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Youth Crime and Violence in “City of God”, Essay Example

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Essay

In the past several decades, Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced an increase in violence that has been of great interest and concern to urban planners. The causes of this phenomenon are thought to be rapid urbanization, persistent poverty and inequality, political violence, organized crime, and the predominance of the illegal drug trade, as well as the use of drugs (Van Bronkhorst.) The movie “City of God” addresses many of these issues, but may perhaps be most disturbing by its portrayal of the criminal training of children followed by their development into seriously dangerous and violent teenage gangsters. A movie such as this one reflects the issue of globalization and cinema, as it is a transnational ghetto film that has been circulated as a product that originates from Brazil (Mennel.)

There is a vast market for Third World films such as City of God that romanticize the concept of the ghetto as opposed to independent films that more tentatively describe topics including urban poverty; this threatens to create myths and stereotypes about the impoverished population living in cities in certain Third World countries. The disadvantage of this portrayal is that the movie-viewing public will come to see the whole Third World as one big ghetto. This paper will discuss the issue of youth crime and violence that is exemplified in this film, underscoring the notion that such behaviors and activities are significant contributing factors to the decline of urban areas in Latin America. These problems are as relevant to urban planners as the other issues that are causing urban decline such as lack of social mobility, the physical environment in slums and the importance of education.

In Rio de Janeiro, the setting of the film, the society is near collapse and its citizens are plagued by corruption while being surrounded by criminals. The vivid portrayal of poverty presented in “City of God” emphasizes how few options are available to teenagers and young people, the almost nonexistent chances of success, and the vicious mentality of so many of the residents, shockingly evident in the behaviors of its children and teenagers. In this setting, youth gangs operate in a way that is similar to organized crime networks, and have become virtually institutionalized because of persistence over spans of time, complex levels of organization, adaptive survival techniques and the ability to meet the needs of many of the communities (United Nations Global Settlement Program.) In Latin America, youth gangs play a major role in urban violence. In “City of God” the violence of the youth gangs in Rio is part of the natural landscape. The temptations for children and teenagers of living on the streets and forming gangs is closely linked to the poverty rate in Latin American cities; 75% of the Latin American population and nearly 70% of those at or below the poverty level now live in urban areas such as Rio de Janeiro (Mennel.)

Meirelles, the filmmaker, presents a compassionate understanding of the motivation of these teen criminals and gangsters: they are seeking notoriety, and take pride in harming their rivals and enemies. There are many incentives for these street children to be in a gang, because it is their sole means of developing self-esteem, albeit misplaced, and being treated like members of the cohesive group to which they belong. All forms of violence, including murder, provides them with thrills. The world that is presented in “City of God” is depressing and painful to watch, mostly because anything can happen at any time, including children, killing other children for no apparent reason. These youngsters crave power, and in their world upward mobility comes directly from illegal and criminal acts. There are no adults available to provide direction for these children and teens, so that their peers fulfill that role for them; the gangs are in charge of themselves.

In Rio de Janeiro as portrayed in this film, the main ways that children and teenagers are able to survive are by carrying guns and being able to use them at a moment’s notice. Because these children missed out on any phase of innocence at all, they are not actually corrupted morally because they never had that core to begin with. The City of God children have become essentially grown-up by the age of nine, and are able to achieve leadership status by age 16, only to be murdered by the age of 20. The film demonstrates this stark vision by showing teenage gang members riddled with bullets, a fact of life in this poverty-stricken, decaying urban hellhole.

The bleak lives of the children and teenagers in “City of God” portray an unpredictable, violence-ridden existence that offers them no hope of living a different life than their criminal cohorts. This desperate cycle of random shootings, revenge, and murder by children and young people are part of the urban landscape that has become endemic in several areas of the world, including Latin America. Urban planners must consider this factor in coming to some understanding of the entirety of the contributing sources of urban decay. Although the physical environment of urban areas certainly plays a central role in the decay or the flourishing of those cities, the human factor plays a significant role as well because the human relationships such as those portrayed in City of God either reinforce the demise of the region, or participate in its successes.

Although the film contains an occasional ray of sunshine, such as Rocket’s attempts to escape from the dead-end realities of the City of God, it is clear that getting away from the lifestyle there is not an easy task. This movie has been an international success because of its raw portrayal of the horrific life that is inevitable to street children in Third World countries such as Brazil; indeed, all of the roles were played by children in these environments, rather than actors. There is no happy ending here, so that the viewer is compelled to consider lives that may be so far from life in the developing countries that there could easily be a tendency to dismiss the pain of the movie as merely a plot in a film.

Works Cited:

Bronkhorst, Caroline Moser and Bernice van. Youth Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean: Costs, Causes, and Interventions. Washington, DC: Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Sector Management Unit of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Office, 1999.

Mennel, Barbara. Cities and Cinema ( Routledge Critical Introductions to Urbanism and the City). New York: Routledge, 2008.

United Nations Human Settlements Programme. Enhancing Urban Safety and Security. Nairobi: Gutenberg Press, 2007.

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