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Brazil Bringing to the Screens a Revisionist History of the Country

Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil), from 1964, was directed by Gláuber Rocha and stars Othon Bastos

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration is embarking on a project of cultural and historical revision. In September, the Cinemateca Brasileira, Brazil’s library of national films, was “occupied” by military and extreme-right politicians who criticized the institution’s “cultural Marxism” and promised a future film festival devoted to rehabilitating the image of the country’s military dictatorship.

Also in September, Ancine, Brazil’s national film development agency, saw its funding suddenly cut by nearly one half. Former Minister of Culture Marcelo Calero pointed out that all countries must invest in creative as well as scientific development, and that “these are measures that have a very strong ideological component.”

The Brazilian Association of Documentary and Short Filmmakers (ABD) issued a statement in which they declared that in view of the occupation of the Cinemateca and the Ancine cuts, the country’s film community was being “violated materially and symbolically by far-right activists.”

This week, the government announced the creation of a new video series under the aegis of TV Escola (TV School) entitled “Brazil: The Last Crusade” in which “the hidden history of Brazil will be revealed.” Production company Brasil Paralelo (Parallel Brazil) vows to “combat leftist ideas” with the series, whose first episodes can be seen for free on Youtube. Future segments will be available on a pay-per-view basis.

The first video opens with what producers imply is the false narrative of Brazil, with images of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, long lines and crime. Then drone shots of monuments, churches, and skyscrapers are juxtaposed with stacks of books and talking heads. Conspiracy theorist Olavo de Carvalho, who contests that the earth is round and claims Pepsi is sweetened by aborted fetuses, is prominently featured.

This week, Carvalho demeaned both the former president and another Brazilian humanitarian of humble origins when he commented on the author of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”: “What did Paulo Freire ever do for Brazil? Not a damn thing. He didn’t even teach Lula how to read.”

One of the missions of the Cinemateca is the preservation and continued distribution of the works of one of the most remarkable periods in the history of filmmaking, the Cinema Novo, a movement that began in the mid 1950s.

Influenced by Italian neo realism, “God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun” presented in the US as “Black God, White Devil” (Gláuber Rocha, 1964) starkly depicts the desperate and violent history of the inland northeast, the desert region known as the sertão. Afro-Brazilian mystics and mestiço bandits, known as “cangaceiros”, battle ruthless landowners to survive the extreme drought.

Rocha was forced into exile by the military dictatorship for ten years, only returning when he was transferred from a Portuguese hospital with a lung infection, dying days later at 42.

“How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman” (1971), by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, was filmed almost entirely in the Tupi language and satirizes the literal cannibalism of the Tupinamba people and the imperialist cannibalism committed by Europeans in the Americas. The Tupinamba may have eaten the Frenchman but they were later decimated by colonialism.

In “Bye, Bye Brasil” (1979, Carlos Diegues), a carnival caravan struggles to find an audience in a seemingly deserted town, finally happening upon a crowd gathered around a television set.

As the traveling show continues to move in search of better prospects, they witness the death and destruction of the wilderness at the hands of industrialists. After meeting a group of indigenous people driven from their ancestral lands, the women of the circus are forced into prostitution in order to earn money.

Ultimately the indigenous people are delighted to get their first airplane ride as they are recruited as laborers, and the circus leaders buy a splashy caravan covered in neon lights with their new money, declaring that they are changing course and going to bring modernity to what’s left of the jungle.

“Pixote” (1981, Héctor Babenco) and “City of God” (2002, Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund) are brutal explorations of the lives of street children forced to adapt to the endemic violence of the enormous shantytowns that cling to the hills above or reside on the peripheries of São Paulo, Rio and Brazil’s other major cities.

Both films used non-professional actors, as Gláuber Rocha did in the 1960s, drawn from the cities where homeless children are “cleansed” or killed by the police. The documentary “City of God – 10 Years Later” revisits the protagonists of that film and finds that many were unable to escape the problems.

“Central Station” (1998, Walter Salles) follows a retired teacher and an orphaned boy living in the railway station on an odyssey across the vast expanse of Brazil by bus and truck. The teacher first sells the boy to an organ trader in order to buy a television, but then remorsefully decides to steal him back and take him from Rio de Janeiro to Bahia on a search for his family.

Fernanda Montenegro, now 90, who played the retiree, was pictured on the September cover of Brazilian magazine “Quatro Cinco Um” covered in heavy rope atop a stack of books, in an obvious reference to witch and book burning. She was called “sordid” and “liar” by failing conservative Christian director Roberto Alvim, who in November was named Minister of Culture by Bolsonaro.

While Brazil’s commercial telenovelas (soap operas) almost exclusively focus on wealth and riches, mostly populated with actors of European descent, the films supported by Ancine and the Cinemateca explore the plurality and reality of Brazil employing uniquely Brazilian innovations.

Brazil had a long history of censorship during the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985, and the U.S. had an overt period of censorship of the arts a few years earlier. Brazilian multi-media artist Vik Muniz, who lives and works between New York and Rio, warns that Bolsonaro, or Trump in the U.S., are not the only ones to blame. “You have to understand that we elected these people,” he points out. “Whether you like it or not, [they] represent the bulk of the people.”

But that bulk of people are not homogeneous, nor are they inhabiting the neighborhoods glorified in “The Last Crusade”. The new United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), which came out this month of December, places Brazil in second place among the most unequal countries in the world, with more than 28% of the nation’s wealth concentrated in the hands of a mere 1% of the population.

By focusing on describing only the richest in Brazil, Bolsonaro is ignoring the vast majority of the country, and the richness of their diverse stories.

Danica Jorden is a writer and translator of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

This article appeared originally in Common Dreams – https://www.commondreams.org/

 

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It seems the future never arrives in Brazil What Lies Ahead in Brazil? Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country? Europeans, US, developed country, developing country. Bolsonaro, future B. Michael Rubin For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country is one simple way to measure its economic development. Another way to measure a country's progress is the extent of public education, e.g. how many citizens complete high school. A country's health may be measured by the effectiveness of its healthcare system, for example, life expectancy and infant mortality. With these measurement tools, it's easier to gauge the difference between a country like Brazil and one like the U.S. What's not easy to gauge is how these two countries developed so differently when they were both "discovered" at the same time. In 1492 and 1500 respectively, the U.S. and Brazil fell under the spell of white Europeans for the first time. While the British and Portuguese had the same modus operandi, namely, to exploit their discoveries for whatever they had to offer, not to mention extinguishing the native Americans already living there if they got in the way, the end result turned out significantly different in the U.S. than in Brazil. There are several theories on how/why the U.S. developed at a faster pace than Brazil. The theories originate via contrasting perspectives – from psychology to economics to geography. One of the most popular theories suggests the divergence between the two countries is linked to politics, i.e. the U.S. established a democratic government in 1776, while Brazil's democracy it could be said began only in earnest in the 1980s. This theory states that the Portuguese monarchy, as well as the 19th and 20th century oligarchies that followed it, had no motivation to invest in industrial development or education of the masses. Rather, Brazil was prized for its cheap and plentiful labor to mine the rich soil of its vast land. There is another theory based on collective psychology that says the first U.S. colonizers from England were workaholic Puritans, who avoided dancing and music in place of work and religious devotion. They labored six days a week then spent all of Sunday in church. Meanwhile, the white settlers in Brazil were unambitious criminals who had been freed from prison in Portugal in exchange for settling in Brazil. The Marxist interpretation of why Brazil lags behind the U.S. was best summarized by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, in 1970. Galeano said five hundred years ago the U.S. had the good fortune of bad fortune. What he meant was the natural riches of Brazil – gold, silver, and diamonds – made it ripe for exploitation by western Europe. Whereas in the U.S., lacking such riches, the thirteen colonies were economically insignificant to the British. Instead, U.S. industrialization had official encouragement from England, resulting in early diversification of its exports and rapid development of manufacturing. II Leaving this debate to the historians, let us turn our focus to the future. According to global projections by several economic strategists, what lies ahead for Brazil, the U.S., and the rest of the world is startling. Projections forecast that based on GDP growth, in 2050 the world's largest economy will be China, not the U.S. In third place will be India, and in fourth – Brazil. With the ascendency of three-fourths of the BRIC countries over the next decades, it will be important to reevaluate the terms developed and developing. In thirty years, it may no longer be necessary to accept the label characterized by Nelson Rodrigues's famous phrase "complexo de vira-lata," for Brazil's national inferiority complex. For Brazilians, this future scenario presents glistening hope. A country with stronger economic power would mean the government has greater wealth to expend on infrastructure, crime control, education, healthcare, etc. What many Brazilians are not cognizant of are the pitfalls of economic prosperity. While Brazilians today may be envious of their wealthier northern neighbors, there are some aspects of a developed country's profile that are not worth envying. For example, the U.S. today far exceeds Brazil in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses, and mass shootings. GDP growth and economic projections depend on multiple variables, chief among them the global economic situation and worldwide political stability. A war in the Middle East, for example, can affect oil production and have global ramifications. Political stability within a country is also essential to its economic health. Elected presidents play a crucial role in a country's progress, especially as presidents may differ radically in their worldview. The political paths of the U.S. and Brazil are parallel today. In both countries, we've seen a left-wing regime (Obama/PT) followed by a far-right populist one (Trump/Bolsonaro), surprising many outside observers, and in the U.S. contradicting every political pollster, all of whom predicted a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Brazil, although Bolsonaro was elected by a clear majority, his triumph has created a powerful emotional polarization in the country similar to what is happening in the U.S. Families, friends, and colleagues have split in a love/hate relationship toward the current presidents in the U.S. and Brazil, leaving broken friendships and family ties. Both presidents face enormous challenges to keep their campaign promises. In Brazil, a sluggish economy just recovering from a recession shows no signs of robust GDP growth for at least the next two years. High unemployment continues to devastate the consumer confidence index in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is suffering under his campaign boasts that his Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, has all the answers to fix Brazil's slump. Additionally, there is no end to the destruction caused by corruption in Brazil. Some experts believe corruption to be the main reason why Brazil has one of the world's largest wealth inequality gaps. Political corruption robs government coffers of desperately needed funds for education and infrastructure, in addition to creating an atmosphere that encourages everyday citizens to underreport income and engage in the shadow economy, thereby sidestepping tax collectors and regulators. "Why should I be honest about reporting my income when nobody else is? The politicians are only going to steal the tax money anyway," one Brazilian doctor told me. While Bolsonaro has promised a housecleaning of corrupt officials, this is a cry Brazilians have heard from every previous administration. In only the first half-year of his presidency, he has made several missteps, such as nominating one of his sons to be the new ambassador to the U.S., despite the congressman's lack of diplomatic credentials. A June poll found that 51 percent of Brazilians now lack confidence in Bolsonaro's leadership. Just this week, Brazil issued regulations that open a fast-track to deport foreigners who are dangerous or have violated the constitution. The rules published on July 26 by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro define a dangerous person as anyone associated with terrorism or organized crime, in addition to football fans with a violent history. Journalists noted that this new regulation had coincidental timing for an American journalist who has come under fire from Moro for publishing private communications of Moro's. Nevertheless, despite overselling his leadership skills, Bolsonaro has made some economic progress. With the help of congressional leader Rodrigo Maia, a bill is moving forward in congress for the restructuring of Brazil's generous pension system. Most Brazilians recognize the long-term value of such a change, which can save the government billions of dollars over the next decade. At merely the possibility of pension reform, outside investors have responded positively, and the São Paulo stock exchange has performed brilliantly, reaching an all-time high earlier this month. In efforts to boost the economy, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes have taken the short-term approach advocated by the Chicago school of economics championed by Milton Friedman, who claimed the key to boosting a slugging economy was to cut government spending. Unfortunately many economists, such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, disagree with this approach. They believe the most effective way to revive a slow economy is exactly the opposite, to spend more money not less. They say the government should be investing money in education and infrastructure projects, which can help put people back to work. Bolsonaro/Guedes have also talked about reducing business bureaucracy and revising the absurdly complex Brazilian tax system, which inhibits foreign and domestic business investment. It remains to be seen whether Bolsonaro has the political acumen to tackle this Godzilla-sized issue. Should Bolsonaro find a way to reform the tax system, the pension system, and curb the most egregious villains of political bribery and kickbacks – a tall order – his efforts could indeed show strong economic results in time for the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, some prominent leaders have already lost faith in Bolsonaro's efforts. The veteran of political/economic affairs, Joaquim Levy, has parted company with the president after being appointed head of the government's powerful development bank, BNDES. Levy and Bolsonaro butted heads over an appointment Levy made of a former employee of Lula's. When neither man refused to back down, Levy resigned his position at BNDES. Many observers believe Bolsonaro's biggest misstep has been his short-term approach to fixing the economy by loosening the laws protecting the Amazon rainforest. He and Guedes believe that by opening up more of the Amazon to logging, mining, and farming, we will see immediate economic stimulation. On July 28, the lead article of The New York Times detailed the vastly increased deforestation in the Amazon taking place under Bolsonaro's leadership. Environmental experts argue that the economic benefits of increased logging and mining in the Amazon are microscopic compared to the long-term damage to the environment. After pressure from European leaders at the recent G-20 meeting to do more to protect the world's largest rainforest, Bolsonaro echoed a patriotic response demanding that no one has the right to an opinion about the Amazon except Brazilians. In retaliation to worldwide criticism, Bolsonaro threatened to follow Trump's example and pull out of the Paris climate accord; however, Bolsonaro was persuaded by cooler heads to retract his threat. To prove who was in control of Brazil's Amazon region, he appointed a federal police officer with strong ties to agribusiness as head of FUNAI, the country's indigenous agency. In a further insult to the world's environmental leaders, not to mention common sense, Paulo Guedes held a news conference on July 25 in Manaus, the largest city in the rainforest, where he declared that since the Amazon forest is known for being the "lungs" of the world, Brazil should charge other countries for all the oxygen the forest produces. Bolsonaro/Guedes also have promised to finish paving BR-319, a controversial highway that cuts through the Amazon forest, linking Manaus to the state of Rondônia and the rest of the country. Inaugurated in 1976, BR-319 was abandoned by federal governments in the 1980s and again in the 1990s as far too costly and risky. Environmentalists believe the highway's completion will seal a death knoll on many indigenous populations by vastly facilitating the growth of the logging and mining industries. Several dozen heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues invaded a Wajãpi village recently in the state of Amapá near the border of French Guiana and fatally stabbed one of the community's leaders. While Brazil's environmental protection policies are desperately lacking these days, not all the news here was bad. On the opening day of the 2019 Pan America Games in Lima, Peru, Brazilian Luisa Baptista, swam, biked, and ran her way to the gold medal in the women's triathlon. The silver medal went to Vittoria Lopes, another Brazilian. B. Michael Rubin is an American writer living in Brazil.

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