Filmmaker Spike Lee in Brazil’s capital city of Brasília
Filmmaker Spike Lee arrived in Brazil a few days ago (25th) to begin filming his documentary “Go Brazil Go!” and was met by the country’s current and first female president Dilma Rouseff at the Palácio do Planalto, the workplace of every Brazilian president since 1960. Spike said that he was honored to be received by the president who explained to him the problems and objectives of the rising superpower. Lee revealed that he would make six or seven trips back and forth to the country to complete the documentary and planned to interview politicians, athletes and others in anticipation of the coming Olympics and World Cup, two huge events that will mark Brazil’s introduction to the world stage.
Spike Lee meets Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff
As I reported here last month, upon learning about Spike’s plans to visit Brazil and film this doc, I was a little concerned about how he would portray the country. Of course, it’s cool that Spike decided to give the emerging powerhouse his attention and tell the story of how the country is finally beginning to realize its potential as the country of the future, but because of the list of names I saw that he planned to interview, I was a little concerned. I mean, anyone who knows even a little about the country is familiar with people like Pelé, former President Lula and musician Gilberto Gil. After all, Lee built his reputation as a filmmaker by covering such controversial topics as racism, interracial relationships, the misunderstood civil/human rights icon Malcolm X and the Hurricane Katrina disaster. If he was going to interview the “usual suspects”, I hoped that he would also touch upon the situation of black Brazilians as it is somewhat similar to the situation of black Americans. Well, it seems that Spike is definitely “doing the right thing.”
Upon arriving in the country, Lee interviewed Matilde Ribeiro and asked why there were so few blacks in government. For five years Ribeiro was Minister for Racial Equality in the administration of President Lula before being forced out due to accusations of excessive spending using government funds. Ribeiro addressed the differences between the situation of blacks in Brazil and the United States and reminded Spike that it was only now that Americans had chosen a black president.
On this topic, Lee wanted to know if a black Brazilian could become President. She said: “We have to aim for the best” because in Brazil, the political process is slower. Ribeiro got the impression that Lee thought that black Brazilians were a little soft. Spike went on to say that the abolition of slavery in the US occurred only twenty years (actually twenty five) before the Brazilian abolition, that African-Americans had progressed much further and wondered why black people in Brazil hadn’t turned the tables. Judging from his questions, it seems that Lee may have needed a crash course in black Brazilian history as the development of widespread black identity and collective action is still a work in progress in Brazil.
Speaking with Ribeiro was a good start as she has seen her share of controversy in her career. A few years back, she set often a hailstorm of controversy due to her controversial statements on race. Well, let’s say, perceived controversial statements on race. I say perceived because, in my view, she simply said the truth. Now maybe it was controversial because Brazilians aren’t accustomed to hearing a black person speak so boldly but Ribeiro represents the new black Brazilian who isn’t shy about speaking the truth.
Spike interviews Supreme Court Justice Joaquim Barbosa
The filmmaker’s arrival also coincided with the one of the biggest decisions of Brazil’s Supreme Court in the history of the country: the constitutionality of the implementation of racial quotas to allow more Brazilians of color access to a college education. Lee was present at Wednesday’s proceedings and also took the time to record a 40-minute interview with Joaquim Barbosa, the country’s only black Supreme Court justice. Although he is thought to be the country’s first black Supreme Court justice (or Minister of the Supreme Court/Ministro do Supremo Tribunal Federal, as it is called in Brazil), as is customary in the way race is seen in Brazil, he is actually the third but most likely the first to define himself as black. After learning about the important issue concerning the debate about Affirmative Action policies in the country, Lee voiced his support of the quota system:
“In my opinion, I hope that the Supreme Court approves the maintenance of the system of racial quotas). I am not an expert on Brazil, but I speak as citizen of the world.”
Lee and Barbosa
He would go on to say that Affirmative Action in the US was responsible for the rise to prominence of many African-Americans in the areas of sports, business and the arts. The filmmaker previously known as Shelton would go on to interview Luiza Bairros, who is the current Minister of the Secretary of the Promotion of Racial Equality as well as Luiz Alberto, a Federal Deputy from the northeastern state of Bahia.
Lee with Luiza Bairros
Bahia is the state most recognized for its large black population (70-75%) and its strong African cultural influences. Spike discussed the situation of Afro-Brazilians with these two high-ranking officials. In meeting Lee, Alberto said:
“I was very emotional for two reasons, first, because I was interviewed by Spike that brings to the movie screens the racial question in such a coherent and proper form. Second, because I was invited to speak of our country and of black history, the resistance of the population that constructed this nation.”
Lee with Luiz Alberto
Alberto presented Lee with a soccer ball, a magazine and a DVD of the stage spectacular “Áfricas” of the historical and world-renowned musical/cultural group, Bando de Teatro Olodum.
Bando de Teatro Olodum performance of “Áfricas”
Added to the previous list of famous Brazilians Lee hoped to interview were the former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, retired soccer superstar Ronaldo, current soccer superstar Neymar, prominent Afro-Brazilian actor Lázaro Ramos and the documentary’s producers Heitor Dhalia and Tatiana Quintella. Lee hopes to portray the “New Brazil” and the country’s rise to status of “new superpower”. In his words: “It’s my job as a documentarian to find stories about what happened to make Brazil become this superpower.”
So, from the looks of things, Spike is “Doing the Right Thing”. It can only get “Mo’ Betta” from this point on!
If he is only interviewing people from el Movimento Negro and not Pardo organizations that have another side of the story, he is not doing the right thing.
Jaime, this is an interesting point, but on the other hand, there are those who say that GLOBO, Brazil's most popular, influential network is very biased in its conservative, anti-quota bias. In her article, "A mídia, as cotas e o sempre bom e necessário exercício da dúvida", Ana Maria Gonçalves writes that GLOBO gives more space to anti-quota supporters like Ali Kamel, Yvonne Maggie, Demétrio Magnoli and Demóstenes Torres than those who support quotas. Ali Kamel being the executive director of journalism at GLOBO has not hidden his influence and opinions. In one popular GLOBO novela, he actually had one of the black characters reading his anti-quota book in an episode. Where is the balance at GLOBO?