Favelas in Rio de Janeiro today do not differ than the favelas presented in the film Cidade de Deus, set in 1960 and 70s Brazil. Even today, some favelas still do not have access to electricity and running water. The film follows Buscape, an aspiring young photographer living in the favela called Cidade de Deus. What makes his unique is that he uses journalism as his escape from the danger of living amongst a gang dominated favela. The critically acclaimed film won international acclaim because of its creative cinematic elements.
The acting is notable in that most of the actors endured year-long training (Hart 206). Some of the actors, Alexandre Rodrigues (Buscape) and Leandro Firmino (Ze Pequeno), are actually from the real Cidade de Deus. Hart mentions the reality of the film with the recreation of dangerous shoot out scenes, however; they did not shoot the film in the real Cidade de Deus, because it was too dangerous, consequently, they shot in a nearby favela.
What is real to both the fictitious and the real favela residents is poverty. First, City of God is a story of structure and agency. And secondly, it’s a story about being Brazilian in Cidade de Deus. Buscape rises from his criminal surrounding and becomes a straight-laced journalist. However, nearly all his childhood friends become involved in a criminal life. The structure of City of God perhaps allowed the growth of violence. Favelas are shantytowns composed of people that work and live even below the working class (Pino 21). The bourgeoisie benefitted from the work of the people from the favelas (18). The influx of jobless farmers provided temporary work instead of formal elongated work bound to contracts (18). The favela worker thus becomes a “sub proletariat” (18). Pino defines a sub proletariat as a temporary worker that reduces costs of the reproduction. With such a low standard of living and temporary jobs, what future does a young kid from an opportunity-less environment suppose to do with his time? In the City of God, the Tender Trio stole for the community that lacked basic resources; in return, the community protected them from the police. Crime and lower class neighborhood are often fixed side by side. This favela was predominantly African American; however, people of different ethnic groups were present. Unlike American ghettos, favelas were never intentionally racially segregated (Oliveira 76). Race was not a debilitating factor for social mobility in Buscape’s story. He finds a professional passion after encountering the media photographing Shaggy’s body. Having a brother that was a hoodlum, friends that met their end because of a hoodlum life, and surrounded by the gang wars, Buscape could not bring himself to becoming part of a gang.
Being Brazilian in the Cidade de Deus meant experiencing the wave of industrialization and the consequence of urbanization after World War II (Pino 18). The film shows this through the flashbacks. First, Buscape remembers the Sixties when he was a kid. Cidade de Deus was a small establishment, but then a few years later, Cidade de Deus has expanded exponentially. Being Brazilian, the experience of religion runs deep within the culture, with Brazil being a traditionally Catholic nation. Religion is a silent presence. The city is called City of God; ironically, it is a playground for notorious gangs. It is also ironic that religion would protect Aligate, a member of Tender Trio, as he walks to the church right beside the police. The gang also prays before going into the final war. When Ze Pequeno breaks the rule from the Shaman, his infallibility dissipates.
In sum, being Brazilian means a mix of religions, races, and cultures. All these differences are not divided but have become a part of life in places such favelas. The film does not present race as an issue. The issue at hand was lack of positive opportunities for the children in the favelas.