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CINEMA, CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES, BRAZILIAN IDENTITY AND MEDIA EDUCATION

Posted by alexandrabujokas em janeiro 18, 2008

 

“Tropa de Elite” (Elite Squad) made by the film director José Padilha, is probably the most commented Brazilian movie nowadays, especially because it became a sort of media phenomenon. Firstly, before being launched on cinemas, the movie was illegally copied and sold as pirate copies. The producers estimate that about 1 million copies were sold at informal markets over the country.

 

Watch here the openning sequence of the movie (with English subtitles):

 

 

Once launched (on 12th October), the film quickly became a blockbuster. In spite of the piracy, the audience at cinemas kept high and the main actor’s images soon appeared on the main press. Reviews and articles explored different points of view about the image of the police and of the drug dealers created by the movie, as well as the social matters implied in the narrative structure.

Particularly among young people, the film became a kind of an identity object: girls are now using bathing suits with the film’s logo, the music is one of the most heard mobile ring tunes. “Capitão Nascimento” (the protagonist) is a kind of an idol for the teenagers and some words spoken by the main character are being used as popular slangs.

TROPA DE ELITE FASHION

 

 

In Rio de Janeiro, girls are using bathing suits with the film’s logo

 

Some Secondary Schools pupils interviewed by the newspaper “Folha de S. Paulo” (published in 22 October 2007) said that Capitão Nascimento can be seen as a heroe because he puts his own life in risk in order to catch the drug dealers, he isn’t a corrupted policeman and he is a “human heroe”: although he is about to have his first son born, he doesn’t leave his dangerous job.

Folhateen front page

 

Young people interviewed by Folha de S. Paulo reproduce police gestures and say that Capitão Nascimento is a heroe for them

Carta Capital cover

 

Cover of a weekly magazine

 

 

Few months ago, Brazilian people could watch some parodies of the film made by young people on Youtube. One of the most watched was called “The Squad”, that is, a group of policemen invades a party, looking for drugs. They torture and kill people but, at the end, they just found chocolates… Then, they start dancing… Violence is shown as something “cool”. Another video uses scenes from the original movie to make jokes against Rios de Janeiro’s football teams.

Besides teenager apropriation, the media itself has been using the movie: humoristc TV programmes make parodies of the most commented scenes, a very popular website specialized on jokes has transformed Capitão Nascimento in a kind of an interviwer, who interviews other “celebrities” such as Darth Vader.

The movie has even inspired a digital multiplayer game in which the player chooses to be a policeman or a drug dealer from the Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

 “Tropa de Elite” is part of a new kind of movies being produced in Brasil since 1996, which explores the relationship between social injustice, drug traffic, corruption within the police force and violence. Other movies such as “City of God” (by Fernando Meireles and Katia Lund), “Bus 174” (by José Padilha) and “News of a private war” (a documentary directed by João Moreira Salles and Katia Lund) are part of this new moviment. Those movies have a point in common: they leave “romantic ideas” about poor people and claim that citizens who live under the poverty line in Brazilian “favelas” are becoming sanguinary killers, product of the the material and cultural environment. That approach is based on the idea that, if after decades the country was not able to deal with the social injustice, then we are “picking fruit” from our political choices: we have abandoned poor people; now they respond with violence. Of course this kind of argument is creating controversies and “Tropa de Elite” lifted up the debate to a higher temperature.

According to the main Brazilian press, the film conveys at two points of view, at the same time: it is understood both as a critical approach to the problem of the absurd social injustice (for example: in some dialogues the policemen say how low their salaries are and, because of this, they agree with the corruption) and a dangerous apology of the violent police methods which, clearly, offend human rights.

“Tropa de Elite” is especially controversial as it shows policemen torturing people in order to get information about the criminals. The difference is that the torturers are members of a special police squad (called BOPE – Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especial – Special Police Operations Batallion) who are not corrupted like the “regular police”. Consequently, they appear heroes. So, who is right about the film’s position?

Clearly this is a typical issue in the cultural studies, because the film is a visual open text which permits different readings. Every social group, according to its backgrounds, understands the movie’s discourse in different ways. However the middle class teenagers reading (as expressed for example in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo and on Youtube) should be object to a more accurate analisys. The main question that emerges from that reading is: how is it possible to ignore the torture and the killing of innocent people and see the protagonist as a heroe?

My hypothesis is that what the teenagers are doing is to bring the film into their previous experience of fights between police and gangsters. And… what experience is that? Probably it is an experience constructed by Hollywood action movies (like “James Bond” or “Mission: Impossible” and so on) and by computer violent games. In both cases, killing people is seen just as a tool to get a target purpose. So, if Capitão Nascimento is torturing and killing innocent people in order to catch the drug dealers (who are seen as the villains rather than romanticised poor people), then he is a kind of herolike other characters of action movies and games.

Now, the remaining question is: considering “Tropa de Elite” a typical controversial media phenomenon, how should the media educationalists procede in order to promote an informed viewing of the movie among young people?

In such an educational process, some core questions should be investigated:
1. What are the previous media experiences young people have used to make sense of the movie?

2. What movie language elements permit to bring “Tropa de Elite” into the action movies genre, and into that mentioned young people’s reading?

3. How can we help youngsters distance themselves from the movie and help them examine the visual text critically? What kind of pedagogical techniques should be used?

Considering that the movie is going to be presented internationally, this could make a good international study on how young people read controversial films. The Brazilian teenagers’s reading seams to be quite strange as far as our national backgrounds ae concerned, especially because for two main reasons: 1. the violent police is a problem which puts in risk the life of every citizen. If everybody lives with this problem, how is it possible to ignore and see the squad members as heroes? 2. After 20 years under dictatorship (when police tortured and killed many youngsters), how is possible to forget our own history and social scars and see the torture scenes as just “nice”?

Maybe what is happening is that Brazilian viewers are making sense of the movie in a similar way of young US viewers would do. Perhaps the global background created by international media industries is overlaping and annulling local backgrounds. For the Brazilian democracy a supposed Americanized reading of “Tropa de Elite” is a really serious problem. Local media educationalists should ask for help.

 

Watch here the official trailer of the movie “Tropa de Elite” (in portuguese)

 

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