“It just seemed perfect,” Gray added. “And you could draw a direct line from the Cuban car culture to the vintage car culture here in America.”
Of course, it’s crucial to remember that Cuba’s precious treatment of its cars is not merely a hobbyist fascination; the car culture’s origins stem largely from the Castro regime’s ban on new cars entering the island, leaving citizens to make do with the cars they owned before Fidel Castro rose to power on New Year’s, 1959. Nowadays, taxi drivers chug along the Malecón hoping to pick up tourists in cars that were once Fords, Chevys, and Pontiacs, but that now contain parts subbed in from various makes from around the world. Most of these zombie cars feature electric stereos blasting Reggaetón out of open windows. Mattresses left on the street as garbage often get ripped open and relieved of their springs—ostensibly so they can be used in cars as well.
Fate does not trouble itself too much with the darker side of the car culture, but Gray made sure to celebrate the innovative, passionate spirit that has allowed Cubans to keep their ancient cars running for upwards of four decades. As Dom and Letty observe, one driver even uses a boat motor in his car.
“The people are amazing,” Gray said. “Very proud, very passionate about everything, and very creative. . . You can take away most things, but the human spirit is just so resilient. And the level of creativity and ingenuity there in Havana, and in Cuba, was staggering. And that’s part of the reason why I loved shooting there.”
But getting there was no easy feat, Gray admitted. Negotiating permits to shoot just about anywhere in the world is a challenge, but the U.S. and its southern neighbor have an exceptional amount of baggage. “Now you have negotiating on a whole other level. And now the governments have to negotiate the details—some of the details that you otherwise wouldn’t have the government involved in.”
For instance: imagine trying to lock down 20 city blocks in Havana. In addition to the usual permits, Gray said that the U.S. government had to negotiate with the Cuban government about that, too. And when the production asked to bring in a drone, the idea was nixed: “I wasn’t sure if it was because that could be considered a piece of spy equipment,” Gray said.
On the other hand, Gray said the Cuban government allowed him to fly the first American airship with a camera on it over the island since the embargo. “So there were restrictions. But then at the same time, they definitely eventually kind of opened up and allowed us to do what we needed to do to open the movie in a very special way.”
Navigating Cuba also means—for most Americans—learning how to operate without WiFi. Cards to access the island’s WiFi—which is far from lightning-fast—can be purchased in various shops, assuming they’re not sold out. But it’s far from the perpetual, easy connection most tourists might be used to.
“We barely had access to the Internet, so it was a major feat to send an e-mail,” Gray said. “For that reason, we had to bring the infrastructure from America to Havana in order to deliver the sequence.” Still, he noted, “what you trade in technology, you gain in the genuine human connection, and I think a lot of that heart ends up on the screen—a lot of that passion and fun.”
For many, Cuba and its fraught history with the U.S. can still be a very touchy subject. The Fate of the Furious—a movie far more concerned with its characters’ lives, relationships, and vehicular drama than it is with politics—might, oddly enough, be a fitting film to make Hollywood’s maiden voyage into El Caimán. Fatedoesn’t belabor politics or try to make any bold statements about a culture, a people, and a history that would take years to fully understand. Instead, it blasts the music, revs the engines, and focuses on universal thrills.
“I just wanted to respect the country, respect the culture,” Gray said, adding later, “What we wanted to do was just focus on what we considered the positive aspects of being in Havana and introduce the world to the city and the people.”