Note from BW of Brazil: Of course by now, everyone knows about the blockbuster American film with the nearly all-black cast that’s breaking all sorts of box office records. I’m of course talking about the Marvel Disney film Black Panther, which was released as Pantera Negra a little less than a month ago. The film has been an instant smash in he United States, Brazil and around the world, but what else should be expected? The film’s budget was $200 million and it’s part of the hugely successful Marvel Comics superhero film brand.
Although films with a majority black cast are actually quite common in American film history, it’s still somewhat of a rarity in Brazil. But one film I am really looking forward to seeing debuted at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles just a few weeks ago, actually just about a week before Black Panther arrived in Brazil, is a new flick by director Jeferson De, whose name has popped up a few times here at BW of Brazil. De has a number of important full length and short films under his belt and is one of Brazil’s most prominent black filmmakers.
But even with experience and film awards in his resume, I still wonder if De will be given a fair shake at the box office. I mean, besides the fact that he received just R$5 million to make the film, the real question will be how widely the film be distributed. Several years ago, filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo won critical acclaim and several Gramado Festival movie awards for his film Filhas do Vento, but with little distribution, very few Brazilians even know about the film. Due to the reaction to Filhas, it will also be a difficult sale to Brazilian audiences who aren’t accustomed to watching films with a mostly black cast. After all, a ‘coisa do preto’ (black thing) just can’t be worth watching. I consider De’s ability to just get funding for this film a small miracle, but in retrospect, R$5 million is only worth about USD$1.56 million. In comparison, it’s already been 30 years since African-American filmmaker Spike Lee released his second film School Daze and the budget for that film was USD$6.5 million.
I’m not saying this as a slight against Jeferson or his film; I wish the film, the crew and the director all the success in the world, because if it succeeds, perhaps it will be a little easier for the next Afro-Brazilian filmmaker. But my comment does speak on the precarious situation of black filmmakers in Brazil.
Brazilian film with cast made up of almost all blacks is released in the US
Feature film features actors Ailton Graça, Juliana Alves and Lázaro Ramos. Team behind the cameras also has afrodescendentes.
By Thiago Augusto and Mariana Peixoto with additional info courtesy of Cineset
Filmmaker Jeferson De has just made the world premiere of the film Correndo atrás in Los Angeles at the Pan African Film Festival, the largest and most prestigious black art and film showing in the Americas, which began on the 8th and ended on Monday (19). The feature film has as a differential in the unprecedented fact of having taken to the screen a cast of almost all black Brazilian actors. Behind the cameras, the same thing, and the production team, and especially the directors, as well as Jeferson, are also Afro-descendants.
“We think it is important to show a Brazil linked to cultura negra (black culture), with black people on the screen and yet, violence is not the protagonist. The protagonists are the common people, men and women, workers building this Brazil. Because the impression it gives is that whenever we go to the favela, which has black people, there is always shooting, police, violence. So, the film is a declaration of love and an ode to joy, although we have a lot of sadness and resentment, but maybe we can turn it all into joy.”
For the filmmaker, this was a way of showing the work and also protest against the lack of inclusion in the cinematographic medium.
“It was politically important to show what we are capable of doing and that we already have an experienced team in Brazil, making movies, and that does not always occupy the space of power in the film chain.”
The first study by the Agência Nacional do Cinema (National Film Agency or ANCINE) to contemplate data on race has just been released and reveals this disparity in numbers. Recalling that 54% of the Brazilian population is made up of Afro-descendants, the study based on the films released in 2016 shows that 75.4% of the analyzed productions were directed by white men, 19.7% by white women and 2.1% by black men. No black woman appears in the statistics.
Among the production team, the numbers are similar and in the performance of 97 fiction films, 42.3% do not have any black actors or actresses in the cast. Jeferson De says that the report was a response from Ancine to the pressure made by the Brazilian producers who have just founded the first national association of black producers in the country’s history.
“We have this very large disparity, especially if we consider that we are more than 50% of the population, and in Brazil we make movies with public money, that is, with the money of this black population. However, we are not able to produce our films. This story is not being told in our cinemas do ponto de vista dos negros (from the point of view of blacks).”
The Paulista (São Paulo native) Jeferson comments that the great Brazilian films known worldwide as Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) and Cidade de Deus (City of God), which are linked to urban black culture were not told, or rarely, by a black person.
“Even more importantly remembering the low presence of black women producing films. They, yes, are the majority of the Brazilian population and yet we do not have black directors in Brazil. The last and only one to direct a film was Adélia Sampaio, with Amor Maldito, more than 30 years ago.”
Jeferson, who directed the award-winning film Bróder and also wrote Dogma Feijoada (a movement that in 2000 produced films focused on racial themes and sought to develop a concept of black Brazilian cinema), now experiments with comedy. Correndo Atrás was shot in Muriaé, Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with a budget of R$ 5 million approved in the Lei do Audiovisual (Audiovisual Law). The film is an adaptation of the book Vai na Bola, Glanderson by comedian Helio de La Peña – who also wrote the script with De and makes a special guest appearance as an actor.
“It is the daily life of ordinary people in Brazil who are always changing jobs. There are a lot of plots, little dramas, but we tried to place it by way of comedy to really understand that through comedy I can draw a much more precise social criticism. In that sense I remember Charlie Chaplin doing O Grande Ditador (The Great Dictator). He used comedy to be very accurate in the type of criticism. And obviously the racial issue is embedded in the movie: as you go into the power circles, you have more white people, and when you go to the poorer, more black areas.”
Also in the cast are Ailton Graça, Juliana Alves, Lázaro Ramos, Juan Paiva, Teka Romualdo, Francisco Gaspar, Rocco Pitanga and Tonico Pereira. The direction of the musical production is by the rapper B-Negão. The film is a co-production of Buda Filme (Jeferson’s producer), Globo Filmes, Rio Filmes and La Peña Produções. The debut in Brazil is set for June 7, a week before the start of the World Cup in Russia, as the film also speaks of futebol. “The timing is always delicate. Sometimes you fondly prepare a debut and here comes an American blockbuster,” contemplates the director
FESTIVAL REINFORCES DIALOGUE AMONG AFRODESCENDANTS
Festival reinforces dialogue among Afro-descendants
The Pan African Festival, which is in its 26th edition, is the main North American exhibition dedicated to works that reinforce the dialogue on cultural issues among Afro-descendant peoples. This year 170 films from 40 countries are participating. In 2011, the film Besouro, by the Brazilian director João Daniel Tikhomiroff, was the great winner of the festival.
“This kind of festival is important in the first place because there is a very intense exchange over having Africa and this black history in the Americas, and everyone is making the same reflection. Secondly, because we face in the audiovisual here in the United States and also in Brazil the difficulty of participating in this market. At this moment, American cinema is experiencing this, as we have seen the protest at the Oscars, and in Brazil we have the same question. So, we join with the women’s movements, the people linked to the LGBT universe, people who live cinema, but who can’t participate in an active way, in the instances of cinema power.”
In the film, Ventania is the authentic small-time street vendor. He’s been a traffic light vendor, an animator of children’s parties. Black and poor, he’ll do any business to pay the bills. One day he decides to become a futebol manager. His client is Glanderson, an equally black and poor young man.
Correndo tells these two stories of life. Ventania is a made-man; Glanderson, despite a physical disability (he does not have his smallest toes), is a good ball player. He wants to become the new Neymar.
The two live in a community that can be that of any major downtown. But that ended up becoming Muriaé, in the Zona da Mata region of Minas Gerais state. The film crew spent their last month in the city of Muriaé. After this phase (80% of the film will be set there), would go to also film in Rio and finishing up in São Paulo. Hélio de La Peña plays Aubinjela, a childhood friend of Ventania.
“It is a film about the difficulty of the black and poor man being in Brazilian society. But it does it with joy, and that’s why I made the movie. I don’t think anyone can make a critique as deep as comedy,” says Jeferson, who sees Ventania as a kind of Don Quixote.
One of the most active black filmmakers of today, he seeks, in his cinema, to eliminate the stereotypes that usually associate black with marginality. Correndo, according to Jeferson, is his film with the biggest black team thus far. ”It’s a film that embraces the word diversity not only on the front, but above all behind the cameras and in key places. How many women, how many people de pele escura (with dark skin), how many diverse people,” he says.
Ailton Graça plays his first protagonist role in a film as Ventania. The role of Glanderson belonged to Juan Paiva, who in the novela (soap opera) Totalmente demais was Graça’s son.
The community where the protagonists live is not identified in the film. “Correndo Atrás is an all-street movie. And Muriaé had a great participation. We filmed in the whole city and all the extras, there were 400, were from there. We also used catering, driver, carpenter. We did a barber shop (Tonico Pereira is the barber) where there was even a barbershop,” says the director.
Jeferson comments that he has walked so much through the city that he knows “all the slums, better than the candidates for mayor and councilman.”
In any case, he believes that Correndo Atrás dialogues with Brazil today. “We’ve never had so many young black men being killed in the country. The most emblematic case is that of Amarildo. We wanted to do a comedy to show the hardness of being a black man in Brazil right now. And the film shows this with joy, with the possibility of living on the hope of each day,” he concludes.
CHICA DA SILVA
Correndo Atrás is not the only production of Jeferson De to go through Minas Gerais. The director, some years ago, had the film project of a new feature about Chica da Silva, with production by Daniel Filho. The narrative is inspired by the book Chica da Silva e o contratador de diamantes (Chica da Silva and the diamond contractor) by the historian Júnia Furtado. “We already have the first version of the script,” says Jeferson. But the film still needs a few years to come out on paper. After Correndo Atrás, the director will film Prisoneiro da liberdade (Prisoner of Freedom), a partnership of his producer, Buda Filmes, with Paranoid, of Heitor Dhalia.