House Of Lies creator Matthew Carnahan is furious about President Donald Trump’s decision to roll back relations with Cuba. Carnahan shot the Showtime series’ fifth-season finale in Havana last year – and plans to return to shoot a new series there entirely – but fears the new restrictions could make it more difficult for future collaborations between Cuban and American filmmakers.
“I’m f*cking pissed,” he told Deadline. “I’m really f*cking pissed. It’s idiocy, plain and simple.”
On Friday, Trump announced his decision to strictly enforce exemptions that allow travel between the U.S. and Cuba and prohibit commerce with Cuban businesses that are owned by the Cuban military or intelligence services, which in a totalitarian regime are not always easy to separate from private enterprises.
American culture dominates the world more than the U.S. military ever could or would want to. But Carnahan sees this change of course as a retreat from engaging with the people of Cuba, and a return to a policy that’s failed for more than 50 years.
“Shooting in Cuba was remarkable and transformative for me personally,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a more enthusiastic and professional group, and a crew that was really genuinely excited to come to work every day. They were so aware of the moment – that this was the first American show in 50-plus years to shoot there, and they wanted nothing more than to continue to be able to collaborate in the future.”
“I know people there who support the film business – the small and struggling prop houses, the camera and lighting places,” he said. “I know people there who run restaurants in their homes, called paladares. These are places that struggle because of the system they work in. But if the idea is to foster American democratic values and business practices, this shift in polices is a disastrous idea, and all it will do is punish these people, and more likely, further empower the parts of the regime that we would all like to see sink into the background.”
How disruptive the new rules will be “is going to depend on how strenuously the U.S. enforces this policy, and that’s going to determine how bad it’s going to get for Cubans and small business owners,” he said. “I think it’s really going hurt the Airbnb’ers and the restaurateurs and the people at the fringes of the new economy, where there is this fragile budding growth. That’s the danger – that these buds will wither up and die.”
The way Trump has laid out the new policy, he said, “is that they want to withdraw support from anything that can profit the military. It’s a socialist state, so there’s a massive width of possible interpretation of that. It could decimate production, but maybe the ministry of culture or the ministry of film and television doesn’t enter into the world of the Cuban military.”
“But if it’s really about pushing forward American democratic values, promoting free trade and capitalism and the things that Trump purports wanting to bring to Cuba, the best way is to allow our film and TV industry to go down there and quote-unquote ‘infect’ the Cuban culture with our way of life.”
Carnahan said he’s writing a new show, titled El Showrunner, which will shoot entirely in Cuba. “It’s utterly subversive and will introduce ideas to my Cuban crew that even 10 years ago would have been completely unthinkable for the Cuban regime to allow to cross their borders. The story is kind of a deconstructed meta-version of Our Man In Havana, and deals with ideas about undermining the socialist state. It’s still in the conceptual stage, but I’m definitely still planning to go back.”
Getting State Department approval to film House Of Lies in Cuba wasn’t easy, even under President Barack Obama’s breakthrough policy. “It was always the American government, even under Obama, that was the most prickly,” he said.
The episode of House Of Lies that filmed in Havana was also “comedically very subversive,” he said. “It talks about a couple of brothers, loosely based on the Koch brothers, who come to rape and pillage Cuba. The Cuban liaison with the Cuban film community didn’t censure one word. They took it as a kind of good-natured cultural exchange and all in good fun.”
As for the current Castro in power in Cuba, Carnahan said, “This is not your father’s regime. This is potentially a very willing partner to our industry, and they have a wealth of remarkable acting and directing talent. And they are excited to work with us on either side of our borders. That’s what should be happening – a genuine cultural exchange. It brings the best of American business and ideals to this amazing place. That’s what we should be doing.”