WINNER: 12TH INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS FESTIVAL
WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN DOCUMENTARIES
Cuban refugees detail Castro’s persecution of “undesirables” in Improper Conduct. [Dir: Nestor Almendros, Orlando Jimenez Leal/ 112 min/ Documentary-Educational, Foreign Language/ France/ In Spanish with English subtitles/ Anti-Socialism, Sexual Liberty, Social Tolerance/ A.k.a. Conducta Impropria]
Improper Conduct is probably the most effective documentary ever made about socialist repression of personal liberty. The particular genius here is that it is the testimony of actual Cuban refugees, dozens of them, that gradually builds a damning and irrefutable picture of what it’s like to live in a “worker’s paradise.” Through their stories, the viewer learns something of recent Cuban history: the revolution gone bad, the implementation of socialism, the exodus of a full ten percent of the population, the concentration camps, the Orwellian way of life.
But the particular emphasis here is on Castro’s persecution of writers, artists, and homosexuals. Interestingly, Castro’s regime has made persecution of gay men an especially high priority, even going so far as to consult with other socialist countries on how to get rid of them. Apparently Castro sees gayness as being in conflict with the macho demeanor, a supposedly necessary precondition among men for total militarization of society. Of course, authoritarian governments are nothing if not thorough, so even the slightest suggestion that someone might be gay is enough to get that person sent to the camps.
The interviewees here are a veritable Who’s Who of Cuban literati and former Cuban government officials. The stories they relate of the labor camps to which they were sent are consistent, shocking, and very credible. They tell of bad food, long work days in harsh conditions, and abuse by guards, all in the context of the usual hallmarks of totalitarianism—barbed wire, electrified fences, and watchtowers. Along with these stories of suffering, we also hear touching stories of courage, as a few brave people helped those who were accused of being gay. And there’s even a little dark humor as some interviewees manage to look back on their painful experiences with wry wit.
This is a very important film. That all this has been going on in Cuba is almost unknown to most people. This film rips the lid off these hidden abuses, and does so in such an exhaustive and credible way as to command respect from all corners of the political spectrum. Indeed, even the Left will have to give this film credit as many of the witnesses interviewed here are themselves left-wing intellectuals. Thanks to the fall of the Iron Curtain, the material poverty of socialism is now clear to everyone. This documentary makes its inhumanity clear as well.
Improper Conduct was awarded the “Grand Prix” at the Twelfth International Human Rights Festival, held in Strasbourg, France in 1984. Note: This is one of the few selections in this guide to receive the perfect “double-five” score—that is, dead-on libertarian content and first-rate production quality/entertainment value.
“The movie’s tone is civilized, but the testimony is as savage as it’s convincing.”
–New York Times
“Improper Conduct is a quietly terrifying documentary on the (mis)treatment of gays in Cuba…”
How to See It
“Any Cuban suspected of being gay or deemed to be too effeminate would be rounded up by Cuban State Security and sent to these camps to do hard labor in order to ‘straighten’ them out.”
–Babalu: Cuba’s dictatorship extolls virtues of gay concentration camps
“Castro ordered that his agents – at night – go house to house to apprehend at gun point all the males that fit the profile of what he called, ‘the scum of society,’ for example: gays, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of other Protestant religions.”
“Former Cuban President Fidel Castro called years of official persecution of homosexuals under his Communist regime an injustice. In an interview published this week in a Mexican newspaper, he said he takes responsibility for the repression.”
–Los Angeles Times: Fidel Castro takes ‘responsibility’ for persecution of Cuban gays
“Cuba has come a long way on LGBT rights since putting gays in labor camps. But don’t believe the Castro family’s gay-friendly PR.”
–Foreign Policy: Cuba Wants You To Think It’s a Gay Paradise. It’s Not.