February 21, 2019

Maceo In Havana: A Movie - Part 1

Antonio Maceo
The Screenplay  

Shortly after the panic and celebration that marked the new millennium nearly two decades ago, I wrote a screenplay about Cuba’s iconic Antonio Maceo.
Maceo In Havana: The Life and Wars of Antonio Maceo” took me nearly three years to complete, including long-periods in which I could hardly think or talk about anything else.

Seen from afar, Antonio Maceo’s life was the most natural 3-act play.
Act one. Maceo is born (June 1845, Santiago de Cuba) and grows into a strong and healthy young man. He marries María Cabrales and shortly thereafter the Ten-Year War begins (1868). This can be seen as the beginning of Cuba’s civil rights period and Maceo grows into a loved and respected military leader. As he rises through the ranks, he loses his father (Marcos), his two daughters and two brothers to the war. Sadly, the war ends in stalemate (1878) and many Cuban rebels are forced into exile.
Act two. Maceo in exile. In Santo Domingo, he’s ambushed and forced to fight for his life… in Costa Rica he becomes a successful farmer… yet he continues to actively plan the next war for Cuban independence; but the rebels suffer set-backs and frustrations and he almost fights a duel with friend and compatriot Flor Crombet. He visits New York and is shocked at how black people are treated. He meets Martí. He visits Cuba with permission from the Spanish Empire (1892) during which he shares a civil moment with Spanish General Fidel Vidal de Santocildes.
Act three. In 1895 Maceo returns to Cuba for the Final War for Cuban Independence. Marti and Jose Maceo (Antonio’s brother) die in battle early on. The battles are fierce, and war historians claim the bloody Invasion of Cuba’s Western provinces to be one of the great military feats of the 18th Century. Maceo dies in battle (1896), but his name has already become the stuff of legends.
The Western Invasion, led by Gomez and Maceo, is said to be one of the great military feats of the 19th century.
Map of Cuba with route of Western Invasion, 1896
Route of The Western Invasion, 1896
The title, Maceo in Havana, reflects the hope and aspirations of the Cuban rebels at the time. It meant that the rebels had reached Havana, which had not been the case in previous wars (The Ten-Year War and The Little War). Havana is where the island’s power-base was situated. Fidel Castro’s celebrated arrival in Havana (January 1959) owed much of its momentum to Maceo and the Generation of ’95.
What happened to Cuba after Spain left the island is not what the rebels fought for.  U.S. intervention (1898) forced Cuba into a U.S.-style government.   
Eventually I realized that my story had too many characters… that my script was strictly following Maceo’s life as documented in the Antonio Maceo Timeline, at historyofcuba.com,  (http://historyofcuba.com/history/mactime1.htm). And since so many of those close to Maceo died in battle… it seemed that characters were introduced in one scene and killed in the next… I had to do something about this, but I didn’t want to short-change history for the sake of expediency.
A movie is different than an academic timeline. A movie is not a history book… but a movie should stick to the truth of its subject.
Maceo and the Cuban Rebels cross the TROCHA into Havana in 1896

I noticed some abstract similarities with Mel Gibson’s Braveheart… specifically how in both stories the wealthier classes opposed the popular leader for fear of their support among the lower classes. William Wallace spoke truth to power in a way that power didn’t want to hear. “You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position,” said Wallace, “I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom.”
You can find the script for Braveheart here, though I suspect this isn’t the final version.
Braveheart banks on the word “freedom,” to make a point not strictly based on an academic timeline… but we tend to know much more about Maceo than we do Wallace, if only because we have more recent evidence of Maceo’s life, which was yesterday by comparison.
The Ten-Year War might have ended differently if the Havana-Cubans… the owner class… had not feared Maceo’s popularity. Some of this complexity is hinted at in a first-act letter that Maceo writes to the Republic’s first Cuban government (in arms). The letter is almost exactly as it appears at historyofcuba.com.  But ours is mostly an action movie that just “happens” to be a true story.
Still, in the end it may turn out that Maceo’s fiercest enemy was not the Spanish Empire, but the idea, held by some influential Cubans at the time, that Cuba should become a U.S. state.
A Southern state.
A slave-holding, Southern state… though, by the time of the third and final war against Spain (1895) the thought of “slave-holding” had evolved to “U.S.-style racism.”
In his battles for Cuban independence, Maceo survived 24 battle wounds, coming near death on several occasions. He achieved unprecedented military victories against superior forces and survived numerous assassination-attempts from a declining empire that claimed the right to control Cuba and Cubans. Can you imagine a more outdate idea?
In his time, the Spaniards called him The Lion. Today, Cubans still call him Maceo.
NEXT: Who could direct a movie about Maceo The Lion?

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