Why Neruda Now?

Gabriel García Márquez called him the greatest poet of the 20th century. Year after year in the new millennium, Neruda’s legend and popularity have continued to grow. His prevalence in pop culture is one marker of his relevance: He moved millions in Il Postino (The Postman), both an Oscar–winning film and an opera starring Plácido Domingo. He inspired a multi-platinum album by Taylor Swift, as well as an Arab Spring activist’s graffiti. Bart Simpson has assured us, “I’m familiar with the work of Pablo Neruda,” and Piper Chapman drops his lines in Orange Is the New Black.

He’s the subject of a new Gael García Bernal feature film, Neruda, a fictional “anti-biopic” based on his outspoken calls of resistance against a repressive President who forced him—at the time an elected Senator— to flee into exile over the Andes. This is just one of Neruda’s many dramatic experiences relating to political turmoil, from the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War to the attempts of the CIA to topple democratically-elected Socialist President Salvador Allende’s government, which seem all the more vital in these tumultuous times. Our film opens with Neruda’s funeral two weeks after the coup that toppled Allende’s government, the first public act of resistance against the dictatorship.

Neruda’s story sheds light on timely issues such as economic inequality and injustice, racism and prejudice, economic and cultural imperialism, courage in the face of repression, and the role of creativity in navigating eras of upheaval. Our film brings his journey to life in vivid detail, often told by the first-person accounts of those who lived them.

Neruda’s political poetry and personal history are certainly still relevant today, and more urgently so now after the United States’ 2016 Presidential elections. The legacy of last century’s consummate “people’s poet” resonates strongly with the populist surge of our current times, as well as with those grappling with how to continue working for progressive change in a time of upheaval.

Neruda’s poems have long been used to evoke the power of solidarity, and to ignite social change, a trend that is bound to continue. In San Francisco, California, in the tense political climate of 2003, his verses were draped on banners over the streets, shouting out against war and tyranny, verses as urgent then as when he first wrote them. Nearly a decade later, Egyptian art historian Bahia Shebab spray-painted Neruda’s words on the streets of Cairo during the Arab Spring: “You can crush the flowers, but you can’t delay Spring.” Five years later, on January 21, 2017, at the Women’s March, perhaps the largest protest in U.S. history and a gigantic groundswell of peaceful resistance, those same words of Neruda’s that had appeared in Cairo would grace at least one poster, seen in Oakland, California, in the original Spanish: “Podrán cortar todas las flores pero no podrán detener la primavera.”

Poetry’s power has often proven to be immortal, but few poets have remained as relevant over time as Pablo Neruda. Through his published writings and his political activism, Neruda spoke to and inspired action on some of the most pressing issues we’re still faced with today, such as the brutality of repressive governments and the injustices of unrestrained capitalism. He highlighted the power of solidarity among the people and motivated grassroots responses. His words are still being deployed in social movements and political actions. His poetry’s fusion of raw sexual longing with the potency of nature restores an essential connection between human beings and the natural world. And his expressions of the endless facets of love and longing are timeless. Pablo Neruda: The People’s Poet will deliver all of this to audiences around the world.