The Childhood of a National Hero: José Martí: el ojo del canario

  • Deborah Martin
Part of the Global Cinema book series (GLOBALCINE)


Fernando Pérez’s biopic José Martí: el ojo del canario (2010, Cuba) deals with the Cuban independence hero’s childhood and youth and is an homage to the place of childhood in Martí’s own thought. It focalises a crucial period in the country’s history—the abolition of slavery and the beginning of the independence struggles—through the eyes of a child, here the young José Martí. This chapter examines the symbolic and discursive interconnections between the film’s depictions of Martí, childhood, and Cuba. It proposes several reasons why the director chooses to focus the film on Martí’s childhood, rather than his adult life: to allow for the humanization and de-iconization of a national hero; to privilege the association between childhood and political insight which was common in Romantic thought, thus evoking the intellectual tendencies of the era depicted; and to invest its representation of nation, and its commentary on contemporary political change in Cuba with the sense of futurity and potentiality traditionally associated with the (male) child. The chapter argues that Martí-as-child protagonist has a special claim on the interiority of contemporary Cuban audiences because of the close affinity that the Cuban state has forged between schoolchildren and the figure of Martí since 1959 through its educational practices. Like many child films, José Martí involves a conversation between past and present selves (Lury in The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairytales. I.B. Tauris, London, 2010a), through its facilitating of dialogue between contemporary spectators and (on the one hand) the historical figure, as well as (on the other) their former selves. This double appeal to the spectator’s own childhood (through the figure of Martí and through the identification with the child protagonist, with whose gaze we are aligned and whose acts of witnessing we share), is also bound up with a sense of loss and nostalgia regarding both Martí and twentieth-century Cuban socialism, perhaps accounts for the extreme emotional reactions of many local audiences on viewing the film. The chapter ends by considering ways in which Pérez’s film resignifies the figure of Martí in relation to issues of contemporary progressive politics, including gender and sexuality.


  1. Althusser, Louis. 1971. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Translated by Ben Brewster. London: National Library Board.Google Scholar
  2. Bazin, André. 2005 [1967]. What Is Cinema? vol. I. Translated by Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bejel, Emilio. 2011. ‘José Martí: el ojo del canario: cine, fotografía y duelo de una mirada.’ In Jose Marti: el ojo del canario, Un filme de Fernando Pérez, edited by Carlos Velazco, 168–89. Havana: Ediciones ICAIC.Google Scholar
  4. Bejel, Emilio. 2012. José Martí: Images of Memory and Mourning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  5. Casavantes Bradford, Anita. 2014. The Revolution Is for the Children: The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami 19591962. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  6. Deleuze, Gilles. 2005b [1989]. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  7. Foner, Philip S. 1979. ‘Introduction.’ In Articles on Educational Theory and Pedagogy, and Writings for Children from the Age of Gold, edited by José Martí and translated by Elinor Randall, 11–33. New York and London: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  8. García Marruz, Fina. 1969. ‘La edad de oro.’ In Temas Martianos, edited by Cintio Vitier and Fina García Marruz, 292–304. Havana: Biblioteca Nacional José Martí.Google Scholar
  9. Hayward, Susan. 1996. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Hemelryk Donald, Stephanie, et al. 2017. ‘Introduction: Nation, Film, Child.’ In Childhood and Nation in Contemporary World Cinemas: Borders and Encounters, edited by Stephanie Hemelryk Donald et al., 1–11. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  11. Hernández Chiroldes, J. Alberto. 1983. Los Versos sencillos de José Martí: análisis crítico. Miami: Ediciones Universal.Google Scholar
  12. Jones, Owain. 2007. ‘Idylls and Othernesses: Childhood and Rurality in Film.’ In Cinematic Countrysides, edited Robert Fish, 177–94. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Jordanova, Ludmilla. 1990. ‘New Worlds for Children in the Eighteenth Century: Problems of Historical Explanation.’ History of the Human Sciences 3, no. 1: 69–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kapcia, Antoni. 2005. ‘Educational Revolution and Revolutionary Morality in Cuba: The “New Man”, Youth and the New “Battle of Ideas”.’ Journal of Moral Education 34, no. 4: 399–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kelleher, Joe. 1998. ‘Face to Face with Terror: Children in Film.’ In Children in Culture: Approaches to Childhood, edited by Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, 29–54. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lury, Karen. 2010. The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairytales. London. I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  17. MacDougall, David. 2006. The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography and the Senses. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Martí, José. 1979 [1889]. La edad de oro. Havana: Editorial Gente Nueva.Google Scholar
  19. Martí, José. 1996 [1873] Diarios de campaña, edited by Mayra Beatriz Martínez and Froilán Escobar. La Habana: Casa Editora Abril.Google Scholar
  20. Martí, José. 1999. Ismaelillo, Versos libres, Versos sencillos. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra.Google Scholar
  21. Martí, José. 2000. Versos sencillos: A Dual Language Edition. Translated by Anne Fountain. Jefferson: McFarland.Google Scholar
  22. Mennell, Jan. 2008. ‘Dreaming the Cuban Nation: Fernando Pérez’s Madagascar.’ Canadian Journal of Latin American and Carribbean Studies 33, no. 66: 80–107.Google Scholar
  23. Montero, Oscar. 2004. José Martí: An Introduction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pérez Betancourt, Rolando. 2011. ‘José Martí: el ojo del canario.’ In Jose Marti: el ojo del canario, Un filme de Fernando Pérez, edited by Carlos Velazco, 123–25. Havana: Ediciones ICAIC.Google Scholar
  25. Pérez, Fernando. 2011. ‘José Martí: el ojo del canario narrada como un cuento [argumento].’ In Jose Marti: el ojo del canario, Un filme de Fernando Pérez, edited by Carlos Velazco, 28–68. Havana: Ediciones ICAIC.Google Scholar
  26. Plotz, Judith. 2001. Romanticism and the Vocation of Childhood. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  27. Quiroz, Alfonso. 2006. ‘Martí in Cuban Schools.’ In The Cuban Republic and José Martí: Reception and Use of a National Symbol, edited by Mauricio Font and Alfonso Quiroz, 71–81. Lanham: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  28. Ramos, Julio. 2000. Divergent Modernities: Culture and Politics in 19th Century Latin America. Translated by John D. Blanco. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ramos, Julio. 2013. ‘Las paradojas del cine independiente en Cuba: entrevistas a Fernando Pérez, Dean Luis Reyes y Claudia Calviño.’ Imagofagia 8. Accessed 2 March 2018.
  30. Rojas, Rafael. 2006. ‘“Otro gallo cantaría”: Essay on the First Cuban Republicanism.’ In The Cuban Republic and José Martí: Reception and Use of a National Symbol, edited by Mauricio Font and Alfonso Quiroz, 7–17. Lanham: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  31. Sánchez, Jorge Luis. 2011. ‘¿Ver a un héroe a través del ojo del canario?’ In Jose Marti: el ojo del canario, Un filme de Fernando Pérez, edited by Carlos Velazco, 69–91. Havana: Ediciones ICAIC.Google Scholar
  32. Shaw, Deborah. 2003. Contemporary Cinema of Latin America: Ten Key Films. New York: Continuum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stubbs, Jonathan. 2013. Historical Film: A Critical Introduction. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  34. Wilson, Emma. 2005. ‘Children, Emotion and Viewing in Contemporary European Film.’ Screen 46, no. 3: 329–40.Google Scholar


  1. Artigas: la redota. 2011. Dir. César Charlone. Uruguay: Wanda Films, TVE.Google Scholar
  2. Diarios de motocicleta. 2004. Dir. Walter Salles. Argentina, USA, Chile, Peru, Brazil, UK, Germany, France: Film Four, Wildwood Enterprises, Tu Vas Voir Productions.Google Scholar
  3. Fresa y chocolate. 1993. Dirs. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio. Cuba, Mexico, Spain, USA: ICAIC, IMCINE, TeleMadrid.Google Scholar
  4. José Martí: el ojo del canario. 2010. Dir. Fernando Pérez. Cuba, Spain: ICAIC, TVE.Google Scholar
  5. La vida es silbar. 1998. Dir. Fernando Pérez. Cuba, Spain: ICAIC, Wanda Films.Google Scholar
  6. Madagascar. 1994. Dir. Fernando Pérez. Cuba: ICAIC.Google Scholar
  7. Revolución: el cruce de los Andes. 2011. Dirs. Tristan Bauer and Leandro Ipiña. Argentina, Spain: TVE, TV Pública.Google Scholar
  8. Suite Habana. 2003. Dir. Fernando Pérez. Cuba: ICAIC, Wanda Visión S.A.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deborah Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American StudiesUniversity College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations