While I was in Havana recently, I paid a visit to El Museo de la Revolución. The Cuban Revolution Museum, housed in the former presidential palace, is still pockmarked with numerous bullet holes and packed with propaganda lauding Castro's Communist regime. Most of what's on view is the kind of thing you'd expect to find in a communist revolution museum. There are framed photos of brow-beaten serfs and bearded mountain rebels. There are a number of hagiographic amateur Che Guevara waxworks. There is a "corner of cretins," depicting George Bush as some kind of donkey-Nazi hybrid.
However, upon reaching the last room, I saw something that you might not expect to spot in an exhibition of all things anticapitalist. Surrounded by black and white photos of Castro and other revolutionary types—plus dozens of weapons from the uprising—there hung a large picture of Twilight star and teenage-girl-exciter Robert Pattinson.
The photo shows R-Patz in a black beanie, T-shirt, jeans, and jacket, apparently strolling through the same room I was standing in. However, it's clearly been photoshopped (a search of "Robert Pattinson black beanie" brings up the exact same image, only he's in LA, not Cuba) and the text surrounding it makes no mention of the actor ever visiting the museum.
Which raises the question: Why is there a picture of this Hollywood A-lister, representing all that is beguiling and vapid about capitalist America, on a poster hanging in the shrine to all things Cuban and communist?
Before detouring into a prolonged career of guerrilla warfare and the successful evasion of assassination attempts, legend has it that Fidel Castro dabbled in the movie business. Paramount talent scout Jerry Beeker was on vacation in Havana, a popular haunt for the 1940s Hollywood crowd, when he spotted a young, clean-cut Castro at a nightclub and invited him to the US for an audition.
The Cuban boarded a ferry to Florida, traveled to Beeker's office in California, passed a screen test, and went on to star as an extra in two Hollywood flicks—so the IMDB story goes. After that, Castro got into staging revolutions and left his budding silver screen dream behind.
So could it be that the ailing 87-year-old, holed up with only Benny Moré records and his memories of shooting at Batista's soldiers in the jungle, sees something of his young self in Pattinson's work?
Maybe a fan put it there. Or maybe R-Patz had made an unpublicized visit to the museum several years ago, which the Cuban regime wants to flaunt as a high-profile defection. Or maybe the person who designed the poster just found his image on Google and shopped him in without realizing who he was.
Or perhaps it was a prank—Havana's answer to Banksy trying to erode the sanctity of La Revolución in the traditional street art fashion, i.e. by making unimaginative juxtapositions in public spaces.
I put it to Pattinson's manager, Nick Frenkel, to see if he could shed any light on the mystery, but he refused to comment. Unfortunately, the Cuban Ministry for Culture wasn't up for a chat, either.
Other dictators aren't averse to a bit of surprising celebrity love. Albanian despot Enver Hoxha was a huge fan of Norman Wisdom, whose harmless slapstick comedy was seen as a communist parable on class war. Kazakhstan's controversial ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev recently showed that there's more to him than restrictive laws and the exploitation of migrant workers when he paid Kanye West a reported $3 million to perform at a family wedding.
Robert Mugabe straight up digs Cliff Richard's "perennially wholesome" vibes and North Korea's cinephile tyrant Kim Jong-il was famously besotted with the actress Elizabeth Taylor. Even Turkmenistan's reviled dentist-turned-dictator Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov got a birthday shout-out from J-Lo a couple of months ago.
If anyone can help me get to the bottom of this, please get in touch.
Follow Jack on Twitter: @jacklosh
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