More thoughts on Kordavision

I wanted to add a few more thoughts about the film Kordavision that Val, Robert and I went to see at FIU yesterday. There was a part of the film where they talked about a famous photograph that Korda took called La niña de la muñeca de palo or The girl with the doll made of wood. This was after fidel had assumed power and Korda had become a “revolutionary” photographer. The explanation Korda gives in the film is that he saw the girl and approached her. He saw that she was scared of him so he stopped some 3-4 meters from her and then snapped this picture.


The photograph became a very powerful image. Korda says in the film that the idea that there were little girls in Cuba who didn’t have dolls and had to make due with a log deeply saddened him and reaffirmed his committment to the Revolution. As I heard those words I immediately thought “As if all the little girls in Cuba have dolls today, 48 years later, pft!” The legend of the picture grows because Korda claims that as a result of the revolution the girl was able to get an education and become a nurse before she died of an “incurable disease” in her early 20s.

If you do a google image search for “Cuban Kids” or “Niños Cubanos” you’ll see photos that fall into two categories: smiling kids wearing their “pioneer uniforms” or smiling shirtless, shoeless kids. Maybe they are playing stickball with a branch and a rock wrapped in tape. The kids are smiling because, well because they are kids and they don’t know they are poor.


48 years later and all of the promises of the Revolution remain unfulfilled. In Cuba there is equality. Scarcity is spread equally among the masses of people that aren’t fortunate enough to rank high enough to have some minimal perks or to have relatives outside the country that send them cash. It’s all equal you see, but to paraphrase Orwell, some people are more equal than others. I wonder if the woman who was once that little girl in the sad photo died of an “incurable disease” or because the great equal healthcare she received wasn’t as good as the kind that the dying tyrant has had to preserve his well being all of these years.

24 thoughts on “More thoughts on Kordavision”

  1. Before the Revolution, Cuba used to make the most beautiful and prized dolls in the world, and no Cuban child was without a toy at Christmas. In fact, by the 1950s, Cuban children were receiving gifts from Santa Claus on Dec. 25 and from the Three Kings on Jan. 6.

    The child in the photograph was well-fed (look at her arms) and decently dressed. But a few strategic smudges and the log from somebody’s faux fireplace — and, of course, Korda’s “artistry” — turned her into a photographic icon.

    My opinion of Korda is even lower today than it was yesterday. To become an instrument for the aggrandizement of henchmen is bad enough, but to use children for propaganda purposes is nothing less than child abuse.

  2. This reminds me of a phrase from one of his early speeches; full of false promises, he said, “Cuban mothers would not cry for their sons”

    That was of course followed by the executions, the exile, and the enslavement and indoctrination of the population. Korda sold his soul to the devil.

  3. OK, long time reader, non-poster. The picture of the little girl with the wooden doll is totally heartbreaking. The little girl’s eyes just speak volumes. Great post. Been living here all my life so I don’t know much about life in Cuba, other than my parents and grandparents stories. But certain pictures make you “feel it”.

  4. Korda’s intent in taking this picture was to show that life was terrrible for Cuba’s children before Castro. As I’ve already explained, the picture is a fake. Ironically, the message of desolation that it strives to convey, although it does not apply to pre-1959 Cuba, is certainly applicable to post-1959 Cuba.

  5. It’s a beautiful picture but as Manuel said the girl looks well fed, she has baby fat. Certainly not the flacos that we see on the pictures of Cuban kids today. Also the fact that the girl played with a wooden log doesn’t mean she had no toys. We all played with different things we found around our house and imagined one thing was something else. Playing “light sabers” with sticks or with metal rods or flourescent tubes (God forbid). That thing about her not having a doll might be a convenient explanation.

    The girl is wide-eyed which adds to the drama. But that’s capturing an expression that she may have had for exactly half a second. In Korda’s own words she seemed afraid of him. Of course here is a big stranger with a device (camera) walking toward you. The girl may have been laughing or smiling immediately before and afterwards.

    In that sense it’s really hard to read into the picture what Korda wants us to read into it.

  6. A blogger on some other blog likes to celebrate his “idyllic” childhood in Communist Cuba. He is especially fond of his years in Fidel Castro’s child labor brigades, which he joined, like all Cuban children, at age 12. His favorite line is: “Cuban children also smile.” Of course they do: they don’t know any better, but he should.

    I should like to see Cuban children smiling because their stomachs are full; because they can drink as much milk as they want and not be deprived of it after age 7; because they can play after school rather than be yoked like oxen; because they can enjoy the human dignity that all men, and especially all children, are entitled to.

  7. I’m betting that the little girl in the photo, now in her late 40s, is in the U.S. right now. If we could only find her!

  8. Apparently, she is in fact dead. The film crew went to her family home and spoke with her father and sister. She married young and died young. They showed pictures of her as a young adult. I think it would be too easy to disprove if she were alive.

  9. I hate that SOB Castro, so this isn’t about him. But not having a doll is not the worst thing in the world. The poverty it might imply, yes. The lack of a doll itself, no.

    I was in Peru and saw children with no toys. I said something about it to my mother, who grew up not hungry but not even near middle class on a Wisconsin farm with six siblings. (No indoor plumbing, no phone, etc.) “That poor little girl had no doll!” I said indignantly.

    She shrugged. “Maybe she has real babies to play with. I did.”

  10. Early when we met, my wife told me how when she was young, from an early age she had to work on her parents farm. She didn’t have as much time to play because for a long time she was an only child and the other kids had run off by the time she was done helping her mom. She made dolls out of all sorts of stuff. They were poor and she told me how there was this specific doll that was popular at the time, and she wanted one but her parents could not afford it. Her mom made her one from old rags and socks and towels, buttons for the eyes, you get the idea. To this day this doll is still in our room. She has this picture that looks alot like the one shown. What you say about ‘imagination’ is true. She said that when she got her doll, even though it wasn’t the popular one, to her it was ‘prettier’ and all. I dunno, I just liked the post. thanks Henry.

  11. Henry:

    One must wonder what she died of. Maybe Communist medicine was responsible for her early death. If they can kill “El Máximo” himself, then every “natural” death that has occurred in Cuba in the last 48 years is also suspect. I am not alleging that she was killed on purpose but she may well have been a victim of the system that exploited her innocence.

  12. I don’t think she was intentionally killed. I think she either did die of an incurable disease because of negligence on the part of her doctors. The point is that we’ll never know. Fidel lived to 80 before communist medicine caught up with him. He was lucky.

  13. Propaganda for a dictator? Of course. Lots of kids in rags with no toys today? Obvious. Lots of kids in rags with no toys in the countryside before 1959? Plenty.

  14. Mamey:

    I see you are still fighting with the past and trying to degrade it so that it can be compared to today’s hell. Fortunately we are not all dead who saw the truth with our own eyes.

    Even the poorest guajiro in Cuba could still afford 50 cents to buy his little girl a doll, and you can be sure he did.

  15. Henry:

    Some day in a free Cuba that little girl’s parents will be interviewed again, and this time not under duress. And they are sure to bring out from the closet, carefully wrapped in newspaper, their late daughters dolls, which they have saved in her memory.

    The truth can be suppressed for a time but not forever.

  16. No Manuel. There’s plenty wrong with today’s Cuba and in no way do I bring up the past in order to give the present regime any pass at all. I think in some of your previous comments you have indicated that U.S. interventions in Cuba’s history have had a nefarious impact on the development of our nation. That does not imply, I’m sure you would agree, that the current dictatorship is in any way justified, right?
    When I was a child I used to accompany my grandmother to the countryside on some ocassions when I visited her in Cienfuegos. The purpose was to take used clothing and toys to very poor peasants. I saw plenty of dirt poor farmers in the hills near Manicaragua, Cumanayagua, etc. And no, these people did not have enough money to buy a 50 cent doll for their children. Ignoring or fabricating actual conditions among many of the poor back then is dishonest. Acknowledging said conditions in no way makes me or anyone else a supporter of the dictatorship that began in 1959. I lived in a very nice part of Havana, and had I not had these charitable excursions with my grandmother, I would not have such memories or thoughts.

  17. Mamey:

    My recollections, then, are at variance with yours, and I apologize if I was too quick to judge you. However, may I note that your grandmother brought dolls to these doll-less peasants, which meant that these little girls did have dolls after all, thanks to your grandmother’s generosity. And I am sure that your grandmother was not alone in her generosity.

    As for U.S. interventions, something which all true patriots must decry, they did not in any way impoverish our country or hinder our economic growth. They were an assault on our national dignity but did not entail slavery or bloodletting, as Soviet intervention did. I think we can both agree on that.

  18. Okay, aqui no ha pasado nada. I look forward to the day our island is free, sovereign, and truly independent.

  19. I just noticed this, talk about exploitation; doesn’t it look like this little girl is wearing lipstick? The bastards!

  20. Ziva:

    A very good point, which had escaped my attention. Fashion photographers (like Korda) did once use a kind of blue lipstick to make the lips glow in b&w photography (as cameramen also did in the early days of b&w television). Of course, since Korda is a man, he didn’t do a very good job of applying the lipstick on the child thus betraying his ruse.

    This revelation is very important and pretty much makes the case that this was a staged photograph.

  21. I agree Manuel, it is staged. She’s a little too beautiful, too pouting, artfully dirt & tear smudged, with painted lips and hair that looks almost professionally coiffed. I wonder how many little girls they looked at before choosing her. And I hate to say, I wonder if her parents were rewarded for having such child of the revolution. It’s sickening, there is no bottom to the depth these brutes were willing to sink in their evil scheme to manipulate and abuse society.

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