Cidade de Deus, City of God

Cidade de Deus, or City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund, gives an in-depth look into the rough life of Brazilian citizens living in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.  The story, although based on real life events, is narrated by Rocket. Rocket takes the audience through many storylines involving important characters and their violent lives in the City of God. The stories link all the characters together and reveal prominent characteristics, such as extremely poor economic conditions, low standards of living, the rise of cocaine, and police corruption, of daily life in the City of God.

The favelas and the economic disparity associated with them is a very important aspect of the social environment that is presented in City of God. Stephen Hart’s analysis of the film cites the rise of organized crime as a product of lack of work and poverty in the favelas. This connection is supported by Julio Cesar Pinto’s article, “Labor in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro, 1940-1969”, where he states that from 1940 to 1969, Rio experienced an increase in urbanization and population in the city and surrounding areas. Prior to 1947, the most common area of work in Brazil was a” Lavrador”, or farm hand. Many of these laborers were former slaves who had lived on plantations. But because of a lack advancements in mechanized technology and an increase in labor intensive health issues the production of rice, sugarcane, and oranges decreased by almost one-half. This forced many workers to migrate to the city and the nearby urban areas in search of any work that was available. This migration led to a massive increase of ghettos similar to the one that audiences are introduced to in Cidade de Deus.  He also points out that by 1960; one out of every ten people lived in the favelas (Pino, 19-22). The lack of jobs available once in the city caused an increase in popularity of the “informal” market (drugs, weapons, robberies) as the primary way to make an income in favelas.  Many residents of favelas were forced to turn to a life of violence because they were denied upward social mobilization. This seeming necessity to turn to a life of crime for survival resulted in a vicious cycle of violence in the favelas that the City of God thrived on.

This vicious cycle of crime developed out of class distinctions within the ghettos, as explained by Pino:  “the population in the ghetto can be split into three distinct elements. First is the proletariat: who were citizens holding stable employment with steady wages, most likely living around the city before mass migration. Secondly, the sub-proletarians: who worked short-term jobs without contracts, steady wages, and job security. And lastly, the majority of the ghetto consisted of the unemployed. This distinction in class led to violence, forcing youth to lead a life of crime and drug trafficking. The cycle of violence is exemplified by Lil’Dice’s violent introduction to the city’s organized crime scene and his violent end by the next generation of gang members. Rocket is the only gang member that is able to escape thanks to his photography skills, which were useful to him within the gang and legitimate middle-class spheres of Brazilian society. Police intervention would be the most obvious solution to such a violent area, but City of God does a great job of capturing the corruption of the Brazilian police. Stephen Hart explains, “it would be difficult to think of a story which has less hallmarks of what has traditionally come to be known as the subaltern class, a violent, voiceless, illiterate group of murderers living in a shanty town near Rio de Janeiro…[but] what this film does address is the way in which the lives of the subaltern classes are manipulated by the mediatic, governmental , and law-enforcing powers within society.” This point is driven home in the film when it is revealed that the police have been selling weapons to Lil’ Ze and his rival the whole time. And even worse, the police rob Lil’ Ze of the money they owe him from the weapons sales.  With no ability or desire to control the violent nature of these favelas there will be no end to the cycle.