Following Hernandez from the start of his art career, up until the moment he is invited to leave Cuba for the first time in his life, the viewer is given insight into the artist’s personal life and where his career began. It apparently started in high school for him when one of his teachers mockingly asked him if he knew what 2 plus 2 equaled out to be; his answer was “five.” From then on, classmates referred to him as “2+2=5,” as they were so impacted by his wit. Hernandez uses this nickname to this day as an identifier with which he tags his works. When asked about what that incident means to him, he says “2+2=5? means nothing is perfect in life; There will always be a problem.”
Evident in the film, it is the censorship laws that make a problem for artists who want to make a life for themselves. Much can be learned as Supermalo progresses because many of the effects of these censorship laws are shown to the viewer throughout. When Hernandez is asked to describe one of his favorite pieces, the effects of said laws are projected. It is a painting of El Supermalo forcing a wide smile that he loves the most. Hernandez expresses that basically every Cuban has been forcing a smile since the uprising. He goes on to say, “With the shortcomings that we have, like lack of food and materials, everyone keeps a smile on their face, but with our hearts broken.”
Supermalo even sheds light on a sort of artistic black market that locals have developed in response to their suppression. According to Hernandez, every store in Cuba carries the same colors of paint on its’ shelves. For that reason, people who work in hotels throughout Cuba began to steal extra paint that the hotel had access to and sell it to artists who are looking for something different. While, in the United States, the need to illegally sell paint may seem blasphemous, but this is how Hernandez most times needs to buy paint for his pieces under strict censorship laws.
As Supermalo progresses, the story shifts from describing censorship laws in Cuba to giving Hernandez’s art the spotlight it deserves. The characters in his paintings all wore (and still do wear) masks to cover the bulk of their faces because, according to Hernandez, he is telling his story in fear. Most locals saw his work as a commentary on how every Cuban lives, while others thought it could be an act of terrorism. Cops even began searching for the “man behind the mask” as they were afraid his work could spark a political or even civil war. When he was finally caught and threatened with arrest, cops loosely referenced the age and importance of the buildings that they were painted on as their basis.
After all that Cuba had put him through, what’s most important to filmmaker Seger was to show how Fabian Hernandez, creator of the character El Supermalo, always chose to push forward. Hernandez says that the way his people are forced to live makes him genuinely want to cry. However, according to Hernandez, there is no point in pleasing your oppressor by showing them that they are breaking you down. Instead, what he proposes is to smile and pretend it’s okay.
This mentality is what got Hernandez off the island for the first time. The film takes a monumental turn when it brings the viewer on a journey to Paris. Hernandez was invited to showcase his art overseas in a show called “Que Bola? Cubanos en Paris”; a show that he describes as a classic Cuban expression. When painting the image of El Supermalo on one of the many walls of Graffiti in the city of Paris, with the tagline “2+2=5?” Supermalo makes it hard for the viewer not to see Hernandez as a revolutionary.
Supermalo plays at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival with Into The via Video On Demand screening on June 12, 2021. To buy tickets go here.
Supermalo – Matthew Seger (Brooklyn, New York)
To be jailed on a regular basis for the content of your art. To lack materials and colors for your vision. To be barred from art studios and venues because your art is not government sanctioned. These are some things that are unimaginable to a lot of artists, but something Fabian Hernandez has to go through everyday to continue making his art. Cuban street artists are having their moment. Their own fight against the countries harsh censorship laws have recently made international headlines. Fabian is one of the movement’s fearless and prolific leaders. You cannot walk for more than a few blocks without seeing his character, the Supermalo or his signature 2+2=5? painted on the crumbling walls of Havana. Supermalo follows Fabian's development as an artist over the course of two years. The film explores the struggles of creating work in his home country of Cuba and documents his first time ever leaving the island to exhibit his artwork internationally in Paris. In Spanish, subtitled. 2020; 15 min.
Into the Light – Benjamin Schwartz (New York, New York) In the 1980’s Chuck Connelly was recognized as a key figure among the New York-based Neo-expressionist painters. This film captures Chuck at his essence: manically painting, smoking in a deteriorating claustrophobic home packed with over 5000 original works, and trying to overcome a lifetime of failures, regret, and missed opportunities. 2020; 74 min.