In Cidade de Deus, director Fernando Meirelles depicts the frustrating story of the urban lower classes in Brazil. The film relates the cyclical process of socioeconomic conditions reinforcing lower class activities, which in turn reinforce those conditions. To phrase it more clearly, the Brazilians portrayed in Cidade de Deus were forced to turn to illicit means to support themselves and their families. In the movie, this took the form of burglary and drug dealing. As a result of these activities, a select few members of the favela came into a great deal of money, but at the same time these activities furthered the impoverishment of many, whether by the gang members directly taking their money or strongly encouraging their money-wasting drug-using habits. The historical accuracy of Meirelles’ film should be judged on its ability to portray the actual effects of race and class on these conditions.
The lower classes of urban Brazilian culture do not have a comparable political ability to the oppressed class portrayed in Che, Part I. Meirelles portrays this Brazilian class as uneducated and averse to nearly all political activity. The individuals in the film only understand, in the words of Elijah Anderson, the “code of the streets” and only participate in the politics of the street gangs of the shanty town. Stephen M. Hart describes this class shown in the movie as “a violent, voiceless, illiterate group of murderers” (207). Schooling is directly mentioned once in the film, and in this case the students decided to spend the day at the beach rather than study for an exam. None of the members of Lil’ Z’s gang can read the paper in order to find out whether the media know that Lil’ Z is the “real boss.” The only appearance of public authority in the film comes in the form of the police, which at its best moment killed a former criminal who was trying to escape the city and the life of a hoodlum. The people of the City of God otherwise seemed oblivious to any existence of a state at all.
The existence of race and racism does not play a prevalent role in the film, as well it should not. Race is referred to a couple of times, but only briefly. A number of blacks, whites, and mixed people populate the ranks of the street gangs and the rest of the population of the City of God, seemingly without much controversy. In Ney dos Santos Oliveira’s comparison of the poorer areas of New York City and those of Rio de Janeiro, he posits that “favelas differ from ghettos in that they are racially mixed, even though blacks make up the majority of the population” (73). This difference makes sense when studying the history of blacks and the favelas of Brazil. Approximately nine times as many black slaves were sold into Brazil as were sold into the United States, and the abolition process occurred slowly and generally without violence (Oliveira 73-74). All of these factors allowed for the “melting pot” conditions in terms of race displayed throughout the film.