Back to IndieWire

New Investigative Documentary Spotlights 20 Years of Police Violence Against Blacks in Rio de Janeiro

New Investigative Documentary Spotlights 20 Years of Police Violence Against Blacks in Rio de Janeiro

Our friends at the Black Women of Brazil blog (a site I’ve referenced several times on S&A) have been all over this subject, for as long as I’ve been a reader of their blog, which is where I first learned about this film – a feature documentary directed by Theresa Jessouroun, which opened in Brazilian cinemas a month ago.

The investigative documentary, titled “À Queima Roupa” (“Point Blank” in English), spotlights police violence (especially against the city’s black population) and corruption in Rio de Janeiro over the last 20 years. It features the most emblematic events of this period – the Vigário Geral massacre of 1993 – from the point of view of family members, witnesses, survivors and others directly involved in the cases, such as lawyers, prosecutors and judges. The film starts at the Vigário Geral massacre of 1993, culminating in killings “in the name of law” by police, in 2012 and 2013. The investigation is presented through interviews, archival footage and fictional scenes that reconstruct the memory of the survivors of the massacres.

The massacres of civilians by police in Rio de Janeiro, sparked worldwide condemnation. The so-called police death squad was reportedly out to avenge the killings of 4 of their own, by drug traffickers in the favelas – those same favelas that have been the setting for numerous films we’ve covered over the years, notably, and likely most well-known, “City of God.” In the end, some 2 dozen innocent men, women and children were killed by the “death squad,”  In the first incident, 8 homeless children and young adults were shot dead as they slept on the steps of a church. And in another, just a month later, another 21 residents were murdered. In both cases the killers belonged to the military police force. 

The documentary highlights the factors that lead to the injustice and suffering perpetrated by those who are sworn to protect citizens and prevent crime, presenting the low value of life attributed to favela residents, as well as exposing criminal activity carried out by the police, who extort criminals, take their weapons and drugs, and resell them, plus the lack of adequate psychological training for the police.

A handful of reviews I read of the film all praise it for its hard-hitting style, adding that it features “extreme scenes of blood and death,” is jaw-dropping and definitely thought-provoking.

Police violence against the city’s black population is apparently quite significant and alarming enough (77% of young people killed in Brazil are black according to the Black Women in Brazil blog) that Amnesty International has launched a campaign to “preserve the lives of young blacks in Brazil.”

More from BWiB: “The topic of the murder of black youth and Afro-Brazilians in general and the lack of media coverage worldwide has been a consistent topic here. And it has been long past due that the situation in Brazil is discussed from the perspective of race. This is not to say that non-black lives don’t matter but the simple fact is that in Brazil, as in many other countries around the world, there seems to be a general conception that black lives are not as important as the lives of persons who consider themselves to be white. As a matter of fact, as a young woman’s comment showed me once again recently, many white Brazilians don’t even perceive that young blacks are the main victims of violence. But let’s be honest about this, even the US-based National Public Radio had to acknowledge the fact that “In Brazil, Race Is A Matter Of Life And Violent Death”. And the numbers clearly show this to be true!”

The situation has only intensified since the Vigário Geral massacre of 1993 (see “Brazilian police kill five times more than American police; on average, they kill six people per day“). Amnesty International says they have found consistent evidence that the context in which these killings take place has not changed. According to the human rights organisation’s reports, politicians in the city have repeatedly made public statements which support police violence as a necessary part of crime control, thus giving a green light to kill. Almost all the murders take place in favelas, or shanty towns.

For Amnesty International, to be poor in Rio de Janeiro still means to be trapped in a cycle of violence, subject to violent, repressive and often corrupt policing. Such communities, says the report, “are not only excluded from access to fundamental economic and social rights, but from the right to live in peace.”

Needless to say, we can certainly draw parallels between police violence against blacks in Brazil, black people here in the USA and other parts of the world.

A trailer for the documentary follows below, although it’s not subtitled in English.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: News and tagged

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox