50 Years After the Coup History of Chile NATIONAL

A Superman, on- and off-screen: how Christopher Reeves defied Chile’s junta

In 1987, 78 Chilean actors and playwrights were given a choice by the Pinochet regime: go into forced exile, or face death. Instead of accepting their fate, they decided to stage a large protest on the day of their scheduled execution. When all they needed was a Hollywood-star to gather attention, Superman actor Christopher Reeves came to the rescue.

Late 1987, the Chilean Actors and Actresses Union Sidarte received a letter ordering the 78 actors and playwrights connected to it “to leave the country” before the end of the month. If they didn’t go into forced exile, they would be executed. Their crime: to not openly support Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial regime.

The group of artists, including the Union’s president Edgardo Bruna, decided to defy the threat, and to set up a public performance on the very day the month-long deadline would come to an end.

The group, facing death, realized that their protest alone was not going to cut it: they needed international help. Via a network of Chileans in exile, they tried to get into contact with famous European and American actors and actresses to support their cause.

It would be a difficult operation. Once in Chile, it would be almost impossible to ensure the safety of whichever Hollywood-star would come to support them. They group tried to get into contact with renowned stars like Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, but did not manage to secure their aid.

In the U.S., their contact was the prominent Argentine-Chilean author and political activist Ariel Dorfman. Dorfman was a friend of late President Salvador Allende and lived in exile in the U.S., where he had strengthened his connections with various U.S. actors. Through him, the Union-members eventually came into contact with Christopher Reeves.

Reeves had reached international stardom in the 70s, after comprising the role of The Man of Steel in the 1978 blockbuster movie Superman, and in three sequels. Using his celebrity-influence in his favor, he had worked on several social causes. He contributed to the Special Olympics and was an outspoken supporter of Amnesty International and the environmental advocacy group the Natural Resources Defense Council.

When approached to aid the actors, Reeves asked Dorfman “If I go, how dangerous is Chile for me? And if I go, how would that help my Chilean colleagues?” After Dorfman responded  “If you go, you can save their lives,” Reeves decided to accept the request.

There were complications: Reeves did not speak any Spanish and didn’t know much about Chile or the dangers that the Pinochet regime posed. He needed a local guide to translate for him, to show him around and to keep him from potential dangers.

As an exiled “leftist” activist, Dorfman himself could not accompany Reeves. It was therefore Dorfman’s wife, Angélica Malinarich-Dorfman who joined the Hollywood star in Chile, late November 1987.

Reeves stayed in Santiago for 72 hours. His itinerary included a visit to the La Comedia theater in the Lastarria neighborhood, and a demonstration on Santiago’s main street, the Alameda.

On November 30, the day the 78 actors had to leave Chile or would have to face the mortal consequences, the Union-members met for their final protest at the Nataniel Gymnasium in downtown Santiago. Despite obvious dangers (violent riots broke out outside of the school, and the police shot with teargas), the Superman actor joined his colleagues.

Reeves expressed his support to the group, and promised that he would tell everyone about the courage of the Chilean actors upon his return to the United States.

As the hours passed, they started to realize that nothing would happen. The media that Reeves’s visit got seemed to have convinced the authorities to change their mind. The 78 actors were able to stay in Chile, and Reeves returned to the U.S., after saving dozens of lives, like a real Superman. 

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