Women in Front of the Mirror

By Rosa Miriam Elizalde on December 23, 2021

Georgina Herrera

Actually, there are not two protagonists in the documentary Charo and Georgina, otra vez frente al espejo, by filmmaker Rebeca Chávez, which has just premiered at the Havana International Film Festival. There are three women in dialogue, one of them behind the camera.

This short film, which lasts only 22 minutes and will soon be shown in Mexico, manages to turn the encounter between two renowned Cuban writers, Charo Guerra and Georgina Herrera, into a journey that mixes autobiography, poetry and a singular reflection on racism and intolerance in Cuba, while crossing technical and visual languages, a direct record as well as an ambitious self-reflexive operation by the director.

Rebeca Chávez is a filmmaker trained in the school of Santiago Álvarez, founder and director of the paradigmatic Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano. She has made some twenty multi-awarded documentaries and is one of the few women to have directed fiction films in Cuba. Ciudad en rojo, her opera prima (2009), reconstructs the rebellion and solidarity of Santiago de Cuba under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, an epic that she experienced firsthand and that she translated with the signs of her work: everything rings true, thanks to the complexity of the sensations and feelings it expresses.

As a participating witness of the revolution from the first hour, Rebeca conveys in this documentary that more than half a century of concrete rights for women allows us to distinguish what is legal equality and what is effective equality. As is the case with racism and intolerance.

However, Charo y Georgina, otra vez frente al espejo is not a pamphlet on these issues, nor are the tones in the black and white of those who amplify the racist or sexist anecdote as a metaphor for the failure of the Cuban revolution. Nor does it accept the perspective of those who repeat that these are only remnants of a past already overcome and that the Constitution and the laws are enough. Once the most simplistic readings have been overcome, however, the alarm should not be attenuated.

Rebeca is fully aware of the capacity of cinema to reveal unique moments of reality, as if the camera were a microscope that allows us to discover the whole plot in a shot where a minimal gesture appears. Cinema as the art of the gaze. What is new in this complex approach to the life and poetic work of two women is not in the object looked at, nor in the story, but in the eye of the beholder. This eye is, first, that of the director and, then, that of the spectator.

And what do we see? Two poets who converse and intertwine their biographies. Both were born in the province of Matanzas, in the western part of Cuba, almost 30 years apart. The younger, Charo Guerra (1962) talks about her book Limpieza de sangre, in which she dialogues with her now deceased father, who hid his African ancestry from the family. “My father passed for white all his life… His parents, my grandparents, had encouraged that subtlety, that discretion, not to talk about what is not asked to avoid the discriminatory quotas that would have touched him for being the fruit of an interracial union. It was a common practice at the time, a special whitening behavior.”

Charo confesses that “there is still subtle discrimination for skin color, for hair, for being a woman, for thinking differently, for having other sexual preferences… These are attitudes that are not changed overnight.”

The eldest, Georgina Herrera (1936), arrived in Havana at the age of 20 to work as a maid in the homes of the rich. Without the 1959 revolution her work  would not have been possible, which is based on self-consciousness, pride in her African origin, her condition as a black feminist who rescues a forgotten history: “Black family in which there was no / mixture: / black eyes, skin, hard hair / and soul, pure. / Almost wild, because / the origin was the jungle. / I speak of those who preceded me”.

“Racism I suffer it, I fight it, but I don’t understand it,” says Georgina. She confesses to having been, however, “immensely happy, here my children were born, here I received the first copy of my first book GH.”

Just a week ago Georgina Herrera, a victim of Covid, died. She was not able to see the documentary, which was released when she was dying in a hospital in Havana. Rebeca had time to return to the editing table and include a final shot in which she dedicates this film to the memory of the poet who left a foreboding message on the web on her 84th birthday:

“I think that fear [of Covid] is the best way to not feel defeated. So, in the midst of this whirlwind, I leave a space full of clarity for a possible future, in case reincarnation is true. I want to be what I am now, to return as many times as necessary as the first time: strong, warrior, loving, cimarrona, palenquera, to return as if I had not left, being what I am: black, poor and woman and to retake my place in our struggle, because this struggle, ours, will not end for a long time”.

Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English