What you know about Scarface?
Yes Scarface, the 1983 crime thriller starring Al Pacino as a Cuban gangster that is today regarded as a cult classic especially among millennials, including Latinos, and yes Cuban-Americans like myself. You see, Me and my friends who grew up in Miami, all loved the film, we have the iconic black and white movie poster, some of us even have custom t-shirts with our faces in place of Al Pacino’s Tony Montana character.
So if you base it on my generation and younger, you’d think Cubans always loved this movie. How could they not? it’s about a Cuban badass….hello?
But here is the thing. Beore Scarface came out, even as it started filming, the Cuban community in Miami hated the idea of this film. And when production began in 1982, the Cuban exile leaders staged massive protests as they filmed. They couldn’t even finish production in Miami. In fact, just a couple of weeks into filming, the entire shoot had to be moved to Los Angeles because the Cuban community would not let them shoot this movie in peace.
Simple, they felt the film’s portrayal of a Cuban refugee’s rise through the criminal underworld was damaging to the Cuban community’s reputation, especially at a time when they were being blamed for Miami’s increasing crime and poverty rates, not to mention rapidly changing culture and demographics. You see, before the Cuban Revolution and the subsequent exodus of hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees, Miami was a sleepy Southern Beach town that up until as late as the 1950’s had things like segregated schools and water fountains for colored people. And now they had to deal with a bunch of Latin Americans coming in,basically taking over and speaking Spanish and shit?…it was a lot of change in a short amount of time and led to what is commonly referred to as white flight.
But by 1980,Cuban exiles had gained some ground. They were firmly entrenched in South Florida, both politically and economically. They were finally getting some respect. They had done as much as any other immigrant group in American history to buy into the American dream and assimilate into American culture… well, kinda. Then came the Mariel boatlift. It started with an announcement: that a large anti-communist protest had broken out at a harbor in Cuba, and it was followed by a proclamation by the Cuban government that any American with a boat who wanted to come pick up their friends or relatives were free to do so. So a flotilla of thousands of boats left marinas across South Florida within hours, it was like Cuban Dunkirk, and when they arrive in the Cuban harbor, they were allowed to claim their people, but under one condition. Each boat that took on refugees had to also take their share of freshly released criminals. You see, the Castro regime took the opportunity to empty many of its prisons and shipped their ex-felons to Miami. Touche commandente, touche…The result was a humanitarian nightmare, with many of these unclaimed Marielitos held in tent cities under the I 95 freeway overpass for months where riots broke out, while some were incarcerated in Miami’s jails. Let’s just say the following couple of years had its challenges, and divisions began to crystalize among the Cuban community itself, with many innocent Marielitos shouldering the blame for Miami being labeled as a Paradise Lost.
And now they had this movie, with all this buzz fare, about a Marielito refugee, an ex-felon released from Castro’s jail coming to wreck havoc in Miami. For many it was, too soon…That the pop culture idea of a Cuban was a fiesty guy snorting insane amounts of cocaine and shooting machine guns across his hella’ tacky red velvet walled mansion, felt like a public relations disaster to Cubans at the time. And on top of that, they didn’t even cast a Cuban actor as the central character! The sidekick, played by Steven Bauer whose real name Esteban Ernesto Echevarria, he is Cuban, but the star, oh, no he’s Al Pacino, who by the way does the worst Cuban accent in the history of Cuban accents in this film, and which for some reason he kept doing the rest of his career. Scent of a woman, that was Tony Montana.
Now, over the years, and the separation to the emotional traumas felt by the first wave of Cuban immigrants, the kids of those Cubans who protested Scarface, started watching the film. Coincide that with hip-hop’s obsession with this Cuban gangster and you can understand how a Cuban or any Latino my age or younger might think Scarface is the shit. And at the end of the day, when you get past the socio-political context, the bad acting, the gratuitous violence, the campy soundtrack, and that horrible accent, Scarface is pretty cool movie.
And like Tony Montana likes to say: The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you.
So what’s your favorite line?