It happened again.
I became addicted to a series on Netflix.
However, unlike other series, where I feel guilty for having watched them, this one makes me feel wonderful.
The series is Celia, and it is loosely based on the life of famous Cuban singer Celia Cruz who happens to be one of my ultimate favorite singers of all time. Growing up I had posters of Celia and Freddie Mercury side by side. I know, eclectic can’t even begin to describe my musical tastes.
I usually have these shows running after dinner while I do busy work like answering emails, checking blog & social comments, and so on. This one has had me pause what I am working on so often, that many an evening I gave myself an hour to set aside my work and just watch and enjoy.
The series follows Celia from when she was a teenager in pre-revolution Cuba with big dreams through her battles with racism and sexism and the revolution. They do a great job of following her rise to stardom in Cuba, Latin America and later the US.
There were things I loved about the casting choices and a few I really hated.
This is the first novela that features a mostly Afro-Latin cast which I couldn’t envision being cast otherwise, as they are playing people who were Afro-Cuban. I mean, a large portion of the cast is Afro-Latino, which makes it feel authentic. I just can’t believe it took the networks so long to make this happen.
Puerto Rican actor Modesto Lacén was brilliant as Cruz’s husband, Pedro Knight. His accent was excellent and he was 100% believable.
Puerto Rican actress Jeimarie Osorio played younger Celia and did a great job of developing her character’s mannerisms and depth to match Celia’s as she aged in the show.
Noris, Celia’s sister, was played by Aida Bossa who did a brilliant job of playing an annoying high-pitched Cubanita pizpireta. Another great performance was delivered by Carolina Gaitán who portrayed the young Lola Calvo. That character is actually based on La Lupe, another famous Cuban artist who fled to the US during the revolution.
These characters did a great job with the accents and transported me back to my childhood, as they remind me of people I knew and grew up with.
I will say that on the negative side, some of the casting was ridiculous, like Celia as a little girl or Pedro Knight’s daughters. Considering the audience was Spanish speaking, the casting folks should know better than to cast someone with a South American or Central American accent as a Cuban. We all know the very distinct difference. It’s like casting someone with a thick southern drawl as a native New Yorker.
After about 50 episodes, the cast starts changing to older actors to reflect the passage of 20 to 30 years. It was a bit weird getting used to it, but it was interesting to see how they took turns with introducing them as the episodes went on so that it was gradual. I was annoyed at first, but I also understand what they were trying to achieve.
Portrayal of the Cuban Revolution
One of the things that really got me was how well they portrayed the actual Cuban Revolution and how the Cuban people suffered as a result. I also had a hard time with the prison scenes, as my father was a political prisoner as a young man. It really brought tears to my eyes to see how he may have been treated. One thing is hearing the stories and another is seeing it portrayed on the screen.
I was also shocked at how well the series captured the struggles experienced by the exile community, spanning decades of people believing that things would change and they would return home. These same folks were shown coming to the realization that they would not return in their lifetime and the heartache that it caused.
The games that were played with Celia by the Castro regime such as banning her from ever returning to see her family, even for the funerals of her beloved parents were shown as a constant struggle in her life.
I chuckled as they even showed how difficult it was to get a call through to the island or the fact that mail would never reach the intended recipient. Having lived through some of this, it was interesting to see it now as a viewer.
You get 80 culture packed episodes of modern history at 45 minutes per episode. Netflix has it with subtitles, so that knowing Spanish no longer a prerequisite to enjoy it.