“Malcolm X’s assassins were black”: Director José Padilha makes reference to Malcolm X’s killers to justify the absence of Afro-Brazilian directors in TV series

Human rights icon Malcolm X, Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha
Malcom-x-Padilha
Human rights icon Malcolm X, Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha

Note from BW of Brazil: In his response to the criticisms he received in being chosen to produce a TV series about slain Rio councilwoman Marielle Franco without any participation of Afro-Brazilians in the production, film director José Padilha referred to the murder of iconic African-American leader, Malcolm X. Following the justifications of screenwriter Antonia Pellegrino, who claimed that three white people were chosen to head up the series because there was no “Brazilian Spike Lee”, in an article for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, Padilha called criticisms “a moral lynching”.

Padilha, Pellegrino and George Moura, all white, are contributing creatively to the series. Pellegrino is married to Federal Deputy (Congressman) Marcelo Freixo, who is the former president of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights and Citizenship of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro. Friexo was friends with Franco and worked with the councilwoman for 10 years in the PSOL political party.

Marielle
Rio councilwoman Marielle Franco (image in center) was murdered in March of 2018, in a still unsolved crime

Padilha has also been criticized for portraying murderous Military Police into national heroes in the hugely successful 2007 film Tropa de Elite as well as directing another series, O Mecanismo, that many believe he used to gloss over the facts about the notorious Lava Jato political scandal that led to the imprisonment of numerous Brazilian politicians and businessmen. Speaking on Padilha’s treatment of Lava Jato in O Mecanismo, Pellegrino said he “regretted it” because “people make mistakes”, although she also believed these actions aren’t suficiente reasons for the director to be “cancelled”.

Padilha’s involvement in Tropa and Mecanismo were part of a stinging criticism issued by a number of Afro-Brazilian professionals that work in film and television when the director, Pellegrino and Moura were announced as directors of the new series.

“It’s revolting once again to see branquitude (whiteness) disguise as good intentions the appropriation of the image of a black lesbian woman, from the favela, a mother, daughter, sister and wife,” read the letter released by the group.

In his attempt to jusitify his role as director in the series about Franco, not only does Padilha point out that the killers of Malcolm X were black, but he also highlights his connection to Freixo as a manner of legitimizing his role in the production about Franco.

Below is his piece entitled “Moral lynching”.

moral lynching
Padilha’s ‘Moral lynching’ article appeared in the March 10, 2020 edition of the Folha newspaper

Moral lynching

Announcement of series about Marielle spawned accusations of racism and fascism with no right to responses or time for explanations

By José Padilha

On April 13, 1964, Malcolm X began his spiritual journey to the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, he witnessed the confluence of people of various races around Mecca. He returned to the United States changed. He announced that his enemy was not the white man, it was hatred.

Malcolm X was sleeping with his wife and children when two fire bombs were dropped inside his home. He woke up in the smoke, ran, helped his wife to rescue two daughters and a baby. They managed to escape. A week later, he was killed with 12 shots in the chest. His assassins, also black, proved his point: the enemy was not the white man, the enemy was hatred.

I met Marielle Franco the same day I met Marcelo Freixo. It was at Cine Odeon, in a debate anchored in the projection of Ônibus 174, my first film. We participated in other debates. I have some of them filmed. Freixo and Marielle never called me a fascist. On the contrary, they helped me with the research and pre-production of Tropa 2 (see note one).

Freixo gave me access to the militia CPI, which I attended regularly. With the success of Tropa 2, it became even more popular. Deservedly. I felt the importance of Freixo’s office and contributed resources to the PSOL campaign. I never wrote about it. I don’t like to explain myself. But please take note.

I left the country a few months later, because I was the victim of an attempted kidnapping by militia police. Even living abroad, Antonia Pellegrino came to me. I wanted to help those closest to Marielle and Anderson (see note two). I wanted to do a TV series. I wanted to take Marielle’s name to the four corners of the earth. I thought that, with my name on the project, the series would have a better chance of getting international distribution. And the family would have more resources. I accepted it on the spot. I negotiated for months. I was closing an international agreement when Globoplay became interested in the project.

It’s not difficult to see why Globoplay is the best partner. In Brazil, Globo has an infinitely greater reach than any foreign studio. It has a great cast of black actors. It has great black directors. There are great black writers. It has a great black technical team. Yes, we think about all of that. You don’t know me, but you know Antonia. In addition, a series on Globo would pressure authorities to find and punish those who killed Marielle.

I arrived in Brazil to sign a contract. My job would be to help set up the “writers room”, write a script in partnership with Antonia and direct the first of at least eight episodes. In addition, I wanted to help Antonia, Globoplay and the Marielle Franco Institute to train new talents, using the series as a kind of school.

I couldn’t even begin.

What happened the day after the contract was signed was appalling. In addition to accusing Antonia of racism – although Antonia was working hard to assemble a team representing the black community in Brazil and abroad – and branding me a fascist (Marielle never called me a fascist), they attacked the legitimacy of Marielle’s family, they attacked Monica (see note three) and they attacked Marcelo Freixo.

It was a moral lynching with no right to responses or time for explanations. The lynchers reduced everything to the color of my skin, as if I were going to do the project myself, as if we were not going to tell the story of Anderson, a white man, as if we were not going to assemble a team full of black filmmakers. Are summary lynchings compatible with Marielle’s values?

I have a dream. I dream that my children will one day live in a nation where people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the nature of their character. Martin Luther King said that. About my character: I never robbed anyone, I never committed an act of racism, I never pressured women, I never discriminated against anyone for their sexual choice. In my life, I was only prosecuted by BOPE police and militia.

However, I became fascist because I shot Tropa de Elite. This despite having received the Golden Bear from the hands of Costa Gravas, an icon of the left-wing cinema, and having given it to Lula (da Silva), who wanted to take a photo with him. Neither of them called me a fascist.

I made several other films, including Garapa, a documentary about hunger in the Northeast. I help families filmed on a monthly basis for 12 years. The first documentary I produced was about coal miners. It portrayed unhealthy work, slavery and child labor. At the time, after a screening of the film in Congress, me, Eduardo Suplicy and Luciana Genro invaded (former President) Michel Temer’s room to pressure him to put on the agenda a constitutional amendment that would make food a fundamental right for all Brazilians. We succeeded.

I can continue to list countless facts of this nature, but I think, deep down, you already know my trajectory as a filmmaker. And I think your biggest problem with me was my criticism of the systemic corruption of the PT and the PMDB (see note four). Although I also think that you know that petrolão, mensão and Belo Monte (see note five) actually happened.

You may not know, however, that I do not live alone. I have a son and a partner. Are these people being affected by the ongoing lynching? The same goes, of course, for those close to Marielle, Antonia and Mônica.

Martin Luther King’s thinking is incompatible with limiting freedom of expression, with judging people based on their color and sexuality. Identity politics are fundamental, but taken to the extreme fulminates people like Malcolm X. (No, I’m not comparing myself with Malcolm X.)

The enemy, friends, is hatred.

Note from BW of Brazil: I always like to know the other side of the story and Padilha had the right to respond to the criticisms that he received. But there are a few issues here. I think it is more than a bit of a stretch to use the name of Malcolm X in justifying his role on a series about Marielle Franco. In conjuring up the name and assassination of Malcolm X, and then apparently attempting to deflect Afro-Brazilian criticisms of white supremacy, he also simplifies Malcolm’s murder and chooses not to address the behind the scenes role of white supremacy in that murder.

The issue at the root of Afro-Brazilian criticism is the very same that Malcolm X himself articulated: the ongoing role of white supremacy in denying the black population the opportunity to direct its own destiny. Without addressing that main issue, Padilha seeks to defend himself and makes the situation even worse by evoking the names of two enormous figures who dedicated their lives to bringing justice, opportunity and an equal place in society to black people.

It is also problematic for Padilha to justify the role of the Rede Globo television network in bringing Marielle’s story to the public, knowing how many in the viewing audience also watch Globo Productions with a grain of salt due its dominance in the industry and its history of social, political manipulation, as well as its simplistic, stereotypical depictions of Afro-Brazilians in its more than 50 years of existence.

I also ponder if Padilha understands why black Brazilians could take issue with him after his Tropa de Elite film seemed to glorify a brutal, murderous unit of Rio’s Military Police. A Military Police that seems to have an unoffical agenda to wipe out a generation of young black Brazilians with its violent policing tactics.

We are all too familiar and weary of seeing the way that black heroes and icons are portrayed, as these depictions will influence the way that these figures will be remembered in the minds of millions of people. People of such monumental importance such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X have both had their stories, images and memories spun, altered and covered up to the point that the average person probably has a very skewed view of what they were all about. And it’s not necessarily about hiding anything in their stories as much as it is about choosing to overemphasize or even fabricate certain facets of their trajectories.

No one here ever accused Padilha of robbing anyone, but in his failure to recognize his own privilege wrapped in whiteness, he doesn’t recognize that he is in fact robbing a black director of an opportunity to advance in an almost exclusively white industry that welds enormous influence over the lives and thoughts of everyday people, even if he didn’t intend to do this.

He mentioned in his text that people attacked him assuming that he wouldn’t assemble a team of black filmmakers. I won’t rule the possibility that he could use his position as a well-known and respected director to open the door to a list of talented Afro-Brazilian filmmakers. I’ll wait and see. But as his one of his partners mentioned the name Spike Lee in her attempt to deflect criticisms of the invisibility of black filmmakers, I hope Padilha backs up his words and ‘does the right thing’.

Notes

  1. Tropa de Elite 2: o Inimigo agora É Outro is Padilha’s 2010 follow up to the 2007 film Tropa de Elite.
  2. Anderson Gomes, the driver of the car that Marielle Franco was murdered in. Gomes also died.
  3. Architect Mônica Tereza Benício, who was Marielle’s partner when she was assassinated.
  4. The PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores or Workers’ Party) and the PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro or Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) are two of Brazil’s largest political parties with the PT being more leftward leaning and the MDB being more right of center.
  5. Three of the countless political scandals that have plagued Brazil for decades.
About Marques Travae 3330 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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