American Comandante: Documentary Review


American Comandante

Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become—James Allen

William Morgan was a pipe dreamer of sort who, over the course of his formidable to fatherhood years, became a hero to some, a traitor to others, but most notably a man with conviction.

The documentary, American Comandante, illustrates the story of how a young man from Toledo, Ohio converted to a commander in the Cuban Revolution under Fidel Castro.

His lifetime was measured in a plethora of positions: A runaway in the circus, merchant marine, into the United States Army and out with a dishonorable discharge. William suited in line as a street soldier for the mob before eventually characterizing himself as a performer in the circus again. In the length of this portion of his life he felt like a person of little importance.

In 1958, while William resided with his wife and two kids in Miami, he heard the stories about the revolution in Cuba. He convinced the anti-Batista group that he had a reason to fight for justice in relation to a fabrication of a fallen friend. Morgan leaves his family to join the revolution with Fidel Castro. However, once William Morgan arrived on the island, he recognized that the battle by Batista’s army blocked his opportunity to join Castro. He found a group of gorillas called, The Escambray Second Front camp, and joined them.

William Morgan’s reinvention began as he would come to be a leader with the gorillas. Morgan had “a spirit of sacrifice,” as told by Dr. Armando Fleites in the documentary. His role is significant among The Escambray Second Front for he teaches them martial arts, rules of combat which he learned from the U.S Army, yet his strongest attribution: Taking on the cause for democracy, center stage in the theatre of war, as a proverbial protagonist.

In due course, The Escambray Second Front joins with Fidel Castro and The 26 of July Movement with a prominent figure: the Marxist, Che Guevara. This joint effort to fight and be rid of Batista’s dictatorship would be at the sacrifice of many, who thought that democracy for the Cuban people would be at the forefront.

The American Comandante documentary communicates with footage of William Morgan as a little kid in Toledo, Ohio, to interviews after the revolution in Havana, Cuba; a similar timeline of photographs include him with Fidel Castro and Morgan’s wife Olga in her gorilla garb and with their two children; interviews from men who fought with Morgan in The Escambray Second Front offer insightful facts.

In American Comadante, we learn about a man who wanted to please his family, in particular his mom. William Morgan said he felt insignificant during his time in Miami. This documentary exemplifies Morgan’s reinvention by forgoing his past to turn into a commander in the Cuban Revolution. Morgan held his new conviction and did not relent in the face of communism. This decision not to retreat from his ideals leads to his redemption. In a Cuban jail he writes letters to his mother that he “Will not die, as his dad said, ‘a pipe dreamer.’” In addition, he writes, “I have made my peace with God and can accept whatever happens, with my mind clear and my spirits strong…My actions and my life, I leave for others to judge.”

American Comandante is available at American Experience

American Comandante is an American Experience Film, written, produced, and directed by: Adriana Bosch.

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