Bus 174 is a shocking and dramatic documentary, chronicling a tragic event that took place in Rio de Janeiro on June 12, 2000. Mixed between actual news footage and interviews with various people to render a backstory, this documentary provides a raw look at how one man, Sandro do Nascimento, grew up a victim of neglect and poverty. His harsh reality of a childhood resulted in his life ending at a young age on that same day in June: his final hours culminating in a day marred by violent threats and dangerous actions.
Sandro grew up after his mother’s violent death, which he witnessed, a child who lived off of the streets in Rio. In interviews with his former social worker and other professionals, the viewer finds out that all that these street kids want is some sort of recognition or attention by anyone, often times leading them to show-out in acts of violence and crime in order to fulfill such a desire. Because the number of kids living on the street is so great, the significance of their worth becomes cheapened [Szuchman, 25]. These children are constantly ignored by those living lifestyles contrary to the lower class, and they are even disregarded and executed by the government or police force. It seems that not much has changed in the mindsets of many wealthier or elite citizens from those considered upper-class in Brazil in the 1870s who believed “the poor were the victims of their own moral shortcomings” [Szuchman, 18].
Many of the street kids, Sandro included, do not wish to live such tragic lives, marked by violence or criminal activities, but are forced to do so in order to survive or obtain any provisions for themselves [Ramos]. They live a life similar to those portrayed in Cidade de Deus. According to persons interviewed in Bus 174, Sandro had never been one to display physical violence towards others: he was simply a young man who had fallen into a lifestyle of drugs and petty crimes with no way to better himself. Such seems the case for many poverty-stricken youth in Latin American countries [Ramos]. With no opportunities provided to him other than more violent exposures by way of time spent in jail, Sandro was doomed to suffer a tragic end. Sandro was representative of the life that plagues many impoverished Brazilians in urban settings; falling victim to the “violence, alcoholism, disease, and hunger that characterized the daily lives of thousands of people…” [Szuchman, 23].
Both Capoeira, and the Brazilian Samba, are forms of artistic expression developed out of roots from slavery and the black culture in Brazil. It seems appropriate that Sandro, a young black man in Rio, who grew up impoverished and as one who had little worth, like many ‘slaves,’ would find solace in Capoeira. The only bright spot that seemed to shine in Sandro’s life was when he was actively participating in the Brazilian form of martial art mixed with dancing, along with many of the other street children. His former teacher states in the documentary that he seemed to thrive in these moments. This appeared to be the one time he was able to express himself, also giving him the opportunity to socialize with others in society. Poverty-stricken blacks had used Samba at one time for the same effect [Szuchman, 23], allowing the dance to fulfill the desire of being a part of a culture, much like Capoeira probably provided for Sandro. These moments of worth and happiness would be short-lived.
Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies that occurred that fateful day in June 2000 was the lack of action and responsibility shown by police forces and government in their reaction to such a dire situation. Even though other citizens’ lives were in “danger” due to Sandro’s actions on Bus 174, police were hesitant to respond with force, allowing Sandro to continue his maniac-like stand-off for hours. People on the bus later explained that Sandro quietly told them he did not want to hurt them, but wanted them to act terrified in order for the situation to seem more dramatic than it was, in hopes that police would fulfill his request for a way out. The police were poorly trained to deal with Sandro’s situation and their lack of preparation resulted in the death of not only Sandro, but one of the hostages, Geisa. Geisa was a victim of an authority’s quick, and unprepared reaction to Sandro coming off of the bus. Instead of shooting Sandro, he accidentally shot Geisa in the face. Sandro’s gut reaction was to pull the trigger on the gun he had been holding for hours, also shooting Geisa in the back multiple times. It’s a horrific scene to watch, knowing that the government failed not only Sandro in life, but Geisa in death. Hundreds of citizens rushed to seek revenge on Sandro immediately after the shots fired, determined to take matters into their own hands (as many in run-down barrios are forced to do [Szuchman, 25]) after having watched the police do nothing for hours. Sandro died at the hands of the police in the back of a van, suffering from asphyxiation.
In the end, a childhood in the city had resulted in an ill-fated ending to Sandro’s life. Rio de Janeiro, to many a representation of a vibrant, blissful and relaxing lifestyle indicative of the Latin American culture, had only served as a corrupt venue, one which provided Sandro with an eroded “civilized existence” [Szuchman, 24].