Week 9- Cidade de Deus

Cidade De Deus was released in 2002 and directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund. It is the story of a favela around Rio de Janeiro and the lives of two men that grew up in it. Historically their diverging paths display the lack of opportunity for those growing up in the favelas of Brazil.

Li’l Ze and Rocket both represent the “subproletarians” as described by Julio Cesar Pino. As young men in the favela of Cidade de Deus their future was “jobs that did not require their employers to provide social security or insurance benefits” (Pino, 19) and only “earn a fraction of the minimum wage designated by the government.” (Pino, 19) With such options it is no wonder that the two would turn to gang culture. The difference between the two is what happened to them.

As noted by Pino, “intergenerational mobility is possible for some squatters” but “for every favelado who joins the proletariat several sub proletarians assume his or her place.” (Pino, 36) Li’l Ze and Rocket are the two sides to this coin. Rocket is eventually able to overcome the challenges of being born in the favela and become a professional photographer. In this way he escapes the conditions which he was born into and moves out of the favela. Li’l Ze on the other hand becomes a drug dealer, a “profession” which is much more in line with the area he was born into. In this way both men show the historical dichotomy of mobility found within the favela.

But even this triumph for Rocket comes at a cost. He becomes a photographer and proceeds to escape his roots because, as Stephen M. Hart says, Rocket escapes because he can “produces images which are appetizing to the middle-class press.” (Hart, 207) He effectively sells out his culture to make money. In this way Cidade de Deus shows that even for a favelado to escape his past he must forsake his culture to become one of the proletariats. Furthermore he also loses his nickname. He is “no longer Rocket, he is ‘Nelson Rodrigues, fotografo.’” (Hart, 207)  The movie comes across as an effective social commentary on what it means to be a favelado and what the cost would be for that evanescent social mobility mentioned by Pino.

Finally, it comes as no surprise that Li’l Ze would turn to gangs. While some political movements within the favelados have produced favorable results, the community groups have been unable “to prevent displacement or to improve the material or cultural conditions of people’s lives.” (Oliveira, 85) Without the hope of political movements to improve the position of favelados in Brazilian society, it is no wonder that Li’l Ze turned out as a drug dealer.

By the end of the film Cidade de Deus has successfully shown the social dichotomy between two favelados. One who defies the conventions of society and makes a better life for himself and another who is trapped in the cycle of violence that works to keep those living in favelas inside them.