To the Editors:
On March 25, at the doors of the Olympia Theater in New York, agents of the United States Treasury Department confiscated the Cuban film Days of Water, forcing the organizers of the First New York Cuban Film Festival to postpone screening some twenty-five films. A few days later, the Museum of Modern Art decided to cancel screenings of several Cuban films after being told by the Treasury Department that legal action would follow exhibition of unlicensed work.
Whatever the legal particulars of this case, it is not the place of the United States government to decide what Americans should or should not see or read or hear. A law which can be used for political purposes to keep Americans from seeing the art of a foreign country is an oppressive law. We object to political regulation over what works of art may enter and be exhibited in this country. We object even more strenuously to the use of that noxious power arbitrarily. We think it either sinister or absurd when access to foreign art can be turned off and on like a tap to suit the government’s current policy, when Americans are not allowed to see Cuban films only weeks after the President has been televised worldwide cheerfully applauding the Peking Ballet and after videotapes of the performance are broadcast in America amid choruses of official self-congratulation. At that point, an illegitimate power arbitrarily used begins to smack of outright thought-control.
The blockade of Cuba by the United States has been a foolish and destructive mistake. Apart from that, the art of any foreign country, whatever its politics, ought to be freely available to Americans whenever it is practically feasible. We protest the government’s current policy toward Cuban film. We urge the immediate licensing of the films in the Cuban Film Festival for exhibition throughout the country. And we urge prompt enactment of whatever changes in the law may be needed to guarantee not only freedom of expression to artists but for the public, full freedom of access to their work.
May 4, 1972