Gay Cuba After the Revolution
“Odd People Out” (Seres Extravagantes) is a documentary about the process of marginalization, repression and denial of the gay community during the first two decades of the Cuban Revolution as seen through the eyes and voice of Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. He is the main character in an account by other writers and artists who were part of his life, and who were also punished and persecuted by the Cuban regime. Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls” was fictionalized biography of Arenas while “Odd People Out” deals with facts and what we see here is a kaleidoscopic depiction of Reinaldo’s life, of the Cuban gay community that surrounded him before the revolution, and of the hardships he endured after it. It stands as a unique testimony of a unique time and a unique artist. The documentary combines rare archival material, including audio recordings of the writer’s voice, with contemporary footage clandestinely shot in Cuba.
This documentary explores issues left inconclusive in Arenas’ autobiography, particularly issues about his arrest on charges of corruption of minors and about his sham marriage. Interviews with fellow writers Anton Arrufat and DelfÌn Prats and a close friend, Tomas Fernandez Robaina are of particular importance, they appear characterized in a rather satirical light in Arenas’ autobiography. Ingrid Gonzalez who was married to him in 1973 speaks about the author’s views on sex. Arenas married her in 1973 in order to gain access to goods and services available only to married couples. We learn about Arenas’ conflictive relationship with his mother, Oneida in an interview with her. This documentary effectively portrays dramatic glimpses of a multi-faceted, rebellious sexual outlaw. Arenas has become an icon among Latin American and Latino gays who often suffer from the homophobic attitudes of their native societies.
The title “Seres extravagantes” (literally “outrageous beings,” but translated awkwardly here as “Odd People Out”) comes from the endlessly quotable Fidel Castro’s derogation for the queens who used to promenade in Havana’s La Rampa district.
The film gives us Arenas in approachably human dimensions. Remarkably, it does so with a mere handful of images of the writer, instead relying on his voiceover narration, smartly edited from archival sources, to span a series of successively more revelatory interviews with his literary peers and family. the film was made underneath official Cuban radar with Spanish financing and it begins with Arenas’ uncle Carlos in the boondocks of rustic Oriente province, pointing out the verses that little Reinaldo would carve into the trunks of palm trees. Director Manuel Zayas managed to draft the uncle into searching for Arenas’ long-vanished biological father, José Antonio, providing a loose pursuit structure that alternates with copious archival footage and interviews with other gay Cuban authors suppressed to varying degrees by Castro’s regime.
With masterful restraint, the live-action footage of Arenas is saved for the final minutes, and after hearing his voice throughout the film it comes as a shock to see him in a silent, melancholy reverie. A closing title noting his 1990 suicide serves to remind us of how profoundly the island has changed since that moment, when the ruinous consequences of the Soviet Union’s disintegration were not yet fully apparent.