On Paula’s recommendation, I made the mistake of watching Cidade de Deus a few a days
ago. Now I want to smack myself a little for my last post—don’t you hate when a movie forces self-awareness (gee thanks, Paula)? There’s nothing like a movie about children killing each other in the slums, and bragging about it no less, to make you realize how lucky you are to be born into the life you have.
There are a lot of really thoughtful full reviews on imdb, so I won’t try to write my own here, but what the movie did really effectively for me was to convey the idea of an almost parallel universe of dreams and ambitions. In my extreme naivety, I had mostly assumed that people performing acts of violence, like those in the movie, simply knew no other way to get the money they needed in order to live or to buy the drugs they are addicted to. Probably they’d never had good role models or the education that would help them make a different choice or even have the opportunity to make a different choice. While I am sure this is often the case, what really shocked me were the children who wholly reveled in violence and causing pain to other people. As a young child brags in one of the more famous lines, “A kid? I smoke, I snort. I’ve killed and robbed. I’m a man.” Maybe I just haven’t seen enough mafia movies (or need to re-read Lord of the Flies?), but this film made me realize that growing up in a favela can give you a very different idea of what success is. Sure there are some kids, like the narrator, who want nothing to do with the drug wars and just want to get out of the slums, but it seems like the greatest ambition of the vast majority is to be the biggest “hood” with the most power.
The quest for power and fame is certainly not confined to the favelas. In fact, these seem to be shared goals across cultures and classes, but the values and achievements that lead to the acquisition of these goals differs enormously depending on the circumstances. And even though the Cidade de Deus protagonist “Dadinho,” or “Zé Pequeno” as he came to be known, appears to be the embodiment of evil—as a young boy, he isn’t impressed by the lack of bloodshed in some older boys’ holdup at a brothel and takes matters into his own able hands—it seems like, Zé Pequeno aside perhaps, these “evil” actions have a lot less to do with inherent evil than the privilege of birth or lack thereof. It’s as if most of the people in the favelas don’t even know that they are supposed to “want to get out.”
I’m still trying to figure out what to make of this movie that left me pretty dumbstruck. I just know that it left its mark, and especially given recent, although entirely different, events in Ferguson, MO, I feel guilty for not acknowledging the many privileges I was born with. Brazil is often referred to as a country of contrasts. This was best represented in the movie by the extreme violence and poverty that are overlooked by a corrupt police force, set in parallel with the serene, beautiful beaches of Rio. The country is known for its inequality and classism, and Cidade de Deus provides no solutions.