The Film Marighella and the Necessary Black Revolution in Brazil
Note from BW of Brazil: When you get into the study of Brazil, eventually, you will come across controversial figures after the initial introduction to “coisas do Brasil” (Brazilian things) such as the food, the music, the fanatic obsession with futebol, Carnaval, the beaches, the women, etc. As I got into Brazil when my own political views began to evolve, it was only a matter of time before I would come to learn about the Bahian Communist revolutionary Carlos Marighella. When I discovered and began to research the life and politics of Marighella, I was still processing what I thought about the politics of Communism. I knew what people, both pro and con, had to say on the topic and as anyone who has contemplated the issue knows, opinions run the gamut of the political spectrum.
In the early to mid-90s, I considered myself to be leaning more toward a pro-Communist viewpoint. I mean, with the vast economic inequalities that exist in the United States, Brazil and so many other countries, wouldn’t Communism even up the playing field a little and give the “have nots” a bigger slice of the economic pie? Well, that’s what pro-Communist literature would have you believe.
Before I get into how I view Communism today, I must share just two brief memories of reactions to Communism I experienced in the previous decade. I was a union organizer at the time and one particular afternoon, I was in Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada, knocking on doors speaking to potential members of an organizing campaign. As one door opened and I explained to a man who I was, the man opened up the screen door of his house, stepped outside and stood face to face with me and said, “Marques, my wife (who I was there to talk to) isn’t here, but I want you to cross her name off of the visit list and never come here again.”
He went on to make the accusation that unions were Communist in nature and he and his family wanted nothing to do with that. As an organizer, I was also oriented to never argue with or provoke people when they were staunchly anti-union. So, I told him I would indeed cross his wife’s name off of my house visit list and thanked him for his time. Hmmm…the union is Communist. I remember reading about such beliefs and I had heard people in my previous job say the same thing. The previous job had a union also.
A few months after that incident, I remember attending a lecture at our union office given by a specialist who discussed the benefits of working in a union shop for the earnings of workers. The union always makes the point that union members earned more money that non-union members. At one point, I remember the lecturer speaking in an almost fearful manner of the country descending into Communism and how we had to fight against its possible emergence. After the lecture, one of my colleagues turned and said to me, “He doesn’t get it; the objective of the union IS to make the country Communist.”
In various other lectures I attended over the years, I noted that many leftist and labor circles sympathized with the old Soviet Union. I also noted that the author of a book that most labor activists were encouraged to read, Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky who denied that he had ever been a Communist although he long had a close connection with known Communists and Communist organizations.
I would later begin to understand why labor unions were believed to be Communist and years later, my research led to an even deeper understanding of what Communism was REALLY about. And after discovering the ultimate objective of Communism, I also had to change my views of Carlos Marighella. Today, I don’t support Communism, socialism nor its cousin, cultural Marxism, elements of which I see in both American and Brazilian societies.
These views will often put me at odds within black movements of either country as such elements are almost completely interweaved into the fabric of leftist politics. But I also cannot define myself as a conservative. University of São Paulo professor Dennis Oliveira once wrote that, “entre a direita e a esquerda, sou preto…de esquerda”, meaning “between the right and the left, I am a black man…of the left.” I would have to take part of this phrase and remove the final words. “Between the right and the left, I am black” shall suffice, as I see things on both sides of the political spectrum that I simply can’t roll with. Neither side is truly down for people who look like me, and as such, I cannot be completely down with either of them.
Today, in Brazil, with the political compass being divided between those who hate Lula da Silva and his PT (Workers’ Party) and with the growing disillusionment with the right-wing extremism of the current president, Jair Bozo Bolsonaro, the country is as polarized as ever. The film Marighella also figures into the divisiveness because Marighella himself divides opinions. For some, he was a hero fighting to free Brazil from a brutal military dictatorship, while for others, the Bolsonaro family included, he was a Communist terrorist. I won’t even delve into the opinion of many Brazilians that the President himself is a fascist, I wonder how Bolsonaro plans to juxtapose his view that battling cultural Marxism is one path to saving Brazil given his recent trip to Communist China. Won’t touch that right now…
Given these two opposing sides, how is one to position himself on two such widely differing perspectives on this topic? Well, it’s actually quite simple. I’m somewhere in the middle. For me, both sides are problematic.
Jair Bolsonaro has openly praised a military dictatorship that murdered and tortured people, including former President Dilma Rousseff. Bolsonaro is also on record declaring that the dictatorship made a mistake by not killing more people, a “duty” of which he must see himself as the sort of carrier of the torch as he once proclaimed he would give Brazil’s murderous Military Police leeway to kill more than the thousands it already does.
On the other hand, we have people such as Marighella who advocated armed struggle against the dictatorship. In a way, you can’t really fault anyone who stands for revolutionary struggle because liberation from oppressive situations can never come by peaceful means. But after learning much about the history of Communism, I often have to conclude that people who define themselves as Communists perhaps don’t know the bloody history of such a political ideology. As it turns out, this seems to apply to Marighella as well.
According to Carlos Zacarias de Sena Júnior, Marighella was not only a Communist, but a Stalinist, thus aligning himself, like other Communist Parties around the world, including Brazil’s PCB (Brazilian Communist Party) of time, with the positions of the Soviet Union. Which naturally leads to the question: How did Marighella align himself with such murderous regimes as Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China when those two regimes alone are believed to be responsible for upwards of a total of more than 100 million people? Well, as propaganda coming out of Communist regimes of that era were really good at masking the truth, it’s possible that Marighella didn’t know what was really going on in those countries. As Sena Júnior put it:
“As a Stalinist, Marighella was also profoundly unaware of the meanings of the quarrels within the Communist Party of the USSR, let alone the crimes committed by Stalin, which would be denounced in 1956.”
Marighella was eventually expelled from the PCB, but:
“As leader of the PCB, Marighella, who was a black man, born in a state with a high degree of exploitation and land concentration, believed that Brazil needed to remove the remnants of feudalism and develop capitalism, with an internal market and democracy, this being the only condition that would make possible the transition to socialism, sent to a later and distant stage.”
Marighella was expelled from the PCB in 1967 over ideological differences, but his Communist ideals remained intact with his founding of the Ação Libertadora Nacional (National Liberation Action) in 1968 in an ongoing movement to overthrown the dictatorship.
Marighella’s ALN with the MR-8 (Movimento Revolucionário 8 de Outubro/Revolutionary October 8th Movement) was responsible for a number of violent actions including so-called expropriations such as bank, car, train robberies and other criminal activities. Perhaps the organizations’ most notorious actions involved the kidnapping of two ambassadors to Brazil, the American Charles Burke Elbrick, in September 1969 (exactly two months to the day of Marighella’s death) and the German, Ehrefried Von Holleben.
Both kidnappings led to the release of political prisoners, 15 due to Elbrick and 44 due to Holleben. The crimes lead to widespread notoriety in the press as the group’s ideals of armed struggle became widely known. The Albrick kidnapping would years later become the topic of the 1997 film O Que É Isso, Companheiro?, which was released as Four Days in September in the US.
Marighella’s own life came to a violent end on November 4, 1969, when he was caught in an ambush in São Paulo and shot to death by agents of DOPS, the Dept. of Political and Social order, a government organ used in both the Estado Novo and Military Dictatorship governments to maintain the country’s military order.
With all of this history at play, it’s plain to see that the film about such a figure could be much more than just a film, particularly at this moment in Brazil’s political history. Not only do we have decidedly polar extremes of the political spectrum, but this coincides with a time in which black Brazilians are increasingly demanding more representation in a country that has always treated them as an afterthought whose imminent demise would be better for the country.
So, what does this tell us about the casting of a very dark-skinned actor, Seu Jorge, to portray a very light skinned man such as Marighella, a topic of criticism directed at the film’s director, Wagner Moura. The fact is that, Marighella knew he was not white, both due to his very dark-skinned mother, a descendant of the Haussa tribe, and the fact that his enemies made sure he knew he was not white. Marighella identified himself as a “mulatto”, but in his political trajectory, this wasn’t of central importance in terms of his struggle as a Communist revolutionary. The casting of Seu Jorge is perhaps a political gesture on the part of Moura, an important choice in an era of black affirmation identity politics in Brazil.
And political the film is. At its debut at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, director Moura and the cast paid homage to Rio city councilwoman Marielle Franco who was slain in a 2018 assassination with a street sign in her name. Franco’s murder is still not completely solved.
Is it possible that the Moura film starring Seu Jorge could present another hero to Brazil’s black population that was never recognized as black, like the writer Machado de Assis and so many other African descendants in Brazil whose images have been whitened by history? It remains to be seen. But Moura clearly sees this as an important moment in the story of the black Brazilian.
The film Marighella and the necessary black revolution in Brazil
Collective of “Marighella” became the first international act of resistance to the government of the extreme right in Brazil
By Rui Martins
There is no doubt, the international press is very well informed and closely follows what is happening in Brazil, with the programmed social retrogression and the intention to re-make Brazilian history. The new generation of journalists, that was born after the military coup of 1964, doesn’t seem willing to accept the Bolsonaro government’s intentions to nullify the advances made after the return to democracy in terms of human rights, protection of the poor and the black population, and respect the right of indigenous peoples to live on their lands.
Reaffirming his vocation of political ambitions, the Berlin Film Festival gave space to the actor and now film director Wagner Moura, to show as a special guest, his first film, dedicated to the resistance guerrilla Carlos Marighella. Murdered in November 1969, on the outskirts of Avenida Paulista, the first leader and hero of armed resistance to the Coup of ’64, is little known by the younger generations. The film Marighella, with Seu Jorge in the title role, aims to fill this gap, although its exhibition isn’t guaranteed in the normal networks of cinema.
Wagner Moura, the well-known actor in the film Tropa de Elite by director José Padilha, didn’t hold his tongue in his language and considers his Marighella film as the first cultural product of the Brazilian scene about the fight against the ’64 coup, and at the same time an instrument of the necessary resistance in favor of the blacks of the favelas and the indigenous, in Brazil today.
Seu Jorge didn’t hide his satisfaction for being in Berlin representing Brazilian cinema and for having worked with Wagner Moura, having devoted all his passion to this project, having dedicated himself entirely to the knowledge of the life of the leader Marighella, whether by readings, interviews and testimonies of people who were around him.
Wagner Moura explains the use of violence in the film, which could also be considered as an action film, by the influence exerted on him by the Belgian directors the Dardenne Brothers. How would a film made by the Dardenne Brothers about Marighella be? Wagner Moura asks himself.
“My generation is very alienated, but the young people of the Marighella generation gave their lives for something they believed in. In resisting the dictatorship, people sacrificed for each other. Marighella not only sacrificed his life in the resistance but sacrificed the time he could have spent with his son Carlinhos,” says Wagner Moura.
“There is talk in Brazilian schools about the French Revolution, but there is no talk of the necessary revolução dos negros (black revolution) in Brazil,” says Wagner Moura. “At the moment, the government is re-making Brazilian history, while the teachers are already beginning to be watched. They don’t want it to be called a Golpe de 64 (’64 coup) anymore, they want it to be a ‘Movimento de 64’ (’64 movement). At the same time, they seek to criminalize art.”
“The producers are afraid to schedule my movie in the theaters. We wanted to distribute the film when returning from Berlin, but that doesn’t seem possible,” says Moura.
Explaining why the lack of support of the population to the resistance, Wagner Moura recalls that shortly after the Cuban revolution, the Americans felt the possibility of the left coming to power. There was, then, a lot of propaganda among the people to convince the population that the Communists were the worst possible thing. In Cuba, Fidel Castro soon had support from the population, because no one else believed in Batista.
“Marighella was not a superhero, he was a human being with his flaws, one of them was that he hadn’t cared enough about his safety, although he had authored a mini-manual of the urban guerrilla,” says Wagner Moura.
“The current Brazilian situation is horrible. It is the worst moment for the população negra nas favelas (black population in the favela slums) and for the indigenous population. The president is homophobic and racist. We stayed focused when we made this movie and come here to introduce it. We’re facing a lot of shit and we’re going to face a lot of shit, but we’re not afraid. If it’s bad for us in the movie, it will be much worse for the threatened sections of the population. The murders of blacks has an explanation, as one policeman said in the film – if I kill a black man it’s because I can’t kill a red one,” Moura adds.
If it is difficult to distribute and display the film Marighella, which in itself will be an act of indirect censorship, Wagner Moura’s team will make independent exhibitions within social movements. “It would be absurd not to take the film to those for whom it is intended,” argues Wagner Moura.
With information from Brasil de Fato