Cidade de Deus (2002)

Cidade de Deus tells the story of a favela in Rio de Janero. The story of the Cidade is recounted by Rocket, an aspiring photographer hoping to escape the poverty of the favela. Rocket’s coming of age, along with those of many of the kids around him, forms the bulk of the film’s story, while frequent flashbacks place them into the greater context of the Cidade’s history. Life in the “City of God” is brutal and unrelenting. Murder, drug-abuse, and corruption are rampant, and the denizens cursed to poverty.

The origin and economy of the favela are important aspects to consider when watching this film. Rocket speaks about his family’s migration, along with many other similar families, as refugees from the agricultural interior fleeing the devastation of widespread flooding. The mid-twentieth century saw a massive migration to cities, and in Brazil it was no different. in Brazil, from the 1930’s through the 1950’s, the lack of agricultural mechanization, poor conditions, and grueling nature of the work contributed to the migration to the cities. Once in the cities, the migrants formed a ‘subproletariat’, not a bona fide working class, but a body of workers that could be exploited on a piecemeal basis by industries that did not have to pay them benefits or substantial wages, due to the impermanence of the jobs for which these laborers hired. Furthermore by 1960, 100 economically active people in the favelas accounted for 179 economically in-active people, solidifying these peoples role as a ‘subproletariat’. (Pino, Labor in the Favelas, p. 20). Cidade de Deus tells the story of this group of people and the informal economy in which they took part. This informal economic activity in its legitimate for (such as day labor, cottage industry, etc.) often did not pay the bills, many people turned to truly ‘informal’ economies, in the form of drug-dealing and crime.

Race is also certainly an issue in the favelas, though life in them was not necessarily determined by race, as people of all descents inhabited the favelas. However, in Brazil “social mobility among Brazilians of African descent has historically been the lowest among all ethnic groups.” (Santos Oliveira, favelas and Ghettos, p. 77). Many of the characters in Cidade de Deus, including Rocket, are of African descent. They live in poverty, and will likely to continue to live in poverty. The cyclical nature of violence and poverty is an important theme in the film. Rocket however, manages to break free from the cycle. He does this through his photographs, which are published by a middle-class, white newspaper. Rocket breaks from from the favelas poverty by “becoming white”.