Casa Negra illustrates a practice of the collective branding of “deviationists”—critical thinkers, dissenters of any kind, those who are enemies of the revolution in the eyes of the regime and some of their fellow citizens—that has been commonplace since its implementation by Fidel Castro in the 1960s. Be they artists, intellectuals, liberals, or bourgeois: an outraged mob besets a home, raising a ruckus and noisily debating with the residents, and paints the windows and doors, the façade and the front yard, even the plants and tubs pitch-black. In this instance, a woman and child are inside the house; they are berated for the way they live their lives. The scenes recall zombie movies in which the monsters try to storm a worldthat is to all appearances perfectly normal.
Yet these are not monsters; they are colleagues and neighbors. And the scenes are not fictional but a kind of reenactment. Marco Castillo collected information and then reconstructed on film what many victims of such actions in Cuba have documented in footage streamed live on social media. All dialogues in the film are collages based on heated arguments and insults captured on video. On the phone with KOW, Castillo explains that these abuses are punishments for an alleged lack of solidarity with the Cuban people and its socialist revolution, instigated by the secret service and police and carried out by friends and acquaintances of the victims; some of the perpetrators are pressured into participating, while others are motivated by genuine conviction.
Castillo also mentions that he himself was involved in similar actions as a child; the memory has been a lasting source of shame. He has first-hand experience of these situations. So do the performers in his film: Cuban exiles living, like Castillo, in Merida, Mexico, a city that bears some resemblance to Havana and has long been a destination for émigrés from the island. Shooting the film there, he says, “I didn’t even need to tell them what to do. They were all familiar with these brutal rituals and knew exactly how they work. It’s a kind of tradition, a piece of folklore. Repression in Cuba is a collective business in which we have all taken part at one point or another. Virtually no one, myself included, is free of personal guilt.”