Note from BW of Brazil: I’ve been following the career of filmmaker Jeferson De for a number of years, dating back to about 2007 when I first learned about him and a movement that he labeled Dogma Feijoada, which fellow filmmaker Noel Carvalho described as “a political movement, that will call attention to the way the image of the black is diffused by Brazilian cinema, nuanced with prejudice and ignorance of cause.”
As his films have not gained wide distribution, I have only managed to see two of his six short films and full-feature films, Carolina (2003) and Bróder (2010). Jeferson represents a small group of Afro-Brazilian filmmakers who have been able to direct, release films and get critical acclaim and awards for their works. Notice that I’m saying that there are few black filmmakers in Brazil, but many are limited to making short films and those who do manage to release feature-length films then struggle to get distribution that brings their works to national audiences.
Over the years, Jeferson has spoken openly about the need for the Brazilian film industry to not only feature black representation but also change the manner in which this representation as well as the racial issue comes across on the big screen. For example, asked about the 2002 blockbuster film Cidade de Deus (City of God), De complemented the technical aspect of the film, but also pointed out that, with most of the characters being black, “at no moment did those boys discuss why they are black…For this reason, it’s necessary that figures like me be behind the cameras.”
Jeferson’s 2010 film Bróder gained critical acclaim and featured a primarily black cast. His most recent film, Correndo Atrás, also featured a majority black cast and deals with the difficulties of being black and struggling to survive in Brazil.
Due to his desire to approach the race issue both in film and off camera in interviews with various media outlets, Jeferson has often been compared to the African-American filmmaker Spike Lee, whose films are often considered controversial in its depictions of how race plays out in American society. This comparison, which I’ve also made, is valid in many ways, but in the piece below, Jeferson, points out that the differences between the two filmmakers can be broken down by simply analyzing the differences between the reality and experience of black Americans vs. that of black Brazilians.
He’s not the Brazilian Spike Lee
By Carol Ito
Compared with the American filmmaker, Jeferson De has just finished M8 – Quando a morte socorre a vida (When death rescues life), with Lázaro Ramos and Zezé Motta
The filmmaker Jeferson De, director of films like Bróder (that won the best film award at Gramado Festival, 2010), O amuleto (2015) and Correndo atrás (2018), dispenses with the nickname “Spike Lee brasileiro” (Brazilian Spike Lee) precisely for knowing the situation of black people in Brazil in its deepest nuances. “I think things are more complex than that,” he says, preparing to launch the fiction film M8 – Quando a morte socorre a vida in the first half of 2019, with a heavyweight cast of veterans such as Lázaro Ramos, Aílton Graça and Zezé Motta, and youngsters like Juan Paiva and Raphael Logam.
Beyond the plot, Jeferson’s new work sets out to address issues that, for the director, are fundamental. “The film generates debates, which is everything that we need today. People can display many certainties, but the film shows that there is always some room for uncertainty and that is the point of reflection.”
This “portrait of Brazil in his heart”, as he defines it, is set in the outskirts of Rio: “Rio de Janeiro should have been transformed after the World Cup, but everything went wrong, in my view. It also has the issue of military intervention, for which we were contaminated during the filming in Rocinha, in June of this year,” he says.
The idea was to create a microcosm to discuss urgent issues in the country such as quotas, racism and inequality of opportunity, without falling into stereotypes that often appear when portraying black people in the movies. “It’s the story of a black medical student, cotista (quota student), who needs to study three corpses of people, also black, in college,” he says. “The majority of blacks in Brazil are not bandits, futebol players and sambistas (samba musicians),” emphasizes the director. Behind the cameras, the production includes a majority of black professionals, like Cristiano Conceição, who is the director of photography. “He is a great artist who perceives the Brazilian light on pele negra (black skin)”, praises the director.
Jeferson De is compared by critics and co-workers to the American director Spike Lee, a filmmaker who has won a worldwide projection with films about the American ghettos. “I do not like it, no, [he laughs]. The way we blacks are treated in Brazil is very different. Here, racism is admitted and no one admits that they are racist. In the United States, white is white, black is black, Jewish is Jewish, the perspective is accurate. Here it is said that the guy is ‘meio preto’ (kinda black), or ‘mulatto’, which denotes a certain mess, a search for identity,” he reflects.
Spike Lee, 61, has just released his new film, BlacKkKlansman (Infiltrado na Klan in Brazil), which tells the true story of a black policeman who, in the 70s, infiltrated the followers of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that defends white supremacy. For Jeferson, a great admirer of Spike Lee, the film is a reflection on the current moment of the United States and the world. “The filmmaker is always a prophet. He discusses the idea of white supremacy, which has recently returned to the news. You think you’re seeing a fiction but it’s the American reality.”
In addition to being inspired by the way the American portrays urban culture, Jeferson is thrilled with what he sees as a new phase of black cinema, which comes with productions such as Moonlight (2016), which won the Oscar for best film in 2017, and Get Out (Corra in Brazil)! (2017). “Moonlight, for example, is a movie about a black man, a homosexual and a drug dealer. We Brazilians would never produce it as a commercial movie that could win an Oscar. It’s a film about sensibilities that we need to have as a reference.”
The filmmaker’s history with cinema begins in childhood. “My father was a kind of community leader from the rural area of Taubaté and always sought a projectionist from another city to display films on an indoor futebol court. I followed the whole process,” he recalls.
Fascinated by what happened behind the scenes of the projections, he tried to imagine the magic that made the characters come out of the film roll cans to the white sheet used as a screen, like a tropical version of the classic Cinema Paradiso, French-Italian film released in the 80’s. “When I saw this movie, I thought ‘wow, I lived this!'” the director admires.
The passion took him to the USP (University of São Paulo) film course (now called audiovisual), in which he perceived himself in an elite universe, being the only black student in the class. “The university was a place of struggle for me. There, I did a research on black cinematography and I launched Dogma feijoada, which is a manifesto for black cinema in Brazil in the 2000s, when talking about black protagonism was not something so obvious,” he explains.
Dogma feijoada was created on a day when Jeferson was eating feijoada with a friend. They commented on Dogma 95, a manifesto created at the same time by director Lars von Trier, who proposed paths to Danish cinema. “He suggested that my study of black cinematography might have a more popular slant. In black cinema, we make films with the leftovers, not with the noble parts, just as the feijoada was made by the enslaved blacks. We bring characters and stories that have been left out,” he explains.
The protagonism of black people in cinema, whether in front or behind the camera, takes slow steps and is the result of a historical struggle: “Dogma feijoada, for example, was only possible because there are filmmakers like Adélia Sampaio [first black woman to direct a feature film in Brazil] occupying this space.” Therefore, Jeferson De works to make the narratives about Brazil more diverse, in every way. “The signature of Princess Isabel, celebrated for having instituted the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), served to erase the whole trajectory of struggle of my ancestors. It is essential that we be aware that everything that is happening today is the result of this struggle,” he recalls, in a thought that explains the importance of the kind of cinema he seeks to do.
A survey of this year’s Ancine (the first one from a racial perspective in Brazil) revealed that only 2% of Brazilian filmmakers are black, a figure that is no more than 1% in relation to black women. “When you think of a Brazilian filmmaker, you think of a white, heterosexual guy from a rich family, from São Paulo or from Rio de Janeiro. And these people make movies to talk about what the Brazilian people are. We also want to tell our version of the story and collaborate with other visions about Brazil,” he says.
Source: Revista Trip