Please explain what just happened.

I just got back to Manhattan after a bumpy month in Havana. I was chased by Cuban police while trying to illegally interview Cuban boxers and their families for my film Hero Traitor Madness: The Guillermo Rigondeaux Story. The basic deal over there that I have a little trouble cottoning to is agreeing to pay people under the table to tell me how they turned down millions. But there it is.


What is your earliest memory?

A neighbor girl’s pretty face smiling at me from her window. She was six and I was pushing three.


If you weren’t a writer/director what other profession would you choose?

My dream has always been to be mistaken for a jinetero (Cuban male prostitute) and questioned by police while in the company of a Cubana who in turn would be mistaken for a tourist. No dice as yet.


Describe a typical work day.

I used to box in the amateurs and ran very early in the mornings and I’ve kept the same hours for writing.

The filming stuff in Cuba and following Guillermo Rigondeaux around the world has never been typical. I bet on his last fight after his Irish opponent’s supporters stole my fucking camera from our team van. 20-1 odds on him knocking out his opponent in the first round. I bet the last of our budget that he would. After Guillermo did just that in Dublin he walked over to me with his glove out, “You owe me. Where’s my cut? I did it for you. Finish your movie.”


Is there a time you wish you’d lied?

Never. People pretty much have my number. I’ve never been what you would call misunderstood.


What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?

No white chicks. It’s basically the sum total of everything I’ve learned in nearly 32 years.


If you could have only one album to get you through a breakup, what would it be?

Ravel: Bolero.


What are three websites—other than your email—that you check on a daily basis?

New York Times, facebook, youporn.


From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?

Mike Tyson started the ball rolling for me when I was in a rough spot as a kid. He gave me two things I knew nothing about: books and boxing. That was an awfully generous, lucky break.

My greatest inspiration is probably kindness. I don’t know much that redeems everything that brings me down so effectively, either witnessing or practicing it myself. It’s very redeeming that we live in a world that only really cares what you give rather than what you have. It’s not an accident Donald Trump has to name everything after himself: who the fuck else would name anything after him? He knows it. In Cuba nothing is named after Fidel, but nobody is talking about anybody else.


Name three books that have impacted your life.

Invisible Cities, Nine Stories, and, most recently, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I gave Kundera a few cracks over the years, but it took a curve-ball in my life to finally lick that beautiful book of his.


If you could relive one moment over and over again, what would it be?

My first almost-kiss was pretty nice.


How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?

I’m not.


What makes you feel most guilty?

I could pretend to feel guilt over prying off and stealing a PRIVATE PROPERTY sign from J.D. Salinger in Cornish while he was still alive. It’s sullenly hanging over my desk as I write this.


How do you incorporate the work of other artists into your own?



Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind Hero Traitor Madness: The Guillermo Rigondeaux Story .

I met two-time Olympic Champion Guillermo Rigondeaux in Havana shortly after he’d tried to defect in the summer of 2007. Fidel had publicly called him a traitor and ended his career. He was the saddest face I’d ever seen in Cuba. I followed him after he succeeded in escaping to America in a smuggler’s boat and yet he looked even more miserable. I was deeply disturbed by the implications on our way of life as opposed to where he’d come from. There’s no question walking the streets of Havana leaves your heart sore, but walking the streets anywhere else has basically left my heart numb.


What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?

Character is fate. You’re fucked. Stop worrying about it.


List your favorite in the following categories:  Comedian, Musician, Author, Actor.

Richard Pryor, John Lennon, J.D. Salinger, Marlon Brando.


If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?

The one I’m working on. This is my fucking problem.


What do you want to know?

Pretty much what seven out of every ten women look like naked. Just for point of reference.


What would you like your last words to be?

Who’s your grandpa?


Please explain what will happen.

I’m going to have my afternoon stroll across the park and buy a cup of coffee from the pretty Puerto Rican girl who serves it and bring along Mr. George Orwell for company.

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Brin-Jonathan Butler's work has appeared in ESPN.com, The Wall Street Journal, The Classical, The Rumpus, Salon.com, and The New York Times. Brin has also written, directed, and produced a forthcoming documentary called, "Split Decision" (splitdecisionfilm.com) examining Cuba and the United States through the lens of elite Cuban boxers faced with the decision to remain despite the lure of millions, or chase the American Dream from a smuggler's boat. The documentary has been featured on Maxboxing.com, Newsday, and The Boxing Channel. "When We Were Kings" Oscar winning director Leon Gast has called Butler's film, "Something very special and worth the wait." Please follow him on twitter @brinicio

6 responses to “21 Questions with 
Brin-Jonathan Butler”

  1. Stealing from J. D. Salinger… I would expect nothing less from you, Brin. It’s great to have you here, I’m looking forward to seeing the film. Very captivating stuff and a real eye opener.

  2. Jessica Blau says:


    As a sort of-whitish chick, or mostly-white white chick, I’d like to know what’s wrong with the entire category of white chicks?!

  3. kristen says:

    Love your frankness, love Calvino, love kindness as inspiration, love your best advice.


    (Like Megan, I look forward to seeing the film.)

    • Well Kristen you’re a sweetheart and an annexed colony of unwhitechickedness despite your racial handicap (apart from being the Rosa Parks of this movement we must remember the words of Gandhi: “To a minority of one, truth is truth.”) Believing is seeing after all, not the other way around.

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