Brazil’s Political and Social Structure in the Film City of God
City of God is the one of the most important film which tells us about Brazil’s political and social structure of the 1960-1990s period. First of all, I would like to begin by explaining the historical development of the political structure of Latin America and Brazil. In Latin America between 1920-1960, nearly 80 military revolts that toppled governments occurred. Also, Latin America manage to break the coup cycle/trap (121 coup between 1950 and 1982). After the 1960s, coups resulted in more violence and longer military rule since the military elites began a policy of purging the society from subversive elements and restore order. When the governments were weaker, the more likely military was to get involved. Military regimes after 1960s took on the characteristics of Bureaucratic-authoritarianism or neo-conservatism. In Brazil, between 1964-1984 Bureaucratic-authoritarianism were seen. Expanding bureaucratization: vital government positions involved by technocratic and military elites (with help from landowning strata, urban middle class, and financial elites). João Goulart’s government’s purpose was deep-rooted modernization and infrastructure projects. Intellectuals, various ideological currents opposed this situation. However, they did not get an effective result. In 1964, military force seized power in Brazil. In Brazil, the military dictatorship lasted 25 years, from 1964 to 1989, included six different presidential administrations (one of them headed by a civilian), and its history may be divided into five major stages.
In the 10-year changes in the film, we see the reflections of government changes on favela. After inflation was reduced by military government, Brazilian economic miracle was occurred. (normal yearly development of 10-11 % in 1968-1974) Brazil entered a ‘stagflation’ phase concurrent with political liberalization. During the military period, Brazilian society had become 70 percent urban; the economy had become industrialized, and more manufactured goods than primary goods were exported; and about 55 percent of the population had registered to vote. Middle class was delighted with full employment. But Urban guerilla warfare existed in 1960s in opposition to the military. Guerilla movement could not topple the military that was supported by the urban people and upper classes because insurgency was not widespread. Military regime prepared in 1974 to gradually return power to civilians which was indirect elections introduced. Military decided to step down in 1984 after popular protests and worsening economy but didn’t allow for direct elections.
The film City of God takes place in such a political environment that I mentioned above. When the state completely loses its legitimacy, society establishes its own justice system. First of all, the film realistically reflects the ‘favela’ life in Cidade de Deus in Rio, Brazil between 1960-1990. We learn from film the story of the formation of a suburb of a colorful city like Rio, and the groupings there. The film moves a little from the past and a bit from the future with sequences from the future, and it continues in the present.
Rio De Janeiro; Until I watched the film, it was a hassle-free living city that took my share of the vast beaches and the generosity of the sun. In the film, however, the city of God is a dark city dominated by drugs and weapons. For example, in the film, we see the political and economic instability and security forces’ degeneration. I would like to say that police corruption in Rio, which is clearly depicted in the film as integral to the survival of drug rings and proliferation of access to weapons. At the climax of the film when the two rival druglords Lil Ze and ‘Carrot’ are captured by police, we witness two important events: Carrot is kept in custody by the police who say he will be a ‘present for the media’, whereas Ze is let go and through Rocket’s camera lens we see that police have been providing him with weapons and drugs in return for money.
Now, let’s define the favelas that are subject to the film. The first favela, now known as Providência in the center of Rio de Janeiro, appeared in the late 19th century, built by soldiers who had nowhere to live following the Canudos War. ( “Favela”. Vikipedi. Web. 19.03.2019 ) Let’s look at the historical development of the favelas that the film takes on the subject. After the Canudos War in Bahia, Brazilian soldiers marched to Rio de Janeiro to receive their deserved payment. They waited in the hillsides for the government to hand over the money. Yet they never got paid, and so they never left. They soon settled into makeshift accommodation in a neighborhood that came to be known as Morro da Favela, named after the favela trees in Bahia that the soldiers had previously lived among. It was from this moment, the culture of Rio’s favela was born. ( “A Brief History of Rio De Janeiro’s Favelas”. Culture Trip. Web. 19.03.2019 ) A society was isolated with the Favelas. The enormous gap between the rich and the poor grew. The resentment grew when in the 1940s, the housing crisis in Rio hit a peak as a wave of mass migration swamped the city, the result of a countrywide economic crisis. With a severe lack of housing and government support, people depended on their own resources and started constructing more favelas. The difficulties of the life of the Favela and the emergence of a crime center and the birth of drug and weapon barons were very impressive in the film.
The Favelas became the center of drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and gang wars in the 1980s. As a result, violence and crime increased and favelas were ruled by illegal gangs. Rich drug barons and gang leaders were born. The Favelas began to be governed by these illegal organizations. The rate of violence and crime gradually increased. In 2008, the Brazilian Government set up UPP (Police Pacification Units) to ensure peace and security in the favelas region. The UPP was implemented as a program to take back the long-neglected favela region of the state. As a result, there were intense clashes in the favelas. But the favelas were made safer.
Thanks to the film, I had the opportunity to study the political and social structure of a period in Latin America and especially in Brazil. I understood the importance of state authority and the fight against crime / criminals for peace and security. It is seen that especially the homeless and poor people being forced to live in favela-style settlements, that is, isolation from society can never be a solution. It is clear that countries which are strong economic structure and a stable political structure are most likely free from military interventions. Military coups have occurred very often in Brazil and many other Latin American countries due to lack of political stability. In the last scenes of the film, even though it has been shown that the gangs have been transferred to the next generation, I wish that the peace and friendship will prevail in our country and all other countries.
- Ribeiro, Andrea Barata, et al. City of God. Miramax Films, 2003.
- Favela. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favela.
- Brown, Sarah. A Brief History of Rio De Janeiro’s Favelas. Culture Trip, 8 Feb. 2017, theculturetrip.com/south-america/brazil/articles/a-brief-history-of-rio-de-janeiros-favelas/.
- Napolitano, Marcos. Brazilian Military Regime, 1964–1985 – Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Brazilian Military Regime, 1964–1985 – Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, 18 Apr. 2018.
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