Note from BW of Brazil: The years 2012 and 2017 made the 10th and 15th year anniversaries of the release of the film Cidade de Deus, released as City of God in the United States. The blockbuster became one of the biggest grossing films in the history of Brazilian Cinema and also one of the most successful outside of Brazil. The film earned four Oscar nominations in 2004 and captured various other film awards including Best Film and Best Director at the 2003 Grande Prêmio do Cinema Brasileiro. Other awards included New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the Toronto International Film festival, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards, the British Academy Film Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards among others. At the 2003 Grande Prêmio do Cinema Brasileiro, six of the film’s actors were nominated in individual categories for their performances.
2012 and 2017 also found the media asking the question, what happened to the actors of the film. In 2015, a documentary entitled Cidade de Deus – 10 Anos Depois (10 Years Later), showing the lives of the actors that appeared in the film, was released. The documentary checked in with the actors a decade after the international success of the film, followed their day to day lives in the communities of Rio de Janeiro where they lived and addressed issues such as social ascension and prejudice.
Another story that made headlines were the fortunes, or maybe misfortunes, of the actor Rubens Sabino. The actor played the character Neguinho, a drug dealer, in the 2002 film. Sabino had been addicted to crack for four years and was living in a region of São Paulo known as Cracolândia, an area that took its name due to the heavy concentration of crack addicts. In May of 2017, the actor declared he had kicked his habit and was attempting to the return to the artistic world.
In 2014, the media spotlight clamored to tell the story of a former model that also fell victim to the vices of crack. With black crackheads all over Cracolândia, why did the glare of the camera pick up on this one particular woman? Well, if you guessed that Loemy Marques was white, slim, and blond, you get a gold star. In the eyes of a public that adores and projects privileges on whiteness, Marques didn’t belong in Cracolândia, opposite from how people see the black victims in the same predicament.
But realistically, what are the chances of a poor, black actor making it in a blatantly Eurocentric Brazil? You think I’m being pessimistic because, as Brazilians always say, “we are all equal”, right? Well, let’s consider the fortunes of the other actors, primarily black, that starred in that blockbuster hit. A few of them have managed to pick up bit roles here and there on television and film, but by and large, most of them haven’t managed to catch that big break and continue living in the poor communities they lived in during the filming of Cidade de Deus.
Here’s how some of them have fared post-Cidade de Deus.
Darlan Cunha and Douglas Silva have both racked up a number of film/TV credits, including the Cidade dos Homens spin off mini-series/film franchise. Roberta Rodrigues has also amassed quite a resume of novela and film roles since the film’s release in 2002. Leandro Firmino, who played perhaps the most memorable character of film, the murderous Zé Pequeno, has also taken on a number of minor roles in film and television. The same holds true for Jonathan Haagensen, Marcello Melo Jr., and Alexandre Rodrigues. The stand out among the black actors is clearly Seu Jorge, who has made a name for himself both as an actor of the small and big screen and an internationally recognized singer/musician.
But the truth is that most of the actors listed above fall under the category of “B-List actors”. Even with a few of them having been featured as protagonists in one film or another, with the exception of Seu Jorge, whose career as a musician still overshadows his film career, none of these actors have attained “star” status nor are they in financial situations in which they can choose to live in the elite, upper crust neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro.
Of course, Brazil would have us believe that these are just the breaks as people succeed or fail simply based on pure talent or ability. But can we be real? As we’ve seen in the modeling world, the advertising world, the job market and even the world of futebol coaching, skin color continues to open key doors for some with the “standard” color, while slamming in the faces of those who don’t fit “the profile” of what influential people are looking for.
Really, it ain’t hard to tell. In the piece below, Kauê Vieira comes to the same conclusion.
Protagonist of Cidade de Deus is now an Uber driver. And this exposes our most perverse racism
By Kauê Vieira
The week ended with a photograph of actor Alexandre Rodrigues driving an Uber. The image was divulged by the passenger Giovana. Don’t know who he is? This tells a lot about the difficulties faced by black people who intend to venture into the world of the arts.
In 2002, Alexandre starred in one of the biggest Brazilian films. He’s the one who plays Buscapé (“Rocket” in English subtitles), the main character, in Cidade de Deus (City of God). The film directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund won many awards, among them the BAFTA, in addition to giving breath to the professionals of the seventh art in Brazil.
Do you find this strange? Well, you didn’t get it
The same recognition was not possible for the black actors, among them Alexandre Rodrigues, that needs to drive an Uber to supplement his income. Nothing against the profession, on the contrary. The question that remains is, did you find this strange or normal? If so, you’re not understanding anything about how racism limits the lives of pessoas negras (black people).
Cidade de Deus has a mixed cast with consecrated actors and also beginners. Alice Braga, for example, since the release of the film, has accumulated one success after another. The niece of famed actress Sonia Braga was in the cast of Eu Sou A Lenda (I Legend), starring none other than Will Smith and became a well-known figure in Hollywood.
And Alexandre? Well, in addition to having a limited profile on Wikipedia, the actor made discreet appearances in novelas (soap operas) and movies. Most of them under the stereotyped umbrella of the black character. His last appearance on TV was on O Outro Lado do Paraíso (The Other Side of Paradise) in 2017.
Exclusion is not his exclusive experience. Remember Zé Pequeno? He was the murderous drug lord introduced as, Lil’ Dice and Li’l Zé in English subtitles. The young black man was played by Leandro Firmino. He was a central character in the plot. Their catch phrases caught on with many Brazilians. Without Zé Pequeno, he has no history.
Leandro was not so lucky. His talent was never recognized. Like other black actors, he’s been limited to the violent imaginary disseminated by the film and since then has suffered to keep alive his dream of acting. In 2015, Extra newspaper published a report showing that he, along with his ex-wife, were selling semi-jewels to survive.
The actor also participated in a dubious frame in the program Pânico, where he performed another black man stereotype (violence) to solve social problems.
The naturalization of racism
The problem is that these stories are seen as examples of overcoming. The media reports such events as ‘unusual’ or ‘exemplary’. In the case of black actors, for sure.
Do you remember the ‘mendigo gato’, or the ‘hot beggar’? A white, blue-eyed guy was found wandering the streets of Curitiba, in southern Brazil. The story quickly conquered the world and people didn’t disguise their shock in seeing a white man living on the streets.
Reports of large websites narrated with dramatic tones the boy’s struggle to break his crack habit, as he turned to take a bath and sleep. The guy, Rafael Nunes, became the star of TV programs and even got treatment in a clinic in the interior of São Paulo.
Huh? Have you ever counted the number of black-skinned people who live on the streets of Brazilian cities? Have you ever noticed how they are ignored by much of society? How many of them caused a commotion or got featured on TV or treatment in a rehabilitation clinic? Yes, my friends, it’s racism.
In an interview with Carta Capital, writer Conceição Evaristo, winner of the Jabuti Prize, spoke about the non-viability of the black person living life to its fullest.
“This is the invisibility that hangs over us. But the hope is that perhaps today’s youth will have more chance than we do. This delay of discovery is very much due to this invisibility that hangs over the black subject.”
Black cinema in Brazil: an act of courage
Historically, black cinema in Brazil has been in the background. With few incentives and stuck in the imagery of violence, actors, actresses and directors struggle hard to gain sponsorship and space in this competitive market.
Camila de Moraes faces the hard battle of being a black woman working in the audiovisual industry.
Hypeness spoke with the gaúcho director Camila de Moraes, who had her film, O Caso do Homem Errado (The Case of the Wrong Man), cited to represent Brazil at the Oscars. The journalist talked a bit about her battle not only for the production, but to get space in Brazil’s theaters.
“I have hit the key that we have to share this cake, that we want our slice too, we need to produce our films with a fair budget for audiovisual production.”
“We don’t celebrate this fact that put us in the history of Brazilian cinema, because this information reveals how racist the country we live in is, it takes more than three decades for another black woman to be able to put a feature film on a commercial circuit,” she says.