Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Brazil Initiative

Opinion by Curator of CineBrasil 2014 on Brazil, the Media and the Arts

October 14, 2014

Brazil is an oddly contradictory object of global consumption. One where the head and the heart are often estranged. Many recognize Brazil as an emerging world power and a massive country full of biodiversity and natural resources, divergent regional cultures, syncretic religions and a host of other treasures.

Yet Brazil can be fetishized, fascinating, and bizarre. The fascination in itself does not recognize complexity. The hegemonic gaze that all too often defines Brazil remains exceedingly narrow and reductive: a laundry list of exhausted tropes concentrated on Rio de Janeiro’s picturesque beaches, the favelas scattered on its hillsides, the colorful rapture of carnival and gyrating samba dancers, women in bikinis and the shouts of soccer players in the street. Mystified images such as these quickly lose their glamor when living for an extended time in Brazil and trying to process its complexity. Yet as an iconographic formula, they seem to retain their appeal and reach in the media.

The representation of Brazil in the media recycles the same images ad nauseum, presenting them as fresh, but using the same linear and simplistic camera lens. What I hope for is a Brazilian kaleidoscope that makes synthesis impossible by capturing the glitter of Brazil’s endless fragments and incomplete truths, the chards of its territory and illusive wholeness, the marvels of its tremendous racial and geographic diversity.

Brown University’s CineBrasil is such an opportunity for a kaleidoscope. The six films to be screened Wednesday through Friday, October 15-17, 2014 are loosely connected microcosms of a massive and varied Brazilian iconography full of rich social variables partially unique to Brazil and partially global in their scope. This interplay between universals and particulars and this vast panorama of Brazilian and human experience are much richer then the dominant gaze of the media. Our film choices are diverse and build by way of contrast: a poignant film about innocence, blindness and social ostracism and another displaying the shocking eroticism, transgression and violence of desire and dictatorship; surreal, mythical Crayola animation versus belly-splitting laughter at the Brazilian backwaters; dramatic lesbian romance and the anxieties of public security captured through sound. In the end, protracted exposure to Brazilian culture overwhelms the stereotypes that swallow up the country from a distance. And what better vehicle to disrupt the gaze than the optical illusions of a movie screen?

-Ramon Stern is Program Coordinator for the Brazil Initiative at Brown University and an Operations Assistant at the Watson Institute. He is the curator for CineBrasil 2014.