Within a story whether on the big screen, small screen, or within a book, there is set of ideals, philosophies, and issues that can be pinpointed to the significance within American society. In controversial stories such as Gone with the Wind that explored the issues of racism and slavery, Cider House Rules on abortion, The Passion of the Christ, which centers on religion, and Supersize Me shed light on the obesity epidemic in the United States. While few examples are listed, there are thousands of more movies that have been made with the ideological focus on social, political, environmental, or culture issues that have drawn millions to theaters. One in particular movie is the Brazilian crime drama, “City of God”. City of God represents the ideological debate within American’s social and cultural issues of its representation of violence influence by the social issues of poverty and race, violence of women, and the lack of response from police within the city. This movie captures violence represented extensively, violence towards women, and the unresponsiveness with police authority within Brazil. Provided in this essay is a summary of the movie, along with a thorough analysis that provides the ideological debate of the issues provided.
Summary of City of God
The story of “City of God” (Cidade de Deus) starts off from the beginning of the end. Within the opening scenes, it depicts the main character running through the favelas with a companion, whose name we began to know as Rocket, an aspiring photographer looking for a better life. A chicken has run loose, with the local gang trying to capture it, soon, Rocket is caught in the middle of the police and two gangs. Rocket begins a flashback to ten years earlier as the film begins to give a back story to how it all came to the dramatic standoff. The Tender Trio consisting of Clipper, Goose, and Shaggy. They rob others and give back to the rest of the community in exchange for protection from the police. Goose was Rocket’s older brother, and he was one of the more level headed of the three. Benny and Lil Dice aka Lil Ze, used to hang out with the trio, because they wanted to be a part of the gang. Lil Dice formulated a plan that involved the trio robbing the guests of motel. The motel was an hourly rental, mostly used for prostitutes and drug trafficking, was full of people with money. The Trio robbed the place as Lil Dice was supposed to be the lookout and would fire once if he saw the police coming. Lil Dice however did not like being the lookout and fire one prematurely so the brothers would leave. As the Trio left, Lil Dice went in behind them and murdered everyone in the motel. It was one of the bloodiest massacres during that time within the city and drew the attention of the police. The Trio then decide to split up with Shaggy trying to escape the police is shot and killed. Clipper decides to join the church, and Goose is killed by Lil Dice as he tries to still his money. Lil Dice was unremorseful, and his blood lust only grew as those around him begin to fear him.
The film progresses as they show the corruption within the favelas. Lil Dice is referred to as Lil Ze and is currently the leader of the local gang and Drug Empire within the city as he eliminated most of his competition except for rival drug dealer Carrot. Carrot was once a friend of Lil Ze and Benny, however, they forced Carrot’s manager, Blackie to work for them. Benny was one of the only people that Lil Ze respected and listen to, he was not in favor of violence, and would sometimes try to persuade Lil Ze from murdering people. Lil Ze controlled mostly everything that went on through the city and favelas. In the favelas were a group of young hoodlums that the film refers to as “Runts” killed and robbed people in order to aspire to be a part of the gang. Benny met a girl, and felt that the life of gang member was not for him anymore, and wanted out. They throw a big party to say good bye to Benny. Benny buys Rocket a camera, which he eventually would use to document the life and violence around him. At the party, Lil Ze tries to hit on a girl that he sees at the party, but she tells him she is with someone. He sees that she is with Knockout Ned, an ex-army sharp shooter, which collects money on the bus. Lil Ze feels humiliated, and then goes to humiliate Knockout Ned by making him strip and dance in front of everyone. Blackie tries to shoot Lil Ze, and instead kills Benny. Knockout Ned and his girlfriend are walking home after leaving the party, and Lil Ze takes advantage, and his goons beat up Knockout Ned as he rapes his girlfriend. After Ned’s brother stabs Lil Ze they retaliate by shooting up Ned’s home killing some members of his family. Soon the war that Benny tried to prevent breaks out between, Carrot and Lil Ze, with Ned joining Lil Ze, and both “bosses” putting weapons in the hands of the “Runts” in order to add more to their sides. The war lasts for years, as the real reasons getting lost in the translation as they both try to bring down each other’s empires.
In between the war, Rocket has been perfecting his photography skills and gets a job at the local newspaper. Upon hearing the news, Lil Ze wants Rocket to take pictures of his gang in order to get into the newspaper. Rocket uses this opportunity to document all the violence that was going on. A friend at the newspaper publishes some of his pictures, and they become famous. Lil Ze is happy with the exposure as Rocket is the only that can get close enough to take pictures of all the violence that is happening within the city. As the war continues, the movie comes full circle as we are placed at the opening scenes of the standoff both gangs, the police, and Rocket caught in the middle with his camera. The police leave, just Lil Ze and his gang, and Ned and Carrot’s gang are left to face off. Soon the bullets begin to fly, and Rocket ever ready with his camera begins to shoot away at everything going on around him. One of the runts on Ned’s side is shot, unbeknownst to him, the little kid joined in order to avenge his father, the killer happens to be Ned. As Ned runs for help, the little kid shoots him in the back. The police returned to arrest Carrot and Lil Ze. Rocket is not far behind, capturing photos of Lil Ze paying off the police. As soon as the police leave, the “Runts” encircle Lil Ze, who tries to reason with them to join their gang, however, the gang is hell-bent on the revenge of the Lil Ze’s murder of one of their friends, and empties the guns that he gave them into his body. Rocket takes the pictures back to the newspaper and decides to hand over the pictures of the corrupt police and Lil Ze’s dead body in exchange for cash and a steady job at the newspaper. The movie ends with Rocket and his friend walking past some “Runts” who are talking about taking over the city, and the anticipation of a new drug lord.
Analysis of City of God
City of God is based on the real events that occurred in Rio de Janeiro during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Brazil is overrun with favelas that contribute to poverty and acts of violence within the country. “Rio de Janeiro’s “favelas” hillside slums had such a bad rap that they were virtual no-go zones, where drug lords laid down the law and outsiders set foot at their peril.”(Barchfield, 2013) City of God centers on the rise and fall of Lil Ze, the fearsome sociopath gang leader who reigned as top drug boss during the 70’s. “The movie spans three decades: from the late 1960s, when the favelas originates and its youth enter adolescence as petty thieves, to the 1970s and 1980s when the characters grow up to become first minor, than major drug lords.” (Lauirer, 2004) The grittiness and realism of the scenes depicted throughout the movie shed light on the realities of most citizens that live in over 500 shanty style favelas in Brazil. The prevalence of poverty and crime trapped in the never ending cycle. The crimes committed are brought on by the gaps, imbalance, and social disjunction between the culturally induced aspirations for economic success and the undistributed possibilities of achievement. “Crime results from an imbalance between impulses toward criminal activity and social or physical controls that deter it” (Giddens, 2009). The movie demonstrates the realities of the combination of the social structure and the culture emphasis that produces the extreme pressure for aberration. Due to the constraints of the poor they are more vulnerable to the pressures that lead to unfulfilled aspirations to be economically better than their current situation as the city is a cursed destination overrun by ruin and poverty. The favelas depict a societal cynicism, where the citizens are considered the bottom of the barrel. At a young age, they adopt “survival of the fittest” mentality as they watch those around them fall in line with the option of committing crimes in order to survive. They aspire to be a gang members, or drug dealers in hopes of gaining the short monetary gains in order to feel that they are in control of their fates. “City of God promotes no overt political agenda, but in its depiction of poverty and exclusion, refers to the economic and cultural violence of Brazilian Society.” (Carlsten, 2008) Life in the favelas rampart with corrupt cops that are continuously paid off by the drug dealers, all the while arresting individuals based on their racial makeup in hopes of pinning a crime on them. As like in America, the motto of “no snitching” is prevalent within the favelas as no one speaks to the cops in fear of getting murdered.
Violence in City of God
However, the prevalence of violence is one of the central themes within the movie. This film portrays violence in multiple ways. The movie both glamorizes violence and uses it to produce empathy for viewers. The violence is mostly glamorized because the movie only shows what is achieved from the violence and not what consequences it causes. Yet, in reality it is not uncommon for real citizens of these favelas to see the type of violence that was demonstrated in this movie. The hard realities of the day to day of the favelas are riddled with crime and violence matched with an over run of street gangs, corrupt police, and drug dealers. Audience goers, especially citizens that reside in the favelas of the movie thought the movie did not represent an actual representation however their consensus of the movie was,
“That we cannot kill, steal and use drugs because in this world there is a lot of
Violence, prostitution (CG14F)
A lot of death and shootings a lot of prostitution a lot of cowardice (CG22F)
A lot of deaths, a lot of violence, and a lot of people involved with drugs,
Prostitution, but I thought it was cool (CG15F)” (Gregoli, 2011)
Within the movie were several scenes that showed how violence committed was normal as Lil Ze would laugh and seem to enjoy the act of murdering others sometimes for no apparent reason. These scenes are mirrored in several American movies including, Scarface, the Godfather trilogies, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and several others. “Brazil, and Rio in particular, suffers from particularly pervasive and institutionalized forms of violence: gang warfare, military brutality, and police corruption.”(Carlsten, 2008) The violence seen in the City of God, may seem too much for some movie goers, however, with the current debate in the United States, the prevalence of violence in movies has become a serious topic of issue as the recent massacres committed have been traced to imitations from characters within movies. Art is an imitation of life, and people are generally encouraged by what they see on the TV screen, read from a book, or see in real life. In the case of the characters in the City of God, they were a product of their environment. In 2007 more than 6000 people were murdered in Rio de Janiero, and the violence has just increased. (UN, 2011) Although America cinema glorifies the issues of violence in their movies, the real violence is shown in City of God as the realities of the favelas are mirrored 30 years later. However, the way the movie goes about showing so much violence also brings a cavalier sense that could be confused as a coolness of murdering. Even when the movie was not focused on the hoods and was focused on Rocket being a photographer there was violence involved because they wanted him to capture photos of violence and the hoods.
Violence and crime are demonstrated in the film and in reality as the way of survival. In the early scenes where the Tender Trio robbed and then distributed to the community was a means of surviving, not about violence as they did not believe in murdering. Rocket at one point thought about leading the life of crime as he had to abandon his livelihood on the side of the road and when he was fired from his job. “The favelas exist as a moral vacuum, offering only gangsterism, an early death or the rare escape into the middle class life (Rocket).”(Laurier, 2004) He thought that he did not have any other options. As most people within the United States. “For the powerful our problems did not matter. We were too far removed.”(City of God, 2003) Problems of poverty breeds many acts that most people would not commit if they felt they had more options. According to the character there were only two ways to get out. By getting rick, or dying. There is a direct correlation between criminality and the degree of upward mobility. There is a hierarchy when it comes to who runs the favelas. Children will start off becoming lookouts for rival gangs or police, and then work their way up to either be initiated in the gang, or a drug dealer. Once they are a dealer than it is about their ability primarily to be a criminal. Their two options are to sell more drugs, or kill more people. Crime and deviance result from “structural tensions and a lack of moral regulation within society.” (Giddens, 2008)
The themes of poverty and violence are intertwined as they both acts as the cause and effects of a serious issue not centered to just the favelas in Brazil but throughout the world. However, another serious issue that is depicted within the movie is the violence showed towards women. Domestic violence towards women is a serious issue within American as they recently just passed a much harsher law that criminalizes people that violate the law by assaulting women. “Violence against women is linked to a number of factors, including hard economic times and communities where violent crime is endemic.”(Liana, 2012) In City of God, males are represented unevenly compared to the representation of women. Women are seen as objects that are used for men to carry out their violence against each other. (Carlsten, 2008) The women displayed throughout the movie are mostly victims, such as in the instances of Ned’s girlfriend that was raped by Lil Ze, in retaliation of being humiliated that ultimately jump starts the all-out war between Ned and Lil Ze. Shorty’s wife, who is beaten with shovel and buried alive, after he catches her with another men. “The strongest women of the film, Angelica and Bernice, attempt to reverse this power equation by using their sexual hold over the men, encouraging them to leave the gangs; they are unsuccessful.”(Carlsten, 2008) In both instances, they lose the men as they try to escape the lifestyle that they grew into. The violence of women is prevalent, as in reality, women in Latin countries are increasingly becoming caught in a lose-lose situation where they are at the forefront of drug trafficking and police corruption. Women that choose to report the crimes are often murdered, their pleas ignore by local police, and left to fend for themselves. “Women have certainly become victims of the drug trade as they participate in it, but in some cases, women are used as a form of social cohesion among gang members.”(Liana, 2012)
Lack of Help
City of God shows the director’s perspective of how violence is commonplace within the favelas. Violence contributes to the shaping the film’s pervasiveness to naturalize violence in City of God. Violence is not presented as a disruptive element in the social narrative but as a unifying motif that propels and connects the individual stories. “A picture could change my life. But in the City God, if you run away, they get you, and if you stay, they get you too.”(Carlsten, 2008) Police corruption is depicted throughout the story, in just about every scene where police are involved, they are shown taking bribes, stealing from suspects, and carelessly killing innocents and criminals. In the early scenes were Shaggy and Goose are hiding in the trees from the police, they hear the police arguing on how to treat the criminals.
“One wants to steal the loot; after all, the youth are only “niggers and thieves”; the other wants simply to “exterminate” the men. This dialogue, coupled with the image of the men huddled primitively in the tree branches, calls attention to the way in which they have been dehumanized by the state and by the discourse of the media.” (Carleston, 2008)
As situations in American society mirrored in some neighborhoods the attitudes of some police that are corrupt, and do nothing to curb the violence in racially dense neighborhoods. Lil Ze pays the police for protection and to ignore the problems that exist within the city. In the movie and in reality citizens are aware of the ongoing corruption. “Rather than the traffickers, locals are quicker to criticise the police, who, they allege, fight the traffickers only to extract more bribes.” (The Economist, 2003) Within the favelas, there is no justice system as the police work for the drug dealers with an impulse to either kill everyone or try to steal from them. The systemic violence of the state and the resignation with which it is accepted are most evident in the film’s ending. The police are of no help, the community has adopted the “no snitching” rule out of fear of retaliation from local gangs. Gangs control the city and enforce their own style of justice on police, citizens, and whoever crosses their path. Even though, Rocket has pictures of the police taking bribes, he is debate on using them because he knows the newspaper would likely not use them.
Gangs have been a serious problem within the United States, with the solutions involving debates of immigration policy, police authority, and political debate. Many blame the increase of violence on the illegal immigrations forming the MS13 gangs, corrupt police being paid off by drug traffickers, and police not having enough authority to effectively handle the situation. What they ignore is the underlying problem which is central throughout the story, which the director did not truly touch on. The problem of poverty and the disproportionate levels of wealth distribution in the countries. “The disparities between rich and poor intensified, with 10 percent of the population accumulating 40 percent of the wealth.”(Laurier, 2004) Gangs have outgun the police. Gangs provide both protection and social services to the communities but contribute greatly to the city’s crime. The order at which justice, services, and crime exist only insofar as the gangs allow it to. The government’s capabilities in dismantling the drug trade means allowing anarchy into the city. Drugs trade the drug trade dictates most of the Favelas economy, the majority of money within the slum has been made from the drug trade. Children have become accustomed to living in the favelas and seeing the realities that are happening around them. The lack of police interference, the protection and the glorification of violence depicted by gang members normalizes their way of life. Laurier provides quotes from a former child solider in the favelas, whose heroes were the drug dealers. They felt compelled to carry an assault rifle in order to fight the police, who knew that if they saw them would shoot them first. The drug dealers provided food and supplies for the community while the government and police ignored them. “The government would not do anything for us, so we took things into our own hands. We lived in a poor community with day-to-day violence and drugs, police shootings and bandit shootings.”(Laurier, 2004)
Fernando Meirelles main goals in making this film were to enlighten the world about the increasing problems within the favelas of Brazil. The problems of poverty, violence, and drug rings is evident throughout the movie and mirrors the realities of Brazil’s poorest areas. Meirelles intended to cause a discussion and stir up controversy by showing the no-holds bar ways that people were murdered throughout the favelas. The light casted on the negligence of the government and police, and how nothing was being done to slow down the crime and poverty in the favelas is essential in his depiction. Within the movie, it is clear that life has no value as people will take another life without a thought. The ideological debate within the context of the movies borders on the political, social, and cultural issues in American society. The glamorization of violence, poverty, violence towards women, and the inability of the police to do something about the crimes in the poor areas. There is a need for reform in the issues presented not only in Brazil, but in America also as these issues are existent in America presently. The cost of poverty is an issue that should not be ignored as it breeds chaos, violence, in an expansionary cycle that continues to support to the infrastructure of violence and crime.
Barchfield, Jenny. (2013). “Rio Favela Development: Brazilian Slums Turn From No-Go to Must-Buy.” Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/13/rio-favela-development-brazil-slums_n_2467975.html
Carlsten, Jenny. (2008). “Violence in the City of God: The Fantasy of the Omniscient Spectator.” CinePhile. Retrieved from http://cinephile.ca/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/carlsten-cityofgod.pdf
“Gangs 101. Understanding the Culture of Youth Violence.” Esperanza. Retrieved from http://gangs.umd.edu/Downloads/Prevention/Gangs%20101%20-%20Understanding%20the%20Culture%20of%20Youth%20Violence.pdf
Giddens, Anthony, Mitchell Duneier, Richard Appelbaum, and Deborah Carr. Introduction to Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. Print
Gregoli, Roberta. (2011). “Transnational Reception of City of God and Elite Squad.” Journal of Audience and Receptive Studies. Retrieved from http://www.participations.org/Volume%208/Issue%202/3d%20Gregoli.pdf
Laurier, Joanne. (2004). “Sincere, but avoiding difficult questions.” World’s Socialist Web Site. Retrieved from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2004/03/city-m03.html
Liana, Sara Miller. (2012). “Violence against women in Latin America: Is it getting worse?” The Christian Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2012/1120/Violence-against-women-in-Latin-America-Is-it-getting-worse
Martin, Molly. (2012). “Mega-Cities & Mega-Events: Lessons from Favelas for the Future.” Retrieved from http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/Collaboration/universities/Mega-Cities.pdf
Owens, David. (2010). “City of God.” Retrieved from http://davidowens.edublogs.org/city-of-god/
Pastor, James F. Toro, Nester. (2012). “Gangs in America. A Deadly Game.” The Real Truth. Retrieved from http://realtruth.org/articles/121106-001.html
“UN expert reports alarming rates of murder in Brazil despite efforts to end violence.” (2011). UN. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp? NewsID=34875#.UZDQVsobyM8
“Violence in Brazil: City of God and gripes.” (2003). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/1550959