Havana Divas cover



Two stage sisters living in an era of revolution
Four opera trips crossing the ocean of time

Caridad Amaran and Georgina Wong Gutierrez learned the art of Cantonese opera in the1930s in Havana. Caridad’s mentor was her Chinese foster father, Julian Fong, who immigrated to Cuba in the 1920s after his family forbade him to perform opera. Georgina’s father was a famous tailor in Havana Chinatown, who encouraged her to learn kung-fu and the lion dance. Though neither had any siblings, they formed a sisterhood on the stage. Through the 1940s, Caridad toured all over Cuba, performing in cities with Chinese communities as the leading actress of her opera troupe. Georgina quit opera to attend college, but her studies were interrupted by Castro’s 1959 revolution and her required military service. Eventually, she went on to become a diplomat. Following their retirement, and well into their sixties, the two sisters began performing Cantonese opera again. In their eighties, they found a new audience in China.



2017 will see the 170th anniversary of the Chinese first arriving in Cuba. Today, there is still 1% of the population with Chinese heritage. The two heroines of our film, 86-year-old Caridad Amaran, who had a Chinese foster father, and 88-year-old Georgina Wong both entered Havana’s Kwok-Kwong Opera Troupe in 1939. Caridad learned the art of opera from her father and began to perform in Shanghai Theatre at the age of 8. As a teenager, she toured Cuba with the opera troupe and made the headlines many times. When famous singer-actresses like Siu Yin Fai, Mo Dan So and So Chow Lai visited Havana, Caridad was the only local star to perform with them. Georgina left opera for college, but her study was interrupted by Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. She met both Castro and Che Guevara in person and later became a diplomat. After her retirement, Georgina moved back to Havana and joined Caridad in an attempt to revive the culture of Cantonese Opera. Both of their Chinese fathers immigrated to Cuba in the 1920s but never managed to return to their homeland. After they passed away, the two ageing daughters had only one wish—to see their fathers’ hometowns and to pay respect to their ancestors on their behalf of them. Will they ever complete such a long and expensive journey?

In 2011 and 2014, with the help of Chinese friends, Caridad and Georgina visited Hong Kong and Canton on two occasions. Not only did they find their ancestors’ homes, but they also enjoyed the great pleasure of singing by themselves as well as with famous opera actors. In 2015, director S. Louisa Wei and producers Law Kar and Helen Wong led a filming crew to Havana, in search of Chinatown’s past memory and glory. The 2018 version of the documentary had nearly 30 screenings in Hong Kong theatres and entered over 20 international film/art festivals. In early 2019, the crew went back to Cuba and did more filming. The footage is edited into the 2019 director’s cut of Havana Divas, which will be the finalized version. The film was made over a period of eight years, revealing the two stage-sisters’ journey of opera discovery, set against the backdrop of Sino-Cuban history, with the aid of many precious photographs and newsreels. Cantonese opera star Franco Yuen and veteran actor Danny Li also gave interviews in the film, telling stories of Chinese opera overseas. With Robert Ellis-Geiger’s original score tuned intertwined with famous songs by opera masters and the two leading ladies, the film hopes to bring an extraordinary film experience to those who like or want to know more about Cantonese opera.


I have always been drawn to people who are able to cross borders of art, language, race and culture. It is refreshing to see young people cross borders when they are emboldened by their lack of experience; just as it is touching to see older people cross borders in the name of love and nostalgia. The journey of Caridad and Georgina is what I call a journey of “love” and what my producer Law Kar calls a journey of “nostalgia.” While I relate to these women through the love they have for their fathers, Law Kar sees how their youth, filled with the song and performance of Cantonese opera, became the impetus for them to “return” to Hong Kong and Canton. Last year, I lost my father in a traffic accident. At first, I only felt hurt by the painful knowledge that such a loss is permanent and irreversible. Now, I begin to see that the true color of a fatherly love does not fade. My father taught me music; he taught me to be passionate, to value optimism, and to keep an open and inquisitive mind. These lessons continue to enliven and brighten my life. When I follow Caridad and Georgina’s journey from Cuba to China, I can’t help but see it as an extension of their love for their late fathers and a testament to what their fathers had left them. Following their journey, I see their splendor on the opera stage slipping away over and over: first, with the end of China’s Civil War in 1949 when many Chinese coolies moved back to China leaving a diminishing Chinatown; again, when Communist leader Fidel Castro assumed power, prompting remaining Chinese Cubans to move to other parts of America; and a third time, when they returned to Hong Kong and Canton just in time to witness the decline of Cantonese opera as an art form even in China. A deep sense of nostalgia and pathos permeates their movement through the fading vestiges of the charm of a golden age. What I hope to bring to life in this documentary is not only the legend of these women, but the poignant beauty of love and loss that surrounds our collective feelings for our fathers.

by S. Louisa Wei


Screening Format: DCP, MOV, DVD Running Time: 96 minutes

Production Year: 2019/02/12

Sound: Stereo

Writer/Director: S. Louisa Wei

Producers: Law Kar, Helen Wong

Production: Blue Queen Cultural Communication Ltd.

Language: Cantonese, Spanish, English

Subtitles: Chinese & English

  1. Closing Film, Premiered in Hong Kong on Feb 11 at “Life Is Art” by MOViE MOViE Festival, Hong Kong, Five Screenings (Feb 11, Feb 12, Feb 13, Feb 14, Feb 24, 2018); Theatrical Screenings in Hong Kong, Twenty Screenings (April 7, 15, 22; May 5, 12, 27; June 2, 17, 24; July 28, 29, 30, 31; Aug 1, 12, 18, 25; Sept 15; Oct 13, 20)
  2. PMQ Community Screening, Hong Kong, Feb 25 and Nov 4, 2018; 2
  3. In Competition, CAAM Fest, San Francisco, USA, May 20, 2018; 1
  4. Official Selection, Shanghai International Film Festival, Shanghai, China, June 16, 17, 18, 19, 24, 2018;
  5. Official Selection, The One Women’s International Film Festival, Chengdu, China, Sept 7 and 9, 2018;
  6. Closing Film, China Women’s Film Festival, Beijing, China, Sept 23, 2018;
  7. Opening Film, Washington DC Chinese Film Festival, Washington DC, USA, Sept 27, 2018;
  8. Official Selection, Women Make Wave International Film Festival, Taipei, Taiwan, Oct 12 and 16, Nov 2, 2018;
  9. Official Selection, Narrative Film Festival, Taipei, Taiwan, Oct 7, 2018;
  10. Official Selection, Seattle Latino Film Festival, Seattle, US, Oct 12, 2018;
  11. Official Selection, Vancouver Asian Film Festival, Vancouver, Canada, Nov 2, 2018;
  12. Official Selection, Philadelphia Asian Film Festival, Philadelphia, USA, Nov 10, 2018;
  13. Official Selection, San Diego Asian Film Festival, San Diego, USA, Nov 14, 2018;
  14. Special Forum Screening, Open University of Hong Kong, Nov 14, 2018;
  15. Semi-finalist, China International Documentary Film Festival, Guangzhou, Dec 9 and 10, 2018;
  16. Official Selection, Hainan International Film Festival, Sanya, Dec 13 and 14, 2018;
  17. Special Forum Screening, HOME Manchester, Feb 12, 2019;
  18. Special Forum Screening, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Feb 22, 2019;
  19. Premiere Screening, of 2019 Director’s Cut, Hong Kong Art Festival, Tai Kwun, March 12, 2019;
  20. Official Selection, Cine Cina Film Festival, April 7, 2019;
  21. Artist-in-residence screening, University of Nevada, USA, April 9, 2019;
  22. Official Selection, Beijing International Film Festival, April 13-14, 2019;
  23. FMO Screening, Macao Art Festival, April 26 and May 12, 2019; 2
  24. Official Selection, Festival Acces Asia, Montreal, Canada, May 25, 2019;
  25. In Competition, Houston Asian Pacific Film Festival, Houston, Texas, USA, June 2019;
  26. Special Forum Screening, “Looking Back to San Francisco: Havana Divas Screening and Talk”, Guangzhou Times Museum, April 24, 2021;
  27. Official Selection, Chinese Cinema Season, co-organized by Trinity CineAsia, Filming East Festival, UK-China Film Collab, April 22 – May 23, 2021; 2 (Forums organized by Mulan Foundation on May 9 and Chinese Women Connect on May 22, 2021)
  28. 28. Official Selection, Festival Cine por Mujeres, Madrid, Spain, October 26, 2022;
  29. 29. Official Selection for Cartier Women’s Story Exhibition, Palace Museum, June 9, 2023;

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DVD Information

Duration: 96 minutes | Aspect Ratio: 16:9 |

Language: Cantonese, Spanish, English | Subtitles in Chinese & English

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