Máximas Matanzas — a DJ rapper duo made up of Paolo de la Vega and his girlfriend Talia Benavidez — is one of the major “factions” you recruit in Far Cry 6. Unlike the region of Valle de Oro in the fictional Yara, where the band is from, the Cuban city of Matanzas is a real place. The town is named after a dramatic, legendary battle between indigenous peoples and Spanish settlers. Roughly translating to “killings” or “massacres,” Ubisoft’s use of the Matanzas name is a microcosm of Far Cry 6’s politics — a long history and culture reduced to a bombastic brand, free from the burden of context.
This flattening of culture extends across the game’s entire world. Far Cry has more or less always been a kind of violent tourism, a means of skimming over the superficialities of a culture without exploring something real or opening the publisher up to formal complaints. Similarly, Cuba’s complex and changing relationship to queerness is reduced to one character — the aforementioned Paolo, a trans man — despite Matanzas’ significance as the site of the first religious ceremony led by a transgender pastor in Cuba.
Instead of debating whether Far Cry 6 has a “good” representation of a trans man, I want to discuss the depiction of its Cuban analog. Through its only queer character, it paints Cuba as resolutely transphobic. In a dramatic cutscene, Paolo claims Talia doesn’t understand what it is like to be “trans in fucking Yara.” Because Talia doesn’t understand, she doesn’t want Paolo to leave for the U.S., an implicitly safer place for a trans person to live. The reality is, of course, far more complex.
In the real world, Cuba has made incredible strides in freeing both culture and policy of queerphobia. Though it has instituted homophobic policies both before and after the communist takeover in 1959, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1979. In 2008, the nation included hormone replacement therapy and gender confirming surgery as part of the country’s socialized healthcare system. The National Center for Sex Education (shortened to CENESEX) funds research across Latin America and offers educational programs and events with the intent to end homophobia in Cuba. Projects like TRANSCUBA attempt to make the real, textured lives of trans people on the island more visible.
The efforts of programs like these expose the persistence of bigotry on the island, but there is likely not a nation on earth completely free from homophobia. It’s also important to foreground that many of Cuba’s troubles come from inhuman and cruel sanctions, given furious weight by an ongoing pandemic. As a white trans woman from the western U.S., I can make no definitive statement on what living on the island is like for trans people. But from my limited perspective, Cuba’s contemporary policies actively fight for a future where queer people can live as who they are.
Far Cry 6’s invocation of the U.S. as a safer place rings hollow in the face of last year. 2021 set records in America for both anti-trans legislation and the murder of trans people. Bills attempting to prevent trans people from using public bathrooms and participating in sports threaten their ability to exist in public life. Gender confirmation surgery is outlandishly expensive and not covered by most insurance plans. This expense often leads trans people to turn to crowdfunding their transition. Conversion therapy is only banned in 14 states, and Biden’s campaign promises to put an end to the abusive practice have come to nothing. His only major policy change in relation to trans people has been to allow them to join the military once again. Teaching teens effective sex education is still controversial; God forbid any frank discussion of queer issues occurs in public schools. Religious universities such as Brigham Young University forbid same-sex relationships and discriminate against trans people with rigid housing rules, a fact that hits close to home for me as a former student of BYU. Because of their religious funding, schools like this get a tax break. Liberal elements of the U.S. government might talk a big game, but its indifference and hostility is plain to see.
Despite the strides of Yara’s real-world counterpart, Paolo’s transness is defined by nothing but struggle. He was abandoned by parents who hated him, finding refuge only in his peers. He got top surgery without anesthetic since their black market contact for the drug fell through. His only personality trait is a defiant perseverance that helps him eventually overcome his fear.
Though Paolo eventually wholeheartedly joins the revolution, there is no articulation of what he is politically fighting for. How would he prevent other trans people from experiencing the discrimination he did? How would he change the island’s healthcare system? Neither he nor any other characters in the game have any kind of answer to these questions. Far Cry 6’s imagination of queerness is limited entirely to bigotry and struggle. A better world is far off and only found in the global north.
To be clear, the problem is not that the game acknowledges the difficulties of being trans in an impoverished, marginalized nation — it is that it racializes those problems. With Paolo’s invocation of the U.S. as a better place for trans people, there is an implication that this backward (subtextually brown and Black) nation is not a place where he could live freely. There is some early discussion of the possibility that things would be worse in the U.S. when main character Dani considers leaving the island for Miami. One character notes that “the American dream doesn’t come in our color.” However, Paolo’s wish to leave Yara does not receive that kind of skepticism. He does not ultimately leave Yara, but there is a background assumption that things would be easier for him in the States, with no complication or follow-up.
However well intentioned, Paolo’s inclusion in Far Cry 6 is a blatant act of imperialist propaganda. No matter how much distance Far Cry 6 attempts to draw from its source material, it cannot avoid the comparison. It cannot help but explicitly argue that Cuba is a backward nation, unable to be saved by its wayward revolutionaries. It cannot help but imply that an impoverished country must, by definition, work to harm trans people. The argument is not only racist on its face, but also deeply untrue — and a betrayal of the very groups it claims to represent. Far Cry 6 presents a kind of representation that trans people of all nations would be better off without.