Brazil: A Case Study in Anger, Sound and Fury

Politicians seem mystified by growing global unrest, but showbiz has its finger on the pulse of the enraged masses

If Brazilian president Dilma Rousse had taken a look at more of her nation’s movies, she might have avoided some of the civil unrest that has been spreading like wildfire across the country. On June 20, 1 million Brazilians — students, middle-class professionals, trade union rank-and-file, ’60s activists and entire families — staged the nation’s largest street protest since 1992 — the time of the impeachment of president Fernando Collor.

In 2013, similar demonstrations have been held in territories including Egypt (see story, p.52), Spain, Turkey, Greece and Russia. The protests in Brazil are a microcosm of what’s behind all the anger, and what’s to come — and a reminder that the entertainment business has had its finger on the pulse of the nation, zeroing in on the signals that are often ignored by politicians.

The Brazilian fury targeted a number of issues — cuts in the country’s public services, the $14 billion bill for the nation to stage the 2014 World Cup, the cost of living, a constitutional amendment limiting prosecutors’ ability to investigate politicians, and even a Brazilian evangelists’ bill in Congress to “cure” homosexuality.

But there’s a bigger picture.

Brazil is a young democracy: Its first modern elections took place in 1990. Growing 4% annually during 2003-10, its economic boom lifted 40 million Brazilians out of poverty. Many flooded into already-congested cities. Brazil’s growing middle-classes now have time to consider the quality of their life, and often are unhappy with what they see. The Brazilian masses have evolved far more quickly than its ruling elite.

As the digital world offers citizens a chance to view their lifestyle and compare it to others around the world, the reaction is often a sense of betrayal.

“Brazil’s hospitals and education are terrible. People want more direct participation in democracy. Their basic values are not being taken into account,” said producer Paula Cosenza, at Sao Paulo’s Bossa Nova Films.

The frustrations erupted June 13, when police officers fired stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets at a small group of Sao Paulo protesters, bystanders and motorists.

In general, the movie industry reacts slowly to historical change, since films often take 18 months or more to develop, shoot and distribute. But Brazil’s modernization has been decades in the making, so the national unrest has been reflected in many hit movies.

Brazilian police brutality? 2007’s “Elite Squad” ($10.2 million box office in Brazil) is a good beginner’s guide. Corruption in high places? That drives 2011’s “Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within” ($62.9 million).

The daily grind of urban life was captured in two-part “Upside Down,” about a woman who’s a slave to her job (the two pics earned a combined $40.1 million at the local B.O.). Last year’s “Till Luck Do Us Part” ($17.0 million) and “Party Crashers” ($12.9 million) show the huge damage inflicted by economic pressures.

In Brazil, more filmmakers look set to zero in on politics, such as the upcoming “After the Rain,” from Claudio Marques and Marilia Hughes. “ Thirty years ago, we couldn’t even talk about these issues,” said Madrid-based Brazilian producer Iona de Macedo.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the protests reflect a different connection between film and the national mood. In 2011, three million demonstrated in a single day in the Indignados (literally, “Outraged”) protests, set off by a fiscal squeeze. Among the cutbacks were slashes in film subsidies, forcing a new generation of directors to work on microbudget movies often targeting festivals and the Internet.

“The crisis confirmed that classical theatrical distribution is no longer possible for many Spanish films,” said Berlin Film Festival delegate Javier Martin.

In global demonstrations, social media has played an important role in mobilizing protesters. So has traditional media (TV, print and online). “Brazil is learning that countries that host world events attract the world’s media spotlight. People can take advantage and embarrass them,” said Christopher Pickard, chairman of the Latin American Travel Assn.

Many think entertainment is for escapism. But as Brazil and others have reminded, show business can be one step ahead of reality.

More Biz

  • Woodstock co-producer and co-founder, Michael Lang,

    Woodstock 50 Organizers Are Optimistic but Vague Before Town Meeting

    Woodstock organizers Michael Lang and Richard Peck were optimistic but vague when speaking with reporters at a hastily announced open house for the festival held in Vernon, New York on Monday night. The town’s Vernon Downs is the most recent proposed site for the trouble festival, which has been dogged by financial and organizational problems [...]

  • What Is Equity, Roc Nation’s Indie

    What Is Equity, Roc Nation’s Indie Distribution Company?

    When news broke earlier this year that Jaz-O, Jay-Z’s longtime friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-again from Marcy Projects, had signed with Roc Nation, most reports glossed over exactly which company the rapper had signed with. His deal, for his Kingz Kounty Media Group, is actually with Equity Distribution, the independent distribution arm of the Roc Nation family of companies, [...]

  • Andhadhun

    Booming Digital Lifts Eros Indian Film Distribution Giant

    Eros International, India’s largest and most controversial film distributor, says that its digital revenues now outstrip conventional theatrical and syndication revenues. Its Eros Now streaming platform claims 18.8 million paying subscribers. The New York-listed company reported annual results that were distorted by multiple adjustments to presentation. Reported revenues in the year to end of March [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

  • Weapons Cache

    D.A. Files 64 Charges in Bel-Air Weapons Stockpile Case

    The L.A. County District Attorney’s office has filed 64 counts against Girard Saenz, the man who allegedly kept a stockpile of more than 1,000 weapons at a Bel-Air home linked to the Getty family. Saenz is accused of illegal possession of assault weapons, transferring handguns without a dealer license, possession of short-barreled shotguns, and possession [...]

  • 9-1-1: Angela Bassett in the series

    Fox Sees Primetime, Sports Ad Gains As TV Upfront Wraps

    Fox Corporation is the latest to benefit from stronger-than-expected trends in TV ad spending, as the company notched strong gains in advertising commitments for its next cycle of programming – its first since selling off a large chunk of its media assets to Walt Disney. Ad demand was stronger than many executives anticipated, according to [...]

  • BMI Promotes David Levin to Senior

    BMI Promotes David Levin to Senior VP of Licensing

    BMI today announced that David Levin has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Licensing, effective immediately. In his newly expanded role, Levin is responsible for all of BMI’s domestic licensing and revenue generation, encompassing radio, television, digital media, cable, satellite and general licensing.  Levin, who will oversee teams in New York and Nashville, reports [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content