March 04, 2019

Maceo in Havana, Part 2

The Director
Excited by the possibility of updating and rewriting my screenplay about Antonio Maceo, I began to re-visit books by Syd Field and Robert McGee and others that promised to unleash the secrets of successful screenwriting… I also started reading screenplays with more frequency, even if they had nothing to do with waging war or achieving independence from a mean and powerful empire.
Some screenplays I couldn’t put down, such as Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.” And others I enjoyed more than the actual movies, such as Steve Martin’s “LA Story” and Tarantino’s “Natural Born Killers.”
Lucky for me the San Francisco Public Library had lots of screenplays I could borrow, and many screenplays were now appearing in book form.
But, even if the screenplay was properly completed and I was to get a producer or agent in HollywoodLand to read it, and buy it, who could direct it?
Tarantino and Maceo are a great match, but Maceo also matches well with African-American directors such as John Singleton or F. Gary Gray or Antoine Fuqua or Spike Lee. These guys may be a better choice, since they’ve not announced a formal retirement from making movies.
Still. Imagine the headlines: “Tarantino postpones retirement to direct a movie about Antonio Maceo.” One thing I like about him is his willingness to remind us of the racist nature of our culture… hidden from textbooks and denied blatantly by its most visible supporters. (I refer mostly to the brilliant dialogue in “The Hateful Eight” and the plot to “Django Unchained.” Yet, to this day, my favorite Tarantino movie may still be “Jackie Brown.”)
One thing I dislike about him is his willingness to change facts for the sake of dramatic accent marks. “Inglorious Basterds” being my case-in-point. The memory of Maceo demands that his story be told with honesty. (Not to blame it all on Tarantino, but there are many that probably believe this is how WWII ended.)
Mario Van Peebles made a Western (“Posse”) that I liked at the time but was panned by critics. It featured a black man returning from the Spanish-American War to seek revenge on the man who lynched his father.  Van Peebles’ film seems much more relevant today, as our President revives the racist feelings America nurtured in private while not saying the “N” word in public. I looked up Roger Ebert’s review from 1993. He’s still one of my favorite film critics. Except, of course, for those times when he’s completely full of shit, as he is with “Posse” (and with “Death to Smoochie” in 2002).
Ebert’s review of “Posse” hints at potential problems with a movie about Maceo. He clearly acknowledges that the story “needs to be told.” “It is a West not often seen in Hollywood movies,” he adds in reference to the presence of black people in the real West but not in the celebrated Hollywood Westerns of yesteryear that came before his time. (I will look up what Ebert had to say, if anything, about those Westerns.) Then he obliterates the film; “Unfortunately, Van Peebles is never able to find a clear story line and follow it.” Ouch… this hurts more because it’s not true. “The movie is action without meaning, violence without the setup that would make it meaningful.”  
Denying our racist history is a well-practiced artform. Now more than ever. We all know its there, we just avoid discussing it. 
I usually enjoyed Ebert’s reviews. But let’s not forget that, like most critics, he was sometimes completely full of shit.
Richard Price’s screenplays were also lots of fun to read, and I enjoyed William Goldman’s as well, including “Magic.”

I began to really think that I could finish my screenplay, that my original flawed attempt was not that far off the mark… that if I abandoned the academic nature of the timetables I could create a film about Maceo that could gain something like the popularity HE had with Black Americans in his time… (some used “Maceo” as a first name for their male children).
Dreamer-logic seemed to be on my side… I was the perfect person to write a movie about Maceo. I spent over a decade researching Maceo and his role in Cuban history… I was a natural movie-lover and story-teller… and I was convinced that Maceo’s bravery on and off the battlefield would inspire new generations.
But simple logic does not a movie make anymore than simple math a U.S. Presidential election decides.
I was warned against a 2nd act scene in which Maceo and Spanish General Santocildes have a brief conversation and Maceo expresses that he would never accept Cuba falling into the hands of the U.S. Empire, which was also Martí’s fear, and what actually happened after their death.
Brad Pitt could act the hell out of General Santocildes, the proud Spaniard who faced Maceo in battle years earlier and has a great deal of respect for the Cuban… and he knows it is almost inevitable that they will face each other in battle again. (Don’t ask me what happens. You’ll have to see the movie.)
In the past decade things have changed in Hollywood, which suddenly seems much more Democratic than Washington. Even if it’s only dollar-Democracy. Suddenly even the Academy Awards seem multi-cultural.
The same world-wide audience that embraced “The Black Panther” would love Maceo in Havana.  
How to sell Maceo In Havana to the public
Today, the world is much more sympathetic to Cuba than our public media would admit.  
And this is where Hollywood’s dollar-Democracy could benefit the memory of Antonio Maceo.
Almost a full century before Castro, Maceo faced the Spanish Empire with fierce devotion and was embraced by Cubans for it. But he became so hated by the Spanish Empire, in that special way that only empires know how to hate, that they wanted to kill him.
In between the failed 10 Year War (1868-78) and the Final War for Separation from Spain (1895-98) the empire sought to rid itself of Maceo through numerous assassination attempts. (Castro still holds the record.)
The natural elements in our story provide an easy “sell” in a post-Black Panther market:
·       Indigenous people fighting for independence
·       Battles on horseback
·       Overdressed Spanish royalty, with black-slaves-dressed-in-white, decrying their God-given right to rule The Pearl of The Antilles ­­
·        Near-naked rebels with clubs and machetes
 Blacks and Whites joining hands for freedom
·        A small but proud neighbor country establishing its own identity through independence from an oppressive regime
·        Lots of bloody machete attacks   
·       Fires, explosions, executions
·       Maceo’s battle call “Al machete!”
·       José Martí’s speech at Steck Hall!
·       More in-house fighting than in all the “Avengers” movies combined
·      The final expulsion of the Spanish Empire from the Americas!
You could easily reassemble these bullet-points into a Marvel 3-D extravaganza that could add billions to Disney’s pockets. (I’m sure there’s still room in their pockets for more.)
Netflix or HBO or Amazon Prime also could score big with this project. Right now, there isn’t a single movie about Antonio Maceo, even though his life featured (naturally) all the things that the top-grossing motion pictures of the past ten years have in abundance: violence, heroics, blood, explosions, romance, betrayals, tragedy, relentless scumbags, traitors and backstabbers, needless human suffering and brief moments of celebratory happiness. And it isn’t fantasy from a publishing conglomerate, but a true story of a people still fighting for their independence.
Can what remains of the traditional Hollywood Studios make such a movie? Or is it up to the new guys?
Will a big-screen film about Antonio Maceo lead to peace and harmony throughout the world? A time of commerce and trading unlike any in history?
Please don’t answer that.
NEXT: Who would play Antonio Maceo?

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