Black protagonism in cinema is being promoted across Rio de Janeiro in November, in honor of Brazil’s Black Awareness Month. The film festival Circuito Cinegrada is a project run by CRUA – Coletivo Criativo da Rua (Creative Street Collective), an organization that uses art as a tool of cultural resistance in marginalized communities.
The festival began earlier this month and ends today, November 29. It celebrates Black Awareness Month with 17 film exhibitions in 15 locations across Rio and sister city Niterói by showing films that have exclusively black protagonists and producers.
“You don’t see black cinema,” explained Rafael Ferreira, a CRUA group member. “Now you have films like 12 Years a Slave but that is an American film that has a language different than that of a black Brazilian film. You don’t see them in the theaters. Black films have a hard time making it to the screens.”
CRUA was formed last year by a group of young students in Complexo da Maré. CRUA embraces and promotes several art forms including theater and music. The film club was initially a project aimed to focus on Brazilian cinema, but it turned into an effort to give local and international black filmmakers a platform to showcase and spread their work in Rio, Ferreira said. The CRUA headquarters are located in the Hotel da Loucura in Engenho de Dentro, where they host film screenings every week.
“Of Our Color” at Penha
Last Saturday November 22, Circuito Cinegrada was brought to Penha, in the North Zone of Rio, to screen a set of short films produced by local filmmakers. The screening was also part of a larger ongoing Black Awareness Month community event, “Da Cor Da Gente” (Of Our Color).
Jorge Adolfo Freire e Silva, organizer of the Penha event, said the goal is to provide quality programming to celebrate Black Awareness Month and to present the community with resources to discuss Afro-Brazilian culture, specifically by introducing the many existing organizations like CRUA that already tackle such issues to the community. The event occurred as a result of several partnerships with Foto Clube Alemão (Complexo do Alemão Photo Club) and the rap group Malícia Urbana Crew, among others.
“The partner is independent and brings their own crowd,” Freire e Silva said. “With CRUA, they created their event, they called on their audience, they let people know–‘We’re going to be at Penha.’ We just provided the space, they have autonomy in production.”
Film Screenings and Debates
The films screened on Saturday at Penha stimulated lively debates on issues of religion, politics, and culture.
The first film screened was Óna, a 5-minute fiction film that follows a young poet through the community known as Little Africa in the Port region of downtown Rio. The youth walks barefoot through the neighborhood at night and often stops to perform good deeds. All the while, the film cuts to a scene where the same young poet prepares an offering for Exú, a messenger spirit in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. The message asks for the freeing of his people, who continue to suffer from racism. The film highlights prejudices associated with black aesthetics and culture.
The discussion that followed centered on the common perception of “black” as negative, and how the film presented the opposite of that. The producers explained that even during the making of the short film, the scene of the offering attracted some skeptical looks from community residents, which certifies the common stigma surrounding Afro-Brazilian religions.
CRUA also screened Subúrbio e o Centro (The Suburb and the City Center), a documentary produced by Canal Molambo. The documentary explored how the communities in the suburbs were culturally influenced by the city’s downtown Port region, known as Little Africa. The documentary focuses on Festa da Penha, a historic festival that combined Portuguese Catholic tradition with African culture that lost popularity by the end of the 20th century.
Tuninho “Tropical” Almeida, a musician and advocate for the re-establishment of the Festa da Penha, was featured in the film and attended the screening. He discussed the parallels between the former prohibition of samba and capoeira and the present prejudice surrounding funk and rap music, two popular musical tools of protest. He also encouraged youth to mobilize against government efforts designed to forget the history of the city, such as that of the Festa da Penha. The identity of the city is not only what it currently is, Almeida said, but also what it used to be.
The screening concluded with the documentary Canções de Liberdade (Songs of Freedom), produced by David Aynan. The five-minute film featured an interview with Seu Djalma, a leader in the quilombo community of Bananeira in Ilha de Maré, Bahia. Djalma discusses, through music, the issues faced by the community residents and their battle to gain ownership of land and preserve their island.
CRUA will conclude their Black Awareness Month film festival today with a mega-event art showcase on November 29 at the Hotel da Loucura. There will be workshops, film screenings, theater performances, music and other activities. Organizers hope the event will bring the absence of black representation in the social and artistic spheres to light, and encourage discussions about solutions to increase representation.