The film City of God offers a perspective of Latin America that has not been seen in any of the other films. City of God takes place in a crime and poverty stricken favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Most of the characters are fairly young and almost all participate in some sort of criminal activity including use and distribution of drugs. One of the main characters, Rocket, develops a passion for photography and ultimately contributes to the downfall of the kingpin known as Lil’ Ze. After watching the film, the viewer is left with a glimpse of what favela life is like for many Brazilians on a daily basis. The viewer may also be left wondering ‘why’ when it comes to life in a favela. Why did they resort to crime and drug use? Why was there so much violence and murder? Although the film did an excellent job depicting these aspects, it did very little to answer or explain to the viewer why these living circumstances were reality to so many people.
Since the United States likes to interfere with Latin America, it was surprising that the United States did not attempt to invade Brazil upon the release of this film throwing a little ‘democracy’ here, a little ‘freedom’ there, and a lot of oppression everywhere. But on a more serious note, the United States and Brazil have many similarities when it comes to race and poverty that may help explain why favelas seem to be an unfavorable place to live. Before Rocket’s older brother was murdered, he was often seen as a member of a street gang committing various crimes. Their father did not appreciate this much and ultimately forced the two boys to help out the family by selling fish. In Julio César Pino’s work on favelas, he helps explain why people in favelas are poor. He labels them ‘subproletariats’ and claims that they are viewed as inferior to even the working class in Brazilian capitalism (18). To Rocket and his family, this modest job was just barely enough to keep them alive in a shantytown–it is not surprising when people turn to ‘illegal’ ways to make money.
The closest equivalent in the United States to a favela is often labeled as a ‘ghetto.’ While favelas are very similar to ghettos when it comes to the people that live their and their conditions, their origins are somewhat different. Pino notes that Brazilians were forced to create their own living spaces due to low wages and other terrible living conditions (21). This differs from the United States’ ghettos because Blacks were allowed to move in after Whites no longer wanted to live there (Oliveira, 75). No matter the origins of favelas and ghettos, they are both predominately Black and impoverished due to racism and discrimination among people in Brazil and America respectively. Oliveira notes that neither country has yet to achieve equal opportunities for Black citizens, meaning poorer living conditions and lifestyles (77).
Pino’s argument for subproletariat subordinate status to the upper and working classes was very detailed and undeniable. After massive urbanization to larger cities and searching for industrial jobs, Blacks in both Brazil and the United States were ultimately still left in impoverished communities and forced to resort to crime to survive while the upper-classes entertained themselves to their freedom and democracy. The Lil Zes and Rockets are forced to kill each other and live in shantytowns to support ‘democratic’ societies like seen in the City of God.