A film by Catherine Murphy

US | 2012 | 33 minutes | Color | DVD | Spanish | English subtitles | Order No. 141121


In 1961, over 250,000 Cubans joined their country’s National Literacy Campaign and taught more than 707,000 other Cubans to read and write. Almost half of these volunteer teachers were under 18. More than half were women.

Narrated by Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker, MAESTRA (Spanish for teacher) explores the experiences of nine of the women who, as young girls, helped eradicate Cuban illiteracy within one year. Interweaving recent interviews, archival footage, and campaign photos, this lively documentary includes one of the first Cubans of her generation to call herself a feminist and one of the first openly proud members of Cuba’s LGBTQI community. With wit and spirit, all recall negotiating for autonomy and independence in a culture still bound by patriarchal structures.

Eight years in the making, MAESTRA highlights the will and courage that made the monumental endeavor possible and the pivotal role of women’s and youth empowerment in building a new society.


“Highly recommended for all audiences; perfect for a classroom setting with ample time for discussion."

Christine Rigda Library Journal

"This film brought tears to my eyes. It is beautiful."

Alice Walker Writer, Peacemaker, Pulitzer Prize Winner

"Catherine Murphy has created a project with rare and intimate access....Her film will preserve the oral histories of a generation that will soon be gone. The historical significance of this archive -and its lessons for the present- cannot be overstated."

Howard Zinn Historian and Author

“’MAESTRA is a compelling and beautifully filmed reconstruction of one of the most significant campaigns in Cuban history.”

NACLA Report on the Americas

"This film will make a significant contribution to our understanding of our neighbor nation of Cuba -as well as literacy itself- and serve as an important tool in the struggle for justice."

Dolores Huerta Co-founder, United Farm Workers & President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation

"Catherine Murphy's project rescues the most important literacy experience in the Americas. The result, I am certain, will rise to the challenge."

Eduardo Galeano Uruguayan Writer & Journalist

"'MAESTRA’ is a celebration of the joy of teaching and learning despite all obstacles."

Progreso Weekly

“[T]his excellent documentary artfully… examines the campaign’s effect on women and how it enabled them to challenge traditional gender norms… the film is an excellent addition to any syllabus on the Cuban Revolution as well as on revolutionary transformation and revolutionary societies generally.”

The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Latin American History


  • Black Maria Film Festival, winner Director's Choice Award
  • Indie Fest, Winner, Best Woman Filmmaker Award
  • Ojai Film Festival, Honorable Mention
  • Pan African Film Festival Los Angeles
  • San Diego Black Film Festival
  • Mumbai Womens International Film Festival
  • Festival ICARO, Guatemala
  • Havana Film Festival in New York
  • Panama Festival
  • AFI Silver/DC Caribbean Film Fest
  • Central Wisconsin Film Festival
  • Festival de Cine Pobre. Gibara, Cuba
  • Festival de Cine Cubano in Florence, Italy
  • Muestra Itinerante de Cine del Caribe (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Costa Rica, Aruba, Panamá)
  • Vermont International Film Festival
  • Traverse City Film Festival
  • Raindance Film Festival, London
  • San Francisco Documentary Festival
  • New Orleans African Film & Arts Festival
  • African Diaspora International Film Festival
  • Bahamas International Festival
  • San Francisco Latino Film Festival
  • LA Femme Film Festival
  • Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival


Catherine Murphy

Catherine Murphy is a DC-based filmmaker who has spent much of her life living & working in Latin America. She is founder & director of The Literacy Project, a multi-media documentary project on literacy in the Americas.

As an independent producer, Murphy's work has largely focused on social documentaries. She has field produced films like Saul Landau's Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?, Eugene Corr's From Ghost Town to Havana, served on the production crew of Gay Cuba; and subtitled Stealing America by Dorothy Fadiman, Jaime Kibben's The Greening of Cuba, and Out and Refusenicks by Sonja de Vries. She also served an archival researcher for Susanne Rostock's recent biography of Harry Belafonte, Sing Your Song.

Murphy worked as senior staff producer at the TeleSur TV Washington DC bureau, and has produced content for PBS, TeleSur, Avila TV, Pacifica Radio National, WBAI and KPFA. While living in Caracas in 2009, she founded Tres Musas Producciones, a collaborative production house of independent women producers working in film, music and literature.

Four short stories based on her interviews were published in Eduardo Galeano's penultimate book, Espejos.

After a decade of producing films for other documentary makers, she finished her debut film MAESTRA in 2012, which has enjoyed robust distribution since it first launched, and has been translated into several languages. (07/19)


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