For all its proximity to the United States and its one-time status as a popular resort for well-heeled Americans, most people in this country really know very little about the island nation of Cuba.
Nor do they probably care, notes host James Earl Jones in a fascinating documentary tomorrow night on cable's TBS service.
"Portrait of Castro's Cuba," at 7 p.m. on the basic-cable service, is one of the network's special presentations for National Cable Month, the every-April observance in which the TV-by-wire services try to showcase some of their best things. (Stay tuned for more highlights, below.)
While many Cubans imagine the great nation to their north as TC constant and conscious oppressor, "in truth most Americans don't spend much time thinking about Fidel Castro," suggests Mr. Jones' narration. The only Americans who do, he says, are those who came here from Cuba, and they think about Castro constantly.
A nice segment of the show follows an American-born teen, the offspring of Cuban immigrants, on his first visit to his family's native land.
In light of the crumbling of communist governments in Europe and elsewhere, contends the show, the man who led Cuba's revolutionary ouster of the corrupt dictator Juan Batista in 1959 -- Castro is described as "a young lawyer with a bushy beard who came down out of the mountains" -- is now a paradoxical figure, "the last hold out of a dying breed."
Yet the true irony is that "the revolution brought them [Castro's hopeful supporters] all the things for which they fought," notes Amanda Le Ser, a young Cuban medical student who has benefited from Cuba's socialist support of education for all young people. For medical care, education and jobs do exist as basic rights in Cuba.
It's all in one's perspective, says Mr. Jones. From the suburbs of Florida, Cuba is a deprived nation that has been overrun by the gloom of communism. Yet from the appalling poverty pockets of other places in the Caribbean, such as Port au Prince in Haiti or the island of Jamaica, Cuba is a relative paradise. The revolution worked there.
This documentary, produced in cooperation with the BBC, benefits from new access by film crews to such locations as the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, as well as the use of clips from some of Castro's personal media archives.
All in all, "Portrait of Castro's Cuba" is a good introduction to a shadowy next door neighbor that we should understand better.
Here are some other April highlights in National Cable Month offerings:
* Monday, April 8 -- On the TNT network, Leonard Nimoy stars in the original film "Never Forget." He plays Mel Mermelstein, a real-life survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp who went to court to challenge assertions by hate groups that the Nazi Holocaust did not occur.
And on Arts & Entertainment, the novel new series "Hollywood Detective" premieres, offering a literary evocation of the 1930s, in which each show's client is a historical author, such as Hemingway or Fitzgerald.
* Tuesday, April 9 -- On HBO, "First Love, Fatal Love" is an original drama that tells the real story of a college student who contracts AIDS. It comes with a recommendation from the Yale Medical School that parents and children should watch together.
* Saturday, April 13 -- On The Nashville Network, the second-season premiere of "The Texas Connection" includes an appearance by those one-time highwaymen, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.
* Monday, April 15 -- On the Lifetime channel, the new daytime talk show "America's Diet Club" premieres, offering daily support for those in search of slimness.
* Tuesday, April 16 -- On Arts & Entertainment, "Biography: Jackie Robinson" offers a look at the player who broke the color barrier in major league baseball (covering some of the same territory in a TBS movie last year, "The Jackie Robinson Story.")
* Saturday, April 20 -- On Showtime, Dennis Hopper stars as the title character in the film "Paris Trout," based on the gloomy Pete Dexter novel about the killing of a young black girl in Georgia. Barbara Hershey and Ed Harris also star.
And on HBO, Anthony Hopkins stars in "One Man's War," playing a physician in Paraguay fighting the nation's political oppression, which claimed the life of his son.
* Monday, April 22 -- On Nickelodeon, the "Fifth Annual Kids' Choice Awards" help us learn what and who younger viewers like from the movies, TV and sports.
And on TNT, Jon Voight stars in the original movie "Final Warning," a drama about the nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union.
* Tuesday, April 23 -- On Lifetime, Stephanie Zimbalist ("Remington Steele") stars in "The Killing Mind," an original thriller in which she is a crime analyst with special mental skills.