Can The Castro Regime Ban 3D Movies… And Survive?

The Cuban regime is not quite sure whether to call 3D film technology the newest enemy of the revolution. A week after issuing an all-encompassing ban on movies using the technology, the Castros might be changing their mind. On Nov. 2, the Cuban government announced in the state newspaper Granma that "cinematic exhibition (including 3D ...

By , a reporter based in New York.
ANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
ANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
ANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images

The Cuban regime is not quite sure whether to call 3D film technology the newest enemy of the revolution. A week after issuing an all-encompassing ban on movies using the technology, the Castros might be changing their mind.

On Nov. 2, the Cuban government announced in the state newspaper Granma that "cinematic exhibition (including 3D rooms) and computer games will cease immediately in whatever kind of private business activity." Ever since Raul Castro took over the reins in Cuba, the regime has been loosening its grip on the economy, allowing for some private ventures. This journey into the third dimension appeared to be the latest example.

The note itself cited economic reasons for the ban -- "to ensure the economic reforms proceed in an orderly fashion." The private screening rooms, a big success on the island, compete with state-run cinemas. According to Sampsonia Way, an online magazine devoted to freedom of speech, the movie theaters are rooms in private residences, with a capacity ranging from 20 to 100 and are equipped with air-conditioning, 47-inch TV sets or 200-inch screens, 3D glasses and decent sound systems. They offer snacks and popcorn. Unsurprisingly, an afternoon spent in an air-conditioned room enjoying such goodies and watching slightly dated 3D Hollywood blockbusters such as "Star Trek" or "Ice Age" wins out over one spent in a dilapidated government cinema showing the 2010 French Holocaust drama "Sarah's Key."

The Cuban regime is not quite sure whether to call 3D film technology the newest enemy of the revolution. A week after issuing an all-encompassing ban on movies using the technology, the Castros might be changing their mind.

On Nov. 2, the Cuban government announced in the state newspaper Granma that "cinematic exhibition (including 3D rooms) and computer games will cease immediately in whatever kind of private business activity." Ever since Raul Castro took over the reins in Cuba, the regime has been loosening its grip on the economy, allowing for some private ventures. This journey into the third dimension appeared to be the latest example.

The note itself cited economic reasons for the ban — "to ensure the economic reforms proceed in an orderly fashion." The private screening rooms, a big success on the island, compete with state-run cinemas. According to Sampsonia Way, an online magazine devoted to freedom of speech, the movie theaters are rooms in private residences, with a capacity ranging from 20 to 100 and are equipped with air-conditioning, 47-inch TV sets or 200-inch screens, 3D glasses and decent sound systems. They offer snacks and popcorn. Unsurprisingly, an afternoon spent in an air-conditioned room enjoying such goodies and watching slightly dated 3D Hollywood blockbusters such as "Star Trek" or "Ice Age" wins out over one spent in a dilapidated government cinema showing the 2010 French Holocaust drama "Sarah’s Key."

Not long before the Granma notice, however, Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas suggested that there might be a different reason for the government’s disapproval of the "video salons." He wrote in the Communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde that they promoted "frivolity, mediocrity, pseudo culture and banality." And everyone knows that when American pseudo culture is in 3D, its frivolity increases at least threefold.

The ban found many Cubans disappointed with the regime. Entrepreneurs would lose thousands of dollars they had invested in setting up the viewing rooms (including importing the technology) and the population would have to give up one of its only sources of entertainment. Parents worried that, with no movies and video games, their children would take to the streets.

Lionny Gonzales, a 15 year-old high school student told the Associated Press that the ban was "a lack of respect," and asked: "What are we going to do now?" He added that the only thing left to do was going to a disco. "There’s nothing else."  

3D films arrived in Cuba recently, according to the independent website Havana Times. A blogger with a pseudonym "Warhol P" wrote, in all caps, that the Cubans, "the wretched of the earth," were "BEHIND IN EVERYTHING." (The technology has been around in the United States since the 1950s, though it became widespread in the 2000s, after the success of James Cameron’s 2009 film "Avatar.") Now that "Warhol P" finally had the chance to go get dizzy watching objects flying straight at him through tinted glasses, "the Comandante’s arrived and put an end to the party."

But alas, there is some hope for "Warhol P." On Nov. 11, Granma acknowledged the backlash against the ban, after conducting a survey of social media and — wait for it — a public survey of a staggering sample of a 150 Cubans. Concluding that the ban was unpopular, the article suggested the authorities might be re-thinking their decision.

"It’s extraordinary because the government made a very clear decision, and now it seems it’s being walked back," said Cuba analyst Philip Peters.  

Maybe Cuba’s economic outlook will fare better in 3D glasses.

Hanna Kozlowska is a reporter based in New York. Twitter: @hannakozlowska

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.