same as in South Florida. Only half-joking, he quips, "I think government spies in Miami must be telling people back in Havana what the going rates are."

Miami-Dade Community College's Alejandro Rios, who presented To Be or Not to Be Eduardo to a packed house under the auspices of the FIU Miami Film Festival, elaborates on this lack of cooperation within Cuba's arts world: "Cuban intellectuals aren't willing to collaborate with each other, because everybody's too busy trying to get their invitation to go abroad. They're trying to get contracts with a foreign company: a publishing house to issue their book, a producer to fund their movie." Rios adds wryly: "It's called minding your own business."

Stop in the name of love: Havana's drag queens tell Fidel to get over himself
Stop in the name of love: Havana's drag queens tell Fidel to get over himself
Javier Echeverria (standing) at work in Cuba
Ovidio Gonzalez
Javier Echeverria (standing) at work in Cuba

To Be or Not to Be Eduardo originally was slated for three showings during this past December's Havana Film Festival. While presenting another of his works at a California conference, however, Echeverria received troubling news. After its first screening, To Be was ominously removed from the Havana fest's schedule and withdrawn from competition for any awards. Concerned, Echeverria's father went to the festival offices in Havana, where he was duly informed the master tape for To Be had somehow been "misplaced." Officials then began inquiring daily about Echeverria's return date to the island.

Heeding the warnings from several co-workers, Echeverria has since opted to apply for political asylum here in Miami. Should he be granted residency, he may be in for a cultural surprise: In Cuba a drag queen's very existence stands as an act of political resistance. But here in Miami, drag hasn't only lost its chic allure, it's become downright passé. Regardless of its particular mook quotient, rare is the South Beach straight nightclub that doesn't offer a Saturday night without a retinue of Adam's apple-sporting faux Diana Rosses working the room. Similarly even as public-sensibility conscious an organization as the Miami Art Museum now proudly trumpets "gender illusionists" as an attraction at its opening parties.

So, more than two decades after the heyday of Anita Bryant, has the so-called lavender menace become (gasp) respectable? At this thought Echeverria pauses, smiles knowingly, and replies slowly: "Oh, I think there are still plenty of stories to tell in Miami."

Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail brett.sokol@miaminewtimes.com

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