Bolsonaro suffocates culture in Brazil

The art academy EAV in Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro


Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has extinguished the Ministry of Culture and withdrawn support to film industry. The Brazilian right-wing populist wave has also censored art and reduced contributions to literature. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s cultural capital, is worst hit.

Brazil’s most famous male porn star is Alexandre Frota. He has appeared in about twenty porno videos, of which the most famouse one is the James Bond parody “00Frota – The man with the golden gun”. In one of the porn videos, his counterpart is a transvestite. Alexandre Frota is also the model that most time have showed himself naked in the Brazilian gay magazine G Magazine. Four times in five years. In other words, he shouldn’t be the one that the homosexual right-wing nationalist Jair Bolsonaro are looking for.

A few years ago, Alexandre Frota took part of the right-wing extremist organization MBL, Movimento Brasil Livre, which led the campaign to dismiss Brazil’s first female president Dilma Rousseff. The movement succeeded and became one of the most important players in the right-wing populist wave that washed over the world’s fifth largest country since then. Somehow, Frota and Bolsonaro, came close. It went so far that Bolsonaro invited the former porno star to join his party.

“If you would like to see me as president, I would like to see you as Minister of Culture,” said Jair Bolsonaro during the election campaign.

The message was crystal clear. If Bolsonaro became president, he would not prioritize culture. It got worse. Once Bolsonaro got elected he extinguished the Ministry of Culture. Frota became a congressmen for Bolsonaro’s party and as thanks for the support, Bolsonaro let him nominate who would become the government’s chairman of the film committee. Frota appointed his friend who wrote a biography about him.

– The entire film industry is paralyzed. No one gets any film support anymore, says Mariana Marinho, co-owner of the production company Dona Rosa Filmes in Rio.

The company usually produces at least three documentaries a year. This year it will only be one – a documentary about the Brazilian musician Luiz Melodia.

– Our other films are on hold, she says.

Mariana Marinho sits at the outdoor café at the privately owned cultural institution Instituto Moreira Salles in a tropical park with monkeys clinging in the trees.

– Bolsonaro thinks that the film industry is runned by subversive left-wing people who live on tax money. He does not understand that the film industry generates money and jobs.

To convince the president, the film industry’s organization in Brazil has made a video showing that the film industry’s turn over is the same amount as the country’s pharmaceutical industry.

– We try to go beyond politics and show that it’s not possible to extinguish the film industry. In addition to cultural damage, it is harmful to the economy, says Mariana Marinho.

If Bolsonaro continues his attack it will result in that the country will not be able to live up to their quotas for domestic film. When the American superhero film “Avengers: Endgame” premiered this year, it went up to 2,702 cinemas, a coverage of 92 percent of Brazil’s cinemas, despite the fact that the Cinema Act states that a film premiere should only have a 30% coverage. Bolsonaro, which claims to be a nationalist, puts Disney/Marvel productions in front of domestic ones.

– Our film industry are getting suffocated. If this continues, there will be no Brazilian films after two years, says producer Mariana Marinho.

Not only the film industry has been hit by Brazil’s right-wing populism. The visual arts also suffer. In the million-city Porto Alegre, the exhibition “Queermuseu” was forced to close after Alexandre Frota’s right-wing extremist organization MBL criticized it for being »disrespectful of Catholic symbols and paying tribute to pornography, pedophilia and antiquity«. The fact that a former porn show had moral views on the contents of an exhibition became too much for the modern art museum MAR in Rio, which invited the exhibition. But it didn’t work out. MAR is runned by a private foundation, but it’s dependent on support from the municipality. For three years now, Rio’s mayor is the Pentecostal preacher Marcelo Crivella. He spread a video on social media where he smiled as he flung his finger and said: “Not here.”

– I got pissed off and thought, If MAR cannot have the exhibition, I can show it at our art academy, says Fabio Szwarcwald.

He is director of the EAV Art Academy, which is housed in a palace from the 19th century in Parque Lage, one of Rio’s tropical parks. The school is owned by the state, but it’s managed by an art association.

– We are independent. No one can censor us, says 46-year-old Fabio Szwarcwald.

The art academy started a fundraising campaign which within one month reached the goal of 250 000 euro – the highest amount a crowdfunding campaign so far have received in Brazil. In order to respond to expected hate campaigns from MBL’s supporters, the art academy contracted a team that responded to the extreme right’s network attacks. It worked.

– I got only a few dozen emails with hatred, says Fabio Szwarcwald.

He believes that it may also have to do with the fact that he is a different art director.

– I come from the financial sector. I have worked for twenty years in an investment bank. I’m neither left, nor gay. I am a wealthy, Jewish art collector. I think they saw me as one of them.

The exhibition hit the audience record. 40,000 visitors in one month. Queues of two hours through the park to enter.

– It became a political act to see the exhibition. A call for freedom of speech, she says.

Fabio Szwarcwald also received money from George Soro’s organization Open Society to arrange debates and concerts in connection with the queer exhibition. Caetano Veloso, one of Brazil’s foremost artists, played one nigth and warned that the censorship he suffered during the military dictatorship is returning. This year, two other art exhibitions have been censored by the Rio state governor, former marin soldier Wilson Witzel, one of Bolsonaro’s foremost allies.

– They seem to think that we need a dad who looks after us. We already have fathers. We do not need anyone to tell us what to see and not see.

A paradoxical consequence of the censorship may be that the country’s artists sharpen their social criticism.

– Sometimes art needs resistance to get really good, says Fabio Szwarcwald.

Seven years ago, the festival Festa Literária das Periferias, FLUP, started. The name was an ironic hint to FLIP, an literary festival for the Brazilian elit, whish is arranged every year in the picturesque cultural village of Paraty. The FLUP festival – which, have been organized in the favela Cidade de Deus, known from the film “The City of God” – became a success. Previously, FLUP has had the Brazilian development bank BNDES as their main sponsor, but since Bolsonaro replaced the bank’s manager, support for culture has decreased by 40 percent. Maybe the bank wont sponsor FLUP this year.

– We haven’t received a notice from them yet, says festival general Écio Salles.

As it’s uncertain whether the festival, which will be held in October, will receive some money, the organizers are thinkin to move the festival to the art museum MAR in the harbor. It is both cheaper and safer. After the governor Wilson Witzel urged the police to shoot to kill, instead of arresting suspected criminals, the war in the favelas has become worse.

– We don’t dare to be in the favelas anymore, says Écio Salles.

There is a risk that the city mayor forbids the festival to be at the art museum, because this year FLUP will honor the deceased, socially critical rapper Marcelo Yuka who where campaigning to legalize marijuana.

– Everything is possible. We live in very complicated times, says Écio Salles.

The only positive thing he has seen lately is that more young, black women write literature.

– The culture will survive Bolsonaro. Those who are most affected are the poor. Bolsonaro’s austerity policy will starve them, he says.


Translation from Swedish by Googel Translate with some corrections by Henrik Brandão Jönsson

Leave a Reply