“Fight and you’ll never survive,” Rocket said. “Run and you’ll never escape.” The film, Cidade de Deus, captures the sense of entrapment Rocket faces and other Brazilians who live in favelas (shantytowns) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Although the film uses creative and narrative elements such as the use of flashbacks and voiceover to enhance entertainment value, the film is a good historical depiction. It characterizes the favelas very well. It shows they seem to be stuck in their own little world of lawlessness with no police intervention. It also shows how the favelas are not racially divided. Then, the film shows how those in the favelas are vital to the local economy, yet society does not value them. The favela’s conditions perpetuate Brazilian capitalism. Unlike in United States capitalism, it is nearly impossible for favellos to escape a cycle of poverty in Brazil.
First of all, the favelas seem to be stuck in an alternate reality. This view is certainly portrayed through the use of flashbacks which are confusing at times. Police allow crime to go on in Cidade de Deus. It’s also historically accurate that the police let murders go on as long as it doesn’t affect the middle class (Harton, 206). Harton said that people in favelas live a dog eat dog existence. They are struggling to survive.
Very often, those in favelas don’t even have the ability to survive. They take the most poorly paid jobs, like street vendors, construction and domestic service, which do not even pay for their survival (Pino, 19). Obviously, these jobs are important to the local economy, but they do not pay well and are usually short term. In addition, these jobs are not valued by the rest of society. In the film, while Rocket is selling fish, the police make him leave his cart on the side of the road and get in their car for questioning. The action in this scene would have cost Rocket a lot of money, but the police don’t care. Furthermore, people who lived in middle-class neighborhoods next to the favelas traveled to the favelas to buy food and secondhand goods (Pino, 32). Obviously favellos’ jobs were vital to the local economy, yet they were paid poorly and lived in terrible living conditions.
The favelas were multi-racial. Unlike ghettos in the United States, they were not all black (Oliveira, 72). Economic divisions formed the favelas—not racism. It was mostly former black slaves who flocked to Harlem, NY to escape the racism of the South (Oliveira, 76). Today, the United States ghettos are being further divided among the black-white divide, while many white people are moving to the favelas in Brazil (Oliveira, 82). The film portrays the multi-ethnicity of the favelas through the white kid with the curly hair. Benny’s friendship with the white guy even inspires him to change his haircut to a more curly style. Evidently, there is little to no racism portrayed in the film. In fact, many of the cops, who the hoodlums are up against, are also black, and when Rocket is at the point where he is getting out of the favela, he sleeps with a white girl.
Rocket getting out of Cidade de Deus is not common. His story is extraordinary—clearly making it perfect for a successful film. He only gets out because he becomes a photographer. Most people in the favelas were unable to get out. What makes them have a better chance to succeed in life is better economic conditions. Pino said politicians’ policies had failed to amend the favela problem because they failed to amend the economic conditions which created them (37). The Brazilian dictator, Vargas, in the late 1930s used zoning and slum removal programs in downtown Rio de Janeiro to improve the problem (Oliveira 76). But the people just moved to the outskirts of the city and built favelas. Most of these favelas were eventually destroyed by politicians, but Pino cited an exception: the city of Jacarezinho. This favela was not destroyed because it improved economically—industry saved it. The General Electric plant and other factories gave people jobs (Pino, 34).
So, it is only by changing the economic conditions of the favelas that can allow its inhabitants to escape the cycle of poverty. The film, Cidade de Deus, does a good job of portraying the bubble that favellos lived in. It appears to be a strange and immoral world: adults murdering kids, kids murdering one another and rapists are rampant. There are no rules of law, and people seem to have no means of escape.