City of God is the dramatic and eventful true story of a budding young photographer who grew up on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, streets where police rarely go, and residents are lucky if they live to the age of 20.
Each week inspiring documentaries and films about different social struggle from around the world and the resistance to them. Making the link between what is happening on our own very door step and uniting ourselves with those who are struggling to keep their culture & traditions, all over the
Rumoured film for next week La Haine.
Everything 4 Everyone, 4 Dalston Lane, Dalston (opposite the Peace Mural). Nearest train Dalston Kingsland.
It's not such an odd idea. Many people have believed that black people are subhuman and produced slave societies, colonies, and apartheid as a result. There is nothing in the film that fascists, imperialist and people who support racial apartheid would have any difficulty with.
Indeed, fascism is important to police in Rio, who kill street children. Yet, if street children were anything like those in City of God, many respectable Brazilians would not care. And there you have it - if the film accurately depicts poor and black people in Brazil, then Brazil should institute apartheid.
The filmmakers themselves say they don't want to explain the pathology they depict. They say all they want to do is show it and allow the favela to speak for itself. It was not just the Institute of Ideas that could not work out how the film explained the pathology.
Sight and Sound reviewer, Paul Julian Smith says: "And Meirelles (the director) has no political agenda to rub in the audience's face; more subtly, like Scorsese, he takes us so far into the characters' world that we, like they, can imagine no life outside this inner circle of hell."
Most people outside South America don't know how film there has evolved. Film was part of Third Cinema, an anti-Hollywood cinema. Dominated by left-wing white people (black people didn't get much of a look in), it addressed serious political, social and economic issues. If Hollywood was escapism, Third Cinema was political realism.
This has changed. Filmmakers are now into 'imperfect cinema'. This is cinema with Hollywood aesthetics and aspirations but without its technical and other finesse. City of God was this 'imperfect cinema'. If people thought it sought to address the causes behind poverty and crime, they were seeing things. And the idea that it was telling middle class Brazilians something they didn't know -i.e. poverty and crime in the ghetto - is, frankly, silly. They know it full well, they blame the poor, and they want them kept away from them.
Meirelles has been two-faced. He has publicly rejected the need to explain the violence and depicts young people as naturally violent. Indeed, he ends his film with boys killing other boys in order to control the drugs trade. If this is a message of hope or a plea for change then I'm a donkey. He then comes to Britain and claims he wants to shock middle-class Brazil, reject violent methods to control the favela and urges that poor people should get more opportunities. Why didn't he say any of this in his film? The concern he shows in Britain is just good marketing.
Racism in Brazil
Many people inside and outside Brazil believe this myth of the country being a racially integrated society. Part of the problem of racism is its acceptance by black people.
A social scientist, Rosemary Gund, (Not black & white, http://members.fortunecity.com/dikigoros/notblack.htm) says that a recent major study about race in Brazil showed that about 48% of interviewed blacks agreed with such statement as "Good blacks have white souls". A black person's analysis of racism in Brazil can be confused by the confusion of black Brazilians. Black people may end up thinking, "oh, it's not that bad".
She also says: "Besides all this reconfirmation that the black individuals are at the margin of the Brazilian society, Folha's research has revealed that the great majority of blacks and mulattos denied having ever been victims of discrimination."
The most complete scientific-journalistic study about racism is Brazil was conducted just last year by the major newspaper Folha de São Paulo and the Institute of Research Datafolha. Some of the results were very surprising: while 89% of Brazilians said they believe there is racism in the society, only 10% admitted they were prejudiced; but 87% manifested some sort of prejudice by agreeing with racist statements or admitting having had discriminatory behavior in the past.
Some analysts who accept Brazil is racist reject the notion of apartheid and believe explicit expression of anger and hate toward black people is rare. Instead, they say 'Brazilian apartheid reveals itself more at the economic level.'
Even so there are alarming cases. Gund repeats a true story: "The young black boy Luciano Soares Ribeiro who was run over by a BMW in the South of Brazil and the driver refused to help him because he assumed Ribeiro had stolen the bike he was riding. When finally taken to the hospital, the doctor refused to help him because they thought he would not be able to pay for the hospital bills. Ribeiro ended up dying with the receipt for the bike in his pocket."
There is, nonetheless, a growing civil rights movement in Brazil. And even if many black and white people were duped by City of God, there are black media workers in Brazil who were not. According a white person I met who lives in Brazil, they have been very critical of the film.
It's about time black people and liberals dropped this idea that Brazil is a happy-go-lucky, everyone's free and easy kind of place.
There is at least one liberal, a writer of LA Weekly's review of the film, who wasn't fooled:
“True, he gives us a punchy tabloid sense of the self-contained favela world, with its grinding poverty, run-amok children and brutally corrupt cops. But rather than coming to understand the texture of daily life there - Where are the mothers? Where are the people who work for a living? - we get the romanticized gangster version that makes every moment climactic. To judge from City of God, you'd think that dozens of people had been slaughtered there every day back in the '70s, when the reality, though terrible, wasn't nearly so violent. Then as now, the true horror of Cidade de Deus was that of poverty's daily grind, and the inhabitants' hopeless awareness that the ruling elite has simply written them off. Theirs was a world of need, boredom and fear - punctuated, to be sure, by spasms of violence.
Meirelles knows all this, yet he probably thought he needed melodramatic hyperbole to win over his audience's hearts and minds. Too often, though, he aims even lower. Few things could be more viscerally wrenching than when Li'l Zé sticks a gun in the hand of 10-year-old Steak & Fries, points to two small weeping boys and orders him to shoot the child of his choice. It's an upsetting scene, yet its most disturbing feature may be the shameless way Meirelles works us over. Indeed, for all its pretense to social significance, City of God is essentially a tarted-up exploitation picture whose business is to make ghastly things fun. Early on, when the young Li'l Zé (known then as Li'l Dice) guns down innocent guests at a love hotel, his delight is presented so glamorously that there's little doubt the filmmakers are getting off on the violence, too. (Of course, it's hard to get too huffy about a Brazilian director doing this when I live in a city that has taught the world so many different ways to turn killing into entertainment.)”
Straight Outta Ipanema
Revelation versus exploitation in City of God
by John Powers
JANUARY 17 - 23, 2003