Watching Porn’s a Crime
Porn is illegal in Cuba. Amateur films with blurry machista images are collected on the black market.
- Sexual abuse is common in”amateur” movies
- Collectors have bizarre strategies to avoid the law
- Films are badly recorded and edited.
- Plots are usually sexist.
Yúnior and Sopa swagger in trendy outfits, their collars flattened under the weight of chains. They want to make a porn film, which will be made available throughout Cuba by a highly efficient black market. This competency will not be matched by the quality of the recording. It will look totally natural, without retouches, to satisfy voyeuristic tastes. Dozens of videos like this, unedited, with “real” people, not professional actors, circulate the island. “Naturalness” is a porn fashion, an obsession, a fetish. Cuban porn is naive.
The film has no title. In the first scene you see Yúnior and Sopa chatting to some girls on top of a hill. One is wearing a dreary uniform from a polytechnic school. It looks like the other girl had some time to get comfortable; she’s dressed casually, sporty. “You’re my daughter and she’s my niece,” Yúnior says to the camera, which Sopa is holding out selfie style. With the camera in hand Sopa struggles to grab the girls by the arms and press them against him. The girls are 15 years old.
Dozens of videos like this, unedited, with “real” people, not professional actors, circulate the island; “naturalness” is a porn fashion, an obsession.
“They’re so full of it!” teases the girl in school uniform when Yúnior and Sopa start boasting about their talents in the bedroom.
“Ha! And he says he’s a babalawo,” the other girl adds.
Sopa recites some ritual phrases that sound like gibberish. A babalawo is enlightened, a profit of Orula, the African god of the oracle.
“And now the girl is going to…” Sopa narrates; his religious bravado is as extreme as his obsession for describing absolutely everything that happens in the video, sometimes describing what will happen next.
The video has been cut in a few places, there are missing images and sometimes it seems like they’ve switched off the camera in the middle of an important scene. In one scene, the first shot has Sopa smiling on the gun carriage of an old cannon, then he appears in a room with a low roof and stone walls with Yúnior and the two teenagers. They are behind prison bars. There is no bed. It’s no ordinary room; it’s a cell in one of the abandoned castles from Havana’s colonial era that are found close to the coast. It’s a spot for sex or improvising a pornographic shoot.
“Do you want a striptease?” the girl in uniform asks with a bored tone.
The girl undresses to the rhythm of reggaeton blaring from a mobile phone that’s out of shot. Yúnior also strips, his tattoos are illegible until the camera jerkily brings a name into the foreground: Regla, a town on the outskirts of Havana.
“Stop filming me!“ the girl who’d been wearing the sporty outfit, and is now naked, shouts at Sopa.
“Are you getting angry?”
“The most interesting part of Yúnior and Sopa’s video is the conversations,” says Alejandro. He’s almost forty and he’s been collecting porn for over ten years, hiding films in files with names designed to throw you off the scent. The thickest file is called Union Meetings.
“Almost all amateur porn includes the act of sex. And it doesn’t go beyond that,” he adds. Alejandro goes through his collection, which includes The Girl from Pinar del Río or The Fool from Marianao, two films by unknown directors and actors. In general, if films have a name, it’s a woman’s or it makes reference to a place.
“Often the girls don’t know they’re being filmed,” says the collector. “Other times they agree under pressure because they’re promised it won’t be shared,” which raises the stakes and makes it more exciting, says Alejandro in his expert tone.
In the collection there’s one with Evidence: Anamarys & Carret written on it. Before reaching Alejandro’s collection it passed through the hands of a police officer – or blackmailer – who labelled the disk as though it was part of a police file. In the film when Anamarys complains because the camera is on, Carret assures her that no one will see it and not to worry. “This is for me,” he swears. “Not for you or anyone.
Alejandro puts on another scene from a film in his collection, which seems to have been bungled in the edit. It has no title.
Homemade porn looks bad and sounds bad. It is violent and has no standards.
“This is the tastiest whore in Cienfuegos!” a man says into the camera.
“And this is a piggy who hasn’t had a bath! “ the woman responds, looking into the lens.
They try to maintain the fourth wall, they are aware of the spectator, a kind of separation that is very characteristic of homemade porn. Urban elements suggest that it was filmed in Cienfuegos. Sometimes Cuban amateur porn heckles its audience, like saying, “I know you’re there watching this.” Homemade porn is like having sex with the window open, you know you’re being watched; you want to be seen.
Another film, The Girl from Holguín ends with an interview. One of the actors, Yovani, “the sexual mentor,” interrogates the woman joking about how it was her premier in anal sex. The woman smiles and responds amenably that she loved it. Only a few minutes earlier Yovani had threatened that if she didn’t open her backside he’d drop her fee: “You’ll only get ten dollars.” She opened up wide, lubricated her rear with aloe vera from the garden and begged, “You’ll give me 20, right?
Homemade porn looks bad and sounds bad. It is violent and has no standards. It’s a raw piece of material that is never complete. It exposes its own rough edges: a guy explores a naked girl’s body, it’s totally out of focus, totally unplanned, then his body comes into view, then you spot his work uniform thrown to one side, or you glimpse “Giselle” written in a guy’s heart shaped tattoo while he’s being penetrated by another man.
In Cuba’s Criminal Code the production and circulation of porn can be punished with a fine or prison sentence of three months to a year. There are no statistics about the production; it is an industry without any organisation. Improvised films become viral reaching the hands of many, both physically and virtually. Porn often seems to have been leaked from police files. Cuban custom officials consider the importation of porn to be as dangerous as drugs or firearms: none can pass the border.
A few years ago, the journalist Darío Escobar published on his blog, Guajiro Ilustrado (The Peasant Illustrated), photos of secondary school students watching porn on their classroom television. Exposing the classroom, one of the most sentimental laboratories of Cuban society, to ridicule. In the Criminal Code “obscene objects” are classified as sexual assault, the classroom had been tarnished. In Cuba it is possible to forgive the press for a critical article, but never if it attacks healthcare or education. Escobar was threatened with different punishments if he continued his work.
Porn often seems to have been leaked from police files.
Alejandro, the collector, believes that “Cuban society’s relationship with porn is very hypocritical.”
Alejandro’s favourite films are in the United States with Cubans because you can see “how it’s done when no one’s telling you not to.” He also likes the ones filmed in “safe” places in Cuba, with some budget and Cuban actors. These films have the same clichés as conventional Cuban cinema, son plays in the background instead of reggaeton and central Havana’s deteriorating architecture is the stage.
One of the first scenes of the amateur film, Threesomes in Vedado, shows a woman painting herself from chest to pubis with the Cuban flag. Later a young girl (who looks like a teenager) refuses to lick another girl’s vagina until a man orders her:
“Give her a lick there. I like it.”