Ramping up the drive into censorship in Brazil, its Minister of Citizenship, Omar Terra, has suspended a call for applications for governmental TV funding – until new criteria are established for its application.

The country’s secretary for culture, Henrique Pires, who reports to Terra, has resigned in protest of the incentive freeze.

The suspension, for a period of 180 days, has been applied to a call for TV projects, originally issued on March 13 by the Far South Regional Development Bank (BRDE) with the participation of the National Film Agency (Ancine), Brazilian’s biggest source of state finance for film and TV.

The moneys would have been distributed by Brazil’s Audiovisual Sectorial Fund (FSA), which has voluntarily halted immediate pay-outs as it revises its accounting procedures. In total, 70m reais, ($17 million) were due to be adjudicated by the agency.

According to a governmental ordinance published Wednesday, the administration plans to restructure the membership of the FSA management committee, and review “the criteria and guidelines for the application of resources of the FSA, as well as evaluate the criteria for submission of project proposals.”

Terra’s announcement comes just days after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lashed out at funding for LGBTQI series in an outburst during a scheduled state of the union-style address posted by son Carlos Bolsonaro on his YouTube channel.

In a parallel departure, producers applying for film funding are required to state whether their projects have political/religious themes; references to crimes, drugs, prostitution and pedophilia; or nudity and/or explicit sex.

Terra’s ordinance is viewed by many in Brazil as an act of censorship targeted at the LGBTQI community, and the reaction to Bolsonaro’s rant and the governmental halt to funding has been immediate.

“Although he denies it, to me it’s clearly censorship.” “Transversais” director told Brazilian paper O Globo. “He says specifically LGBT productions will not receive resources. That is censorship.”

In the YouTube video, the Brazilian President attacked four of the finalist productions of the “Rde / FSA Prodav” call for entries, criticizing their themes of “gender diversity” and “sexuality”: “Afronte,” “Transversais,” “Religare queer” and “Sexo reverse.”

In its letter, Brazil’s Assn of Independent Producers (API) expressed support specifically for the called-out projects, emphasizing it: “Hereby sympathizes with all producers, directors and teams in general responsible for those projects that were attacked and censored yesterday during the announcement of the President of the Brazilian Republic, Mr. Jair Bolsonaro, across his social networks.”

“I confess I don’t understand – why spend public money on these movies. I’m not persecuting anyone; everyone should find happiness as they wish. But spending public money on it?” he asked.

“What we see is a strangling policy,”  Andre Mielnik at Rio de Janeiro-based production house If You Hold a Stone said to Variety. “The government is trying to impose its moral compass over the sector undermining the independence of state agencies. Singling out LGBTQI and other minorities is not only detrimental for our countries social equality but profoundly bad for business. There’s a huge niche market being ignored for ideological reasons.”

For months, Brazil productions have been dealing with a wing-clipped Ancine, and very little money earmarked for the audiovisual sector has been distributed this year. Bolsonaro has been clear since he took office that he intends to move Ancine’s offices from Sao Paolo to Brasilia, where the agency work more closely with the federal government. Just last week, a meeting of Ancine managers was held in Brasilia rather than at its Sao Paolo offices.

Larger questions loom about the long-term prospects of the agency.

“I’m not saying it’s impossible to end Ancine … but there’s a whole legal process involved. It’s important to recognize that the idea of ‘filters’ is unacceptable,” Simoni de Mendonça, president of the Cinematographic Industry Union told Brazilian newspaper Estadão de São Paulo. 

Ancine’s importance is hard to overstate. The agency not only backs several projects each year but is tasked with establishing and growing filmmaking infrastructure in the country. In 2017, 158 locally made films were released in Brazil, compared to 30 in 2001, the year Ancine was established. According to the University of São Paulo, around 70% of films produced in Brazil are dependent on public funding.

Read API’s letter below:

API – Associação de Produtoras Independentes do Audiovisual Brasileiro (Association for Independent Brazilian Audiovisual producers) hereby sympathizes with all producers, directors and teams in general responsible for those projects that were attacked and censored yesterday during the announcement of the President of the Brazilian Republic, Mr. Jair Bolsonaro, across his social networks.

We repudiate such attitudes since we understand that it is not up to anyone, especially the president of a democratic republic, to censor for any reason anchored on biased motivations and in a hate speech, the arts, the audiovisual projects and films, thus hurting Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, as well as the fundamental precepts of public administration.

In addition to being unfounded and obscurantist, the ideological persecution the Brazilian audiovisual sector has been suffering plagues the economy of our country, currently in recession and going through a serious crisis. It directly impacts the jobs of thousands of people. Still with respect to the economy, it is worth noting that individual LGBTQI, genre and race works, are in high demand in the market, both for film festivals and for the average consumer. Censorship prevents this country from bringing to the screens legitimate Brazilian art which respects diversity.

We do not agree with any kind of censorship or limitation of any of the established fundamental rights.