"The much-needed new documentary Rethinking Cuban Civil Society directed by María Isabel Alfonso refuses to yield to the kind of pleasure that critique of one of the so-called last bastions of communism can provide spectators by placing them in a superior and pure position. Despite a slight tendency toward manifesto in its rhythm and tone, it not only shows the necessity of Cubans’ debating “truth” and embracing distinct positions, it shows them actually doing so in the present. For that matter, neither the Castros nor the most recognizable members of the traditional opposition occupy our attention; instead, the sometimes, conflicting voices of thinkers and doers (writers, anthropologists, sociologists, musicians, publishers, bloggers) are the focus. The film shows the real ways that Cubans are creating multiple initiatives to transform society from within and not to the exclusion of Cubans living abroad. In fact, the documentary’s director is one of the founders of CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement), a “community organization of Cuban Americans and American citizens from throughout the United States that attempts to facilitate a new relationship between the two countries based on principles of exchange, engagement, normalization of relations and diplomacy,” and she makes an appearance at a meeting advocating for the end of the embargo and speaking from a specific perspective as “not a neoliberalist and . . . not in favor of an uncontrolled capitalism in Cuba.” The documentary premises itself around Cuba’s having been invited for the first time to the Summit of the Americas in 2015, and the “official” delegation’s boycott of the forum, given the presence of members of the opposition, deemed “civil society” groups by the U.S. government that demanded their participation. That moment enables Alfonso to concretely tell a story, and one that continues to unravel even in the aftermath of some of the film’s actors—Obama, Raúl, and hopefully even Trump."
Jacqueline Loss, University of Connecticut
"There are few accounts of Cuba that focus on the broad and growing outlets of citizen participation that seek to change the society from within. Rethinking Civil Society is a rare and accomplished film that showcases varied voices from the alternative media, blogosphere, LGBTQ, feminist, and anti-racist movements of Cubans who seek to preserve the gains of the revolution while voicing their critiques. This film should be seen widely."
Sujatha Fernandes, University of Sydney
“Rethinking Cuban Civil Society succeeds in illuminating the moment of awakening Cuba is currently experiencing. The film focuses on an often ignored but vibrant, diverse, and dynamic segment of Cuban civil society that self-defines as both socialist and critical of many government policies while maintaining distance from the so-called opposition. It sheds light on a group of intellectuals and civic leaders that are playing an important role in the shaping of Cuba’s future.”
Luis Carlos Battista, Stephen M. Rivers Memorial Fellow, Center for Democracy in the Americas
“Cuba is an easy country to get wrong. It is a testament to María Isabel Alfonso's abilities as an interviewer and a thinker that she identified so many of the most important commentators in the debates in Cuban civil society, and won their trust to be interviewed on camera on this topic. Those who teach Cuban studies will definitely find the documentary useful, but so too will the general public, particularly in the U.S., because it sheds light on a conversation in Cuba which receives insufficient attention in the media.”
Karen Dubinsky, Queens University