Note from BBT: Having followed for the long, difficult journey of Afro-Brazilian filmmakers for two decades, I feel a certain pride in seeing the progress that’s been made in relation to cinema negro (black cinema) in Brazil. I still remember thirteen years ago when actor Milton Gonçalves was told by a journalist that the film Filhas do Vento, with its 90% black cast, was at risk of being labeled “ghetto”. The Joel Zito Araújo film took home a number of awards at the 32th annual Gramado Film Festival that year. But these victories clearly didn’t mean that filmmaking would get any easier for Afro-Brazilians actors, actresses and filmmakers.
Afro-Brazilian film directors, lead actors and actresses are still a rarity in Brazil’s audiovidual market and, as you can note from that journalist’s comment, a film with a black majority cast is not seen in a favorable light. It’s funny, I still remember sitting in a movie theater in Salvador, Bahia, watching the 2002 blockbuster film Cidade de Deus (City of God) and being amazed at seeing the number of black actors in the cast. But then again, I shouldn’t have been. After all, the film told a story based in the slums about black kids who committed crimes to survive that would grow up to be major dope dealers in Rio’s Cidade de Deus neighborhood.
The Zé Pequeno character was crueler, more violent, trigger happy and murderous than a number of other black characters we’ve seen on the big screen including New Jack City’s Nino Brown, Menace II Society’s O-Dawg or Mouse from The Devil in the Blue Dress. But these are all characters that the masses don’t mind seeing on the big screen when we’re talking black lead or support characters. They play directly into the stereotype of the dangerous, violent black male. We can find these same images in Brazilian novelas and film as well. Well thought out, fully developed black characters? Well, that’s a little more difficult.
But then, we’ve always known that these types of characters would continue to be the norm for black representation on the big and small screen until more black directors would have the opportunity the showcase their talents. To be sure, it’s not necessarily a problem seeing black characters as the criminal elements in film and TV, after all, they DO exist. The problem comes in when these are the only images we see of black people.
With the rise of a number of talented black Brazilian filmmakers, I’m happy to say that this is slowly beginning to change. Really slow, but there has been enough change that it’s really necessary to discuss and dissect the noteworthy changes we are beginning to see.
André Novais and Glenda Nicácio are just two of the numerous up and coming Afro-Brazilians directors who have won awards for their critically-acclaimed work, while Grace Passô is being recognized as one of the country’s top actresses. Jeferson De has quietly directed a number of great films since appearing on the scene about two decades ago. His latest work, M8 – Quando a morte socorre a vida (When death rescues life), which was recently released on Netflix, was being considered to represent Brazil in the next Academy Awards.
Which brings me to the directorial debut of actor Lázaro Ramos that sounds like it’s gonna be huge. Early hype is calling the film Brazil’s Black Panther while one film festival says it is Brazil’s best film since City of God. As the film has to be released in Brazil, I can only go by what reviews have said and what I already know about the stage production of which the film is based.
I don’t even need any spoilers. Just knowing that the film is based on an idea that many of us are already familiar with in dealing with the “negro problem” in the Western world: shipping black people back to Africa. This is the response of an authoritarian Brazilian government after the demand for reparations due to black Brazilians due to a period of about 350 years of enslavement that only ended 133 years ago, in 1888. As the demand would cost the country billions, it comes up with a more radical solution.
Lest we forget, Brazil enslaved between 10-12 times more Africans than the United States between the 16th and 19th centuries. Although the discussion on reparations has been far more public in the United States, it is a discussion that is ongoing among a small circle of black lawyers in Brazil as well. When I read on more than a few sites that the black characters in the film resist this deportation attempt by forming sort of underground quilombo (maroon society) type bunkers to hide out, I was already sold on this film’s potential.
Of course we know that Brazil ultimately decided to convince black people themselves to mix with whites until they simply disappeared into whiteness, but either way, the objective is the same: rid the country of the black presence. Considering the whitening through mixture agenda and number of black bodies falling to the ground from everyday violence as well as the alarming number of murders by the police and one could say Brazil’s attempt at “disappearing” its black population is ongoing.
Executive Order brings an intriguing plot that most people would probably swear up and down would/could have never happened in much the same way that most Brazilians would never admit to being racist, which makes for an intriguing dichotomy. The very fact that this type of plot can even be featured speaks volumes for how the race issue is being discussed today in Brazil that was simply not possible just a few decades ago.
Critics are already impressed with the film and its stars and director are already doing print and YouTube interviews to hype up the film, as did actress Taís Araújo, director Ramos’s wife. The two arguably the topic black actor and actress in Brazil and have already worked together professionally in a number productions.
You can read the Araújo interview with Jamie Broadnax of BlackGirlNerds here. Below are a few more details about the film.
‘Executive Order’ is being hyped as best Brazilian film since City of God; plot surrounds Brazilian government attempting to deport blacks back to Africa
Courtesy of Bahia Notícias, Omelete and Hypeness
Medida Provisória, being released in English as Executive Order, is the debut of our dear and beloved Lázaro Ramos as a film director. The feature, starring Taís Araújo, is receiving acclaim on the independent circuit and, according to critics of the ‘Pan-African Film Festival’, is the best Brazilian film since Cidade de Deus (City of God)
The story of the film is as follows: in a not so distant dystopian future, the Brazilian government institutes a persecution against black citizens and forces them to migrate back to Africa in order to find their origins.
Great cast; even better narrative. Lázaro Ramos’ first feature is being critically acclaimed
Based on the play Namíbia, não!, The film features major actors such as Alfred Enoch (Harry Potter, How to Get Away with Murder), Taís Araújo, Seu Jorge, Renata Sorrah, Adriana Esteves, Mariana Xavier, rappers Emicida and Rincon Sapiência and a lot of other sensational people.
The dystopia that talks about racial tensions in Brazil has already won the award for ‘Best Screenplay’ at the ‘Memphis Film Festival’ and was shown at ‘SouthBySouthwest’ (SWSX), one of the most important art and technology events in the world. Executive Order was also nominated for ‘Best Film’ at the ‘Moscow Festival’.
Best film since City of God? Praise for script and big cast create anxiety for Lázaro Ramos debut as director
“Now that the film is reaching audiences in the United States and having such a good reception, it gives us a little breath to endure the time that we will still wait for Brazilian audiences to be able to see the film,” Lázaro told the column of journalist Leo Dias.
“All of this happened when you decided to conquest things by law, and not by merit”, says the character of Renata Sorrah in the exclusive scenes of the movie Medida Provisória (Executive Order), released on the panel of the feature on the Thunder stage at CCXP. The sentence shows some of the discussions that the film raises about equality and racial prejudice in Brazil.
“It was a transformative experience. To be able to tell this story, elaborating a new language that I think we have experienced little in Brazil. It is a film that mixes three genres: comedy, thriller and drama,” explained Lázaro during the panel.
The director also reinforced that he thinks the film will be able to provoke a great reflection in the public. In the scenes shown, this becomes clear when characters, after the announcement of the order, begin to discuss the racial issue in the country.
Actors Enoch, Araújo and Seu Jorge play a lawyer, a doctor and a journalist, respectively. The characters rebel against the government order and isolate themselves in an apartment, where they begin to discuss social issues.
For Taís, the representativeness shown in the film is extremely important.
“I think it is a provocation for those who are not used to seeing and entering the office and seeing a black doctor. I think it also serves to build an imaginary that already exists, there are many black doctors,” she said.
The actress’s character is named Capitu. And yes, it has everything to do with the famous figure created by writer Machado de Assis, since all the characters have names related to black history.
“This character of Capitu is a Brazil of the future. It’s a Brazil that we are in the battle to design. This film speaks of a Brazil with a future, it subtly says that in the future we will see the diaspora more present in different sectors,” said Seu Jorge.
According to Lázaro, throughout the film, the characters find different ways to fight. In fact, there was no lack of praise for the director
“I give this guy 20. He is an excellent conductor, he does what I think every dean should do: everyone is a fundamental part of any work that we do. He makes each professional feel fundamental, has the value that he/she really has,” said Taís.
“Medida was a very important achievement for us. In the sense of place, of space, of taking a position,” added Seu Jorge.
Lázaro gave thanks for the comments and stressed that he sees his film gain space also among the geek audience.
“He has this intention to inaugurate a style in our country. And who knows, a comic book?”, he concluded.
Film based on award-winning play
Order is inspired by the theatrical piece Namíbia, Não! by the Bahian Aldri Anunciação, whose text won the Braskem Theater Prize (2011) and became the winner of the Jabuti Prize in 2013
“For me it was very rewarding, it is a sign that it was worth it. The project started in 2012, so when I received this news, it was as if we had taken the correct step back there. It looks like a coronation of a thoughtful moment, planned at the beginning. We always have this false image that art happens without planning, but this news confirms that it is worthwhile for us to plan, to outline strategies and even a process of transmuting languages,” says the playwright.
Just like the play, which circulated all over Brazil and even won an English-language version that was shown in London, the film has the same motto, based on the hypothetical situation of a future in which the Brazilian government decrees that all citizens of “pronounced melanin” are deported to an African country.
Another point in common is the direction of Lázaro Ramos. Together with the author of the original work, the Bahian artist also wrote the script, which later had the collaboration of two other important names: Elísio Lopes Júnior and Lusa Silvestre. “There came a time, in 2014, when we started to feel lonely and think that we needed technical hands too, after all, it was about two writers writing their first script”, recalls Aldri, who decided to join the work of “Two first-time sailors” to that of two other “experienced” writers in “Provisional Measure”.
After having already moved from theater to literature, the idea of “transmuting” artistic languages again, taking history to the cinema, emerged within the project “Melanina Acentuada” (Enhanced Melanin), when “Namibia” was still on stage. “It was during a season that we did at the Teatro Eva Herz that we ventured to make a public consultation with the viewers about the possibility of a film,” recalls Aldri. It was also in this interaction between the audience and the author that the cinematographic work took its first contours.
If in the theater there were only the cousins André and Antônio – who, confined in an apartment for fear of the absurd executive order, discussed the situation of the black in the country and questioned the definitions of identity -, other figures mentioned in the play were incorporated onto the screen, including the one who would become the main character. “In this meeting in 2012, the protagonist of the film, Capitu, appears, who is the girlfriend of one of the two cousins. In this public consultation, she was the most talked about figure, everyone wanted to know where she was and what would have happened to her. And then in the script room, she ends up becoming the protagonist, so to speak, of this story,” says Aldri, about the character played by Taís Araújo in the film.
“The cousins are trapped there in the apartment and she [Capitu] was that great motto for us to take the viewer out of the cousins’ room, or out of the theater. In other words, this character determines exactly the migration of language, as she is outside that scenic space that we had created ”, explains the playwright, remembering that the film also shapes other figures mentioned in the play. “The characters that are outside of the scene, in this case, with recorded voices, like that of Wagner Moura, who was the Minister of Devolution, and the sociologist played by Ana Paula Bouza, all these characters we used in the film to give corporeality,” says the author.
Another strong point of transposing the theatrical work to the cinema will be the action scenes that in the play were only narrated or appeared in short videos. Whoever watched Namibia, Não! saw, for example, the departure for Africa of (journalist/host) Glória Maria – interpreted by actor Luis Miranda. In the film, the audience will follow narratives like this in a more realistic way. “[The spectator] will see, not the same figures, but others, and in a completely cinematic way. While in the play everything is very much in orality, there things happen. You will see these figures go away,” reveals Aldri, who besides being the author of the original work, responsible for the coproduction and script, also acts in the feature.
“We thought it would be too much for me to still be the protagonist, so I created another character for me, which is Ivan. He is a kind of revolutionary, who ends up creating a kind of ‘afrobrunkers’, he begins to bring together blacks in the city and in the country who don’t want to submit to the executive order that wants us to go back,” says the playwright. “To the extent that the return is compulsory, Ivan ends up being a subversive. He wants to subvert the executive order. It creates underground spaces to hide blacks who may not want to submit to this measure, creating a kind of ‘neo-quilombos’ underground. And creating the possibility of revolution so that this situation changes,” reveals the artist, giving a small spoiler of his participation in the film, which, besides him and Taís Araújo, also has Seu Jorge, Alfred Enoch, Adriana Esteves, Renata Sorrah in the cast, Mariana Xavier, Emicida, Hilton Cobra and Pablo Sanábio.
Initially scheduled to premiere in 2020, the film still has no date set to be released in Brazil. “Everything was happening according to what was programmed in 2012. Slow, but programmed steps. Now in this final moment – we just filmed in 2019 -, the release was expected to be exactly in 2020, but that’s when the pandemic came. And since then, it draws the predictions of everything in life,” points out Aldri Anunciação, who conditions the debut to the vaccination of all Brazilians.
“Our prediction is that as soon as everyone is vaccinated – I think it is more prudent to say that -, we will premiere in the cinema, because the idea is that we will premiere in the theater and not go to streaming yet. We think it is a displacement film, which proposes the departure of Afro-Brazilians back to Africa. It’s a film that stimulates this thing of movement, migration, identity that comes and goes, and we don’t consider it appropriate to show the film now in this moment of confinement. I think it has a very strong language power, just at that moment when we are freer because of the vaccine,” he explains.
Executive Order was produced by the producers Lereby Produções and Lata Filmes, co-produced by Globo Filmes and distributed by H2O. The executive production is courtesy of Mariza Figueiredo, photography is directed by Adrian Teijido, edited by Diana Vasconcellos, art directed by Tiago Marques and sound design and editing by Waldir Xavier.