Filmmaker Alec Castillo has reimagined a Disney classic into an animated short juxtaposing Cuban poverty with American tourism and commercialism.
Carros follows a down-on-his-luck anthropomorphized car cabaret singer whose earnings are dwindling by the week. He has to figure out how to make ends meet to support his family and fill his gas tank. When fuel prices become too steep, he buys black-market gasoline because it’s cheaper than the other stuff. Spoiler alert: It’s actually shampoo.
Castillo's film features classic cars similar to those seen on the streets of Havana. But although they might appear well-kept and shiny in glossy travel advertisements, the reality is those vehicles have been running since the '50s and the Cuban people do not have the means to trade them for newer models. Because of the embargo that was placed on Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro ascended to power in 1959, people living on the island have had to make do with cars and parts that are often five or six decades old.
“Of course, Cuba has all these old, antique cars just lying around the street,” Castillo says of his inspiration for the short film. “At first glance, they appear to be nice antiques, which is something a tourist would say. But, of course, there's that extra layer to it, which is that [the people]... just can’t afford any other car. I thought it’d be funny if that were personified into Pixar’s cars. I felt like that was a very fun allegorical thing, and I didn’t want to make it too heavy. I wanted to keep it light and fun.”
With Carros, 21-year-old Castillo looked to make a subtle statement about the treatment of Cuba in pop culture.
“I feel like nobody really wants to listen to a college kid tell them how the world is and how it should be, so I just try to have fun with it and make things lighthearted... Satire gives you some leeway.”
Castillo's satirical short features cameos by Cars characters Lightning McQueen and Mater. The pair passes the short film's central character — a broken-down yellow Chevy — on the side of the road and says, “Wow, that car is so vintage. Que bonito,” before driving away and leaving it to fend for itself. This, Castillo says, is a commentary on how Americans treat the island.
“I’m very often bothered by the way American popular culture treats Cuba,” Castillo says matter-of-factly. “There are a couple of things that make me feel the wrong way, like when Guava Island shoots in Cuba or when Fast & Furious is in Cuba. I feel like the representation doesn’t always fit right because it’s kind of like flaunting a place that’s suffering... There’s just something that sits in my stomach weird about it.”
As a Cuban-American and the son of political exiles, Castillo shares a unique connection to the island. One time, he recalls, when he was on a Caribbean cruise with his family, the ship briefly passed near Cuba. A faint outline obscured by an opaque mist was all that was visible from the ship's deck. “My whole family woke up and we all went up to the balcony and just spent like ten minutes looking out at the motherland. And then we all just went back to our rooms and slept.”
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After showing Carros to his family, Castillo says his abuela in particular “liked it a lot. They certainly liked it more than my Juul campaign,” he says with a laugh, referring to his 2018 online petition to get Sebastian the Ibis to vape.
Castillo is a film student at the University of Miami, and when he’s not in class, he’s working at the Borsht offices downtown. He's been making films since he was in middle school and plans to continue to grow in the field.
“I hope in ten years I’m doing something different. I want to ride this wave, but I don’t want to be on it when I’m 80 years old, making just another pop-culture parody.”
Follow Alec Castillo on Instagram for updates on the filmmaker's latest projects.