Crime and the Visual Media in Brazil
Summary and Keywords
The presence of crime in the visual media is a phenomenon shared throughout the world. In Brazil there is also a great level of consumption of it. The Brazilian production of media about crimes is deeply rooted in the social context that has emerged from intense social, political, and economic transformations that have taken place in the country since the second half of the 20th century. The depiction of crime in Brazilian visual media is based on three different genres: (1) television series, (2) films, and (3) police journalism. They deal with critical issues about the rule of law in Brazilian society such as violence, inequality, police corruption, failures of the criminal justice system, and the demands for public policies to improve it. Despite this common ground, the genres reveal different political and ideological views about the rule of law in Brazil. Productions centered on the plane of fiction (television and film) are more critical about the criminal justice system in Brazil, especially in relation to the performance of its police forces. Brazilian police journalism is the opposite. The style reinforces a view of the problem of crime founded from the viewpoint of problematic people rather than problematic structures. Finally, the media coverage of crime is an important field to help understand the different views in the public agenda about the criminal justice system’s reform in Brazil.
Crime and Media
Crime as an object of interest of the media is a reality common to many countries and cultures. Its occurrence is manifested through various cultural products, such as literature, theater, radio, newspapers, cinema, and television. Among them, the visual media are those with the greatest impact and presence in everyday life. Much of the televised news refers to crimes that have taken place or are happening. Given the importance of the media in everyday life, their contents reflect not only the message of their broadcaster, but also concrete problems experienced by society. For the purposes of this article, crime is considered here in a broad perspective. It involves all the violent acts committed against one person or a group of individuals with the intention to harm. Thus, fictional genres or journalistic programs depict violent acts as “crimes.” This meaning is adopted in this article.
This phenomenon is not restricted to journalism and can also be seen in the plane of cultural production. For example, several films in the cinema and series on television have crime as their object. In other words, crime is an object of entertainment consumed in daily life. Because of the characteristics of the image, these cultural products have a great impact and establish a dialogue in the criminological context of a given society. Through films and television series, questions like justicing (vigilantism), punishment, corruption, injustice, lawsuits, courts, proof, the police, and the prison system, among others, are dealt with. Although the motivation is entertainment, the issues that touch on problems that are central to society are present there. These cultural products, in turn, have a paradoxical character because while they give information about the system of criminal justice, they also give misinformation. Films and television series introduce viewers to social norms and their respective punishments, but also allow “virtual” experimentation of emotions linked to crime (Oleson & MacKinnon, 2015). In addition, popular culture offers clues about attitudes and beliefs in relation to the criminal justice system while it is also influenced by social reality (Asimow, 2009).
The news also covers crime emphatically, which is why police journalism has huge impact, especially in cases of great social impact. The exposure of crime in the media takes place in a plurality of genres ranging from entertainment to conventional and police journalism. In addition, there is a genre that is from a “gray area” between information and entertainment, expressed in reality shows. This genre originates in tabloids and migrates to the audiovisual format with programs based on the reconstitution of criminal acts that have taken place or are even acted out. In this way, cultural and journalistic production on crime is an important instrument to understand how violence has manifested itself in a society and how the performance of its institutions of the criminal justice system is perceived.
This article analyzes the way in which visual media covers crime in Brazil in the broader meaning stressed before, taking into account the social context that has emerged from intense social, political, and economic transformations that have taken place in the country since the second half of the 20th century. As a result of this process we can highlight (1) the process of industrialization, (2) the accelerated urbanization in the ‘60s and ‘70s, (3) the persistence of social inequalities, and (4) the increase of violence in Brazil. The article discusses the relationship between the Brazilian context of crime and its expression through the visual media. As Rafter and Brown claim, “To ignore cultural representations of crime is to ignore the largest public domain in which thought about crime occurs” (2011, p. 3). From this analytical key, the article will examine the specificity of particular genres and their discursive differences. Thus, television series, films produced for the cinema, and police journalism are the genres chosen for analysis. Given the wide range of media production in this field, the article will analyze the productions, series, and programs of greatest importance and impact in the country.
These representations deal with the model of operation and effectiveness of the institutions of the criminal justice system in the country. Their content is the object of debate in daily life and serves as a reference for the discussion of personal experiences about events related to crime and to the institutions of the criminal justice system. Thus, an understanding of the evolution of the problem of violence in the country in its recent history is necessary in order to understand the relationship between crime and the visual media in Brazil.
The Growth of Violence in Brazil
The growth of urban violence in Brazil is related to the intense process of social change that has taken place in the country since the 1960s. Rapid urbanization, the development of an industrial economy, and the integration of the country through roads allowed the mobility of people from less developed regions to the more dynamic economic centers. The ultimate expression of this optimism can be observed in the construction of Brasilia. The new capital represented the quest for progress and development.
However, the process of modernization generated a series of problems that persist to this day. Having lasted for over two decades and taken place in an authoritarian political context in which the population was not involved in political decisions, their negative externalities have left their mark on the country until the present day. Social inequality has grown in the period and the urbanization process has taken place in an uncontrolled manner. The existing infrastructure at the time was unable to meet the demands of the influx that arrived in major urban centers. Sanitation, transport, and inadequate housing problems became a reality in large urban centers. In addition, the ‘70s witnessed the collapse of the model of development adopted until then. The oil crises of 1973 and 1979 increased the country’s debts to unsustainable levels. The result was a severe economic crisis that led to hyperinflation in the ‘80s and the end of military rule. It was in this context that urban violence started increasing in Brazil (Waiselfisz, 2015).1
The Emergence of Television in Brazil and Its Genres
The modernization observed in the country was accompanied by another important factor, namely, the emergence of television in Brazil. The precise date of its emergence occurs in the former TV Tupi (São Paulo) on September 18, 1950. This is the moment of the first television broadcast in Brazil. Carried out with limited range, because of the high cost involved at the time, the broadcast was directed at a few homes that had a TV set. To make the venture feasible at the time, Assis Chateaubriand (the owner of the network) ordered 200 televisions in the United States and distributed them to bars and restaurants in order to divulge this new phenomenon. On January 21, 1951, the first broadcast took place in Rio de Janeiro with the presence of the president of that time (Eurico Gaspar Dutra). In 1952 there were already 11,000 television sets in Brazil. From 1955 to 1961, 21more new stations were opened (Barbosa, 2010). From then on, television spread throughout the country taking with it news, entertainment programs, and advertising. The expansion of television in Brazil accompanied the pace of the transformations in progress in the country.
The development of television in Brazil was characterized by the production of various television genres. Soap operas are the Brazilian television product best known internationally. They are still the country’s main and most lucrative cultural product. Despite their importance in the Brazilian television context, they are not the object of this article, although several have addressed issues related to crime. The most representative programs on the criminal theme are television series, films produced for the cinema, and police journalism. For this reason, these genres are discussed here.
The first series produced in Brazil and South America on crime is Vigilante Rodoviário [Highway Vigilante]. The show appeared in 1961 and had as its main protagonist a highway police officer responsible for solving crimes and carrying out the law. The series was a huge success and became an icon of Brazilian television. Altogether, the series had 38 episodes and was aired between 1961 and 1962. In addition, five films were produced for the cinema in the years 1962, 1964, and 1967.
Carlos (Carlos Miranda),2. the policeman, was the defender of the law in its most idealized sense. He fought crime in a noble way and was always ready to help people. The series was inspired by its American counterparts and the presence of an Alsation dog (Wolf) assisting Carlos came from RinTinTin. The situations depicted in the series always feature a struggle between good and evil. The former inevitably beats the latter in every episode. The organization of the themes and the treatment of crime reveal a naive approach. There is a hero able to fight evil and help people.
The series features individualized problems and not structural ones. Crime exists in society, but it does not reach uncontrolled levels. The police officer is the hero who solves the problems and dangerous situations, as well as restoring peace. Furthermore, his posture is that of a morally upright person who does not resort to unnecessary violence. During the series, conflicts within the police institution and outsiders are solved and solutions of consensus occur frequently. The narrative shown in the series disregards any problems within the security institutions and the system of justice. In short, the series can be classified as a representative of an age of innocence.
Crime is presented as a fact related to the deviation of problematic people. The response occurs within parameters founded on the law and on common sense. There is no use of unnecessary violence in the program. This view clashes, for example, with the historical problems of the fragility of the Brazilian police and abuses committed in the exercise of their office. The reduced presence of police series produced in Brazil, compared to other countries, is related to the low efficiency and legitimacy of its police (Pontes, 2007). How can you present a reliable police officer in a context of police rejection? The naive approach of Vigilante Rodoviário succumbed to the subsequent changes observed in Brazil.
Series gained momentum in Brazil from 1979 onward, when the Globo Television Network3. decided to create the project “Brazilian Series” in order to discuss issues of contemporary Brazil rather than simply importing a cultural product. Thus, these features are central in building a Brazilian content. So, the emergence of the series is related to the social transformations of Brazilian society and the cultural practices of this process (Rocha, Lacerda e Silva, & Albuquerque, 2013). Therefore, there is a strong relationship between the content and reality, especially as regards the theme of crime. The way that crime is portrayed accompanies the social and political changes in the country. This is an important question because television fiction plays a role in the process of social and cultural change since it connects with the reality of a society and offers prospects for the viewers’ analysis. Fiction allows the discussion of relevant issues and the analysis of possible alternatives. So, fiction is an important tool for observing the perceptions built around a public issue (Chalvon-Demersay, 2011). Fiction, despite its paradoxes, is an important tool for considering alternative social contexts and possible changes (Carvalho, 2010). So the portrayal of crime in the Brazilian visual media attempts to discuss the existing context and its alternatives.
The Plantão de Polícia [Police on Duty] series aired by Globo between 1979 and 1981 is an interesting example. The program portrays the daily life of a fictional newspaper Folha Popular [Popular Newssheet] in which the clash is developed between two different conceptions of journalism. On one side is Waldomiro Pena (played by Hugo Carvana) and on the other is Serra (Marcos Paulo), the former representing a classic style of journalism, with a hard-worked, engaged, and opinionated text. Waldomiro Pena is the investigative reporter par excellence, who digs up issues that are emotionally attractive to the public. Serra, on the other hand, is the editorial director who graduated in the United States, who seeks to implant a modern view of journalism founded on objectivity, impartiality, and neutrality of the facts. Between the two poles is the reporter Bebel (Denise Bandeira), of bourgeois origin, who decided to get involved in police journalism because of a strong sense of justice. In addition to the theme of the model of journalism and the role of the professionals dedicated to police matters, the series addresses the problems faced, thanks to the increase of urban violence in Rio de Janeiro and the fragility of the criminal justice system. The emphasis of the show is the human side of the characters and not directly the violence.
The topics covered by the series cover various issues and go through an evolution over the period in which it is aired. Initially, humor and urban issues predominated, as well as criticizing the growing violence. Despite publishing several articles, the reporter Waldomiro Pena was frustrated, because injustice was perpetrated frequently. In the second year of the series, the concern focused on the increase in urban violence. The debate about everyday police journalism was a space for discussing a problem that was seen to increase in subsequent years.
In the third and final year of the series, Waldomiro Pena quits the Folha Popular after a disagreement with Serra and goes on to work as a freelancer. This time his action relates to issues connected with corruption and fraud. Eventually, Waldomiro ends up investigating the death of a friend and discovers a drug trafficking scheme. Plantão de Polícia was shown at an important moment in the recent history of Brazil, in which the process of political opening and freedom of expression were discussed.4. The series was a great success at the time.
Two series also reflect the changes observed in Brazilian society: Delegacia de Mulheres [Women’s Police Station] and Cidade dos Homens [City of Men]. Delegacia de Mulheres (Globo Network) had 18 episodes and dealt with the daily lives of women police officers who attended gender crimes. The first police stations for the protection of women emerged/appeared in Brazil in the 1980s. The purpose of these units is to support women who have been victims of crime. The idea is for them is to be attended by other women and not to suffer prejudice from male police officers.5. In the case of the series itself, the goal was to present the everyday life of female police officers, something quite unusual at the time.
Cidade dos Homens is a series also produced by the Globo network dealing with the issue of crime. Based on the success of the film Cidade de Deus [City of God] and aired from 10/15/2002 to 12/6/2005, the series shows the daily life of two boys (Acerola and Laranjinha) who live in a slum. The situations presented underscore the power of drug trafficking in the community and the relationships of the protagonists with members of the “movement” and the “tarmac.”6. The series addresses denser issues such as drug trafficking, lack of opportunities, the juvenilization of crime and conflict with the forces of law, represented by the police and the criminal justice system.
The series also points out problems of a social nature, such as deficiencies in the health and education systems in Brazil. As the protagonists grow, their problems change and the last year of the series is guided by these issues. Teenage pregnancy is shown in the episode Tá Sobrando Mês [There’s Month Left Over], in which Acerola is looking for a formal job to support his wife and young son. Social emphasis pervades the whole series because it portrays social problems intertwined with the expansion of drug trafficking in poor communities in Rio de Janeiro, just as in other metropolitan areas in the country. Thus, the series establishes a dialogue with the reality experienced within these communities. The issues worked on the show a reality much more impacted by violence than in earlier series.
A Turma do Gueto7. [The Ghetto Gang] is a series that was aired between 2002 and 2004 by the Record Network. The themes dealt with were life on the outskirts of São Paulo and the problems faced by the inhabitants, especially the young. The events of the series took place in a school on the outskirts of São Paulo (Quilombo School) and the main protagonists were the students and teachers. Drug trafficking appears as the main factor of social destabilization and reflects a real, concrete problem in these communities. The focus on a school on the periphery and a young population is justified in the fact that this group comprises the largest number of victims and perpetrators of homicides in the country. The series aired by Record also highlights the increase of the violence that exists in Brazil and the problems resulting from the ineffectiveness of the state in protecting the population, especially the poorest. The contract with the Record Network8. was not renewed in 2004, despite the success and the large audience of the show.
The series Força Tarefa [Task Force], aired by the Globo Network between April 2009 and December 2011 dealt with the daily life of the Police Internal Affairs Department in Rio de Janeiro, the body responsible for investigating deviations of behavior committed by the police. The plot revolves around the young lieutenant Wilson (Murilo Benício), considered incorruptible, whose mission is to investigate crimes committed by his peers. Wilson has a romantic relationship with a nursing attendant, Jacqueline (Fabíula Nascimento), which undergoes repeated crises because of their work.
Lieutenant Wilson is still plagued by the figure of his godfather, the police officer Jonas (Rogério Trindade) who encouraged him to join the police force. The reason for his torment is that Jonas committed suicide after being caught by his nephew dealing drugs. This ghost haunts Wilson because it represents the antithesis of what he purports to be as a police officer. Incidentally, this is one of the show’s goals: to explore the tensions between the “good” and the “evil” lived inside a police institution.
Lieutenant Wilson works with a team of police led by Colonel Caetano (Milton Gonçalves), who represents the element of experience and prudence in planning and organizing their actions. The investigation team comprises several different profiles, with the presence of a policewoman—Sergeant Selma (Hermila Guedes), who has to put up with the sexist environment of the institution. Corporal Oberdan (Henrique Neves) is the police officer who adopts a conciliatory tone in the internal conflicts of the team. Corporal Irineu (Juliano Cazarré) is the policeman who undertakes impetuous and risky actions. Sergeant Genival (Osvaldo Baraúna) is the exemplary soldier and Private Jorge (Rodrigo Einsfeld) who is averse to the routine of the streets and collecting the information needed for their missions.
In the third and final year of the series, this team falls victim to an attack by those under investigation and they all die. The aim of the action is to destabilize Wilson, now promoted to captain, and prevent him from continuing to remove corrupt policemen from the field. A new team is formed of the forensic expert Léo, Sergeant Lidiande (Naruna Costa) and Lieutenant Demétrio (Eucir de Souza). Colonel Caetano continued at his side.
Força Tarefa is an interesting series as it deals with the tension between right and wrong in a police institution. There is not a naive view of the role of the police in Brazilian society because of their failings in terms of legitimacy. However, the role of its honest members is highlighted. The series keeps up an existing tradition in Brazil to discuss concrete, everyday problems. This aspect is relevant because popular culture has the ability to communicate to different social groups and thematize their anxieties. This capability supersedes the potential of communication of traditional scientific knowledge. Thus, the representations help in shaping the way we think of crime and the policies needed to deal with its occurrence (Rafter & Brown, 2011). In this case, the issues dealt with refer to the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro. Thus, issues discussed by academics, by public safety professionals, and by society are present, such as the militarized institutional model of the police forces, corruption, corporatism, inadequate preparation, and the limited capacity to control police activity. This change of focus brings the fictional narrative of concrete problems experienced by the Brazilian police closer and touches on the problem of their reform. However, this agenda is in an impasse in Brazil because of a huge corporative lobby9. of the police forces and the absence of the federal government in this debate.
This can be seen in the first episode Dinheiro Podre [Dirty Money] in which there is the participation of a captain with an impeccable record in the theft of a convoy of money that was supposed to be incinerated. After the investigation, the motivation of the captain to carry out the crime is discovered: dissatisfaction with his salary and career progression. This question is at the heart of discussions on police organization in Brazil. Policemen, especially the low-ranking ones, manifest a serious dissatisfaction with the way careers are structured in the country. Another episode deals with crimes committed by policemen who are owners of a security firm, a practice prohibited by law, but quite common. Shopkeepers in a poor neighbourhood that did not hire the services of the company were victims of robbery.10. Police reform is an agenda that has not been worked on in fact by the constituted political power, and these recurring problems, like those portrayed in fiction, decrease the legitimacy of police institutions.
The 9mm series São Paulo11. is the first produced by Fox in Brazil directed to the consumer of cable television. The plot deals with the daily life of police in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, and was based on real facts. For this, extensive documentary research was carried out as well as data collection with witnesses to real crimes and police on active duty. This study sought to give a strong dose of realism to the show. There the daily lives of five officers working in a police station are dealt with as well as their personal and professional dilemmas. In addition, the structural problems of the police and other institutions of the criminal justice system are covered by the series, which are similar to their counterparts.
In short, television series adopt a dialogue with real, everyday problems of Brazilian society. Although they are entertainment-oriented products, the series portray problems that are central to the Brazilian public agenda. The narrative changes observed from the appearance of Vigilante Rodoviário to the most recent series point to the evolution of the problem of violence in Brazil. Two themes recur in this fictional framework: the increase in drug trafficking and the ineffectiveness of the police and the criminal justice system in providing public security in conformity with a democratic state of law.
The Cinema and Crime in Brazil
The cinema is also a reference in the portrayal of crime and its social dimensions in Brazil. The crime film comprises several genres and subgenres that deal with issues such as gangsters, police, suspense, fear, insecurity, and mystery. Despite its plurality, the narrative about violence is present in all of them. The development of the police genre in Brazil was characterized by its tropicalization, that is, by incorporating “Brazilian cultural signs, such as migration, popular music, Umbanda,12. carnival” (Almeida, 2007, p. 145). Therefore this cultural hybrid establishes a balance between social criticism and entertainment.
The film production that deals with the criminal issue in Brazil is vast, especially if we consider the period between the 1960s and the present day.13. Given the impossibility of analyzing all works, only the most significant will be examined. In all these works the relationship between social criticism and entertainment is very strong. In addition, success with the public and the critics is a common point between them.
The first film to highlight is Assalto ao Trem Pagador14. [The Great Train Robbery] (1962), which inaugurates the use of the police genre with a social focus. The plot is based on a robbery that took place in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1960 when a payroll train was robbed with great daring. The police even considered the hypothesis of it being the work of an international gang. The plot of the film portrays the preparation of the coup and the conflicts that arise after it was carried out. Betrayals typical of the police genre are present there.
The coup is engineered by Grillo (Reginaldo Faria) who is allegedly hired by a gangster boss (The Engineer). To carry out the plan Grillo hires criminal from a slum and arranges with the gang not to spend the money until one year after the robbery. This is not what happens and Grillo, since he does not look like a slum dweller, starts to spend the money before time and arouses suspicions about the group. Suspicious of Grillo’s behavior, Tião Medonho, one of the members of the gang, ends up murdering the mastermind of the robbery. Various events take place before the arrest of the criminals.
This typical outcome of the crime film comes with an element that is characteristic of many later films: the presence of the people and life in the slum. The social portrait of slums and of the social conditions of their inhabitants sets the tone of the film. In this case there is a change of perspective, because the crime is not only an individualized act, but is embedded in a broader social context, marked by imbalances aggravated by the process of modernization of the country. There the relations of the population with the police and the law are presented, as well as the conflicts between these fields.
Two important films can be highlighted from this period: O Bandido da Luz Vermelha [The Red Light Bandit] (1968) by Rogério Sganzerla and Lúcio Flavio: O Passageiro da Agonia [Lúcio Flavio: The Passenger of Agony] (1977). The former of these tells the story of a real criminal who carried out burglaries in the city of São Paulo and had great media coverage. As well as committing burglary and rape, the criminal was famous for frequently managing to evade the police. The film was a milestone in Brazil, since, as well as innovating in cinematic language, it highlighted characters of a forgotten world. The political context of that time, marked by authoritarianism, influenced the background/context of the work, which criticized the regime.
Lúcio Flavio: O Passageiro da Agonia, directed by Hector Babenco deals with the story of a real criminal who was the boss of an important gang and carried out several robberies. The film not only tells the story of the criminal, but his relationship with corrupt police and the everyday dysfunctional condition of the prison system in Rio de Janeiro. The innovation of the film is the narrative from the point of view of the criminal and his experiences. The narratives of Lúcio Flávio show up all his grievances.
Both films feature a new reality. There is no longer the naivety of Vigilante Rodoviário and the struggle of good and evil. The description in them is that of the criminal justice system of a country under an authoritarian order.15. The violent methods commonly employed by the police are portrayed in both films. The precarious situation of prisons, the social background of prisoners, and the corruption inherent to the criminal justice system were criticisms of the institutional order in force in the country. For this reason, these works faced problems from the organs of censorship.
The interesting element in these two works is to observe the change of social reality. The increase in violence in urban centers is related to social structures marked by an exclusionary growth and authoritarianism. There is no longer the optimism of the ‘60s or room for a naive representation of reality. Cities are now taken by crime, which stems from an exclusionary and authoritarian model of growth.
Another film made by Babenco takes up the issue of violence with a more intense social criticism. Pixote, a Lei do Mais Fraco [Pixote, the Law of the Weakest] (1981) appears in the final years of the military regime at a time of severe economic and political crisis. The film deals with the story of a boy named Pixote who never knew his parents and lives on the streets of Sao Paulo. Pixote is taken away to a reform school16. and goes on to live with the reality of beatings and abuse for juvenile offenders. Pixote escapes from reform school and begins to live off crime.
The influence of the film is Italian neorealism, which is why Babenco cast boys living in conditions similar to those portrayed in the film. For the role of Pixote, Fernando Ramos Silva was cast, who comes from a poor community in São Paulo. After the initial success of the film, Ramos Silva was invited to work on television, but as he could not read and memorize the texts his career was aborted. His family returned to the slums and Fernando was involved in drug trafficking. His life ended tragically when he was killed in a clash with the police in 1987. This outcome reinforces the relationship between reality and fiction.17.
The relationship between impoverished childhood and crime is a persistent problem in modern-day Brazil, since most of the perpetrators and victims of homicides is made up of poor young Black males between 14 and 25 years of age (Waiselfisz, 2015). The picture portrayed in Pixote in its essence does not show changes, especially given the persistence of the drug trafficking problem in Brazilian society and the victimization of vulnerable groups.
Cidade de Deus [City of God], Tropa de Elite [Elite Squad], and the Renaissance of the Brazilian Cinema
The revival of the Brazilian cinema in the early 21st century has its primary motivator in the theme of crime (Hamburger, 2008). City of God (2002) directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund results from the adaptation of Paulo Lins’s novel based on his experiences as a resident of this community in Rio de Janeiro. Lins’s report shows the people of the slums of Rio de Janeiro through the eyes of their residents. In this work, the changes undergone by the community of Cidade de Deus from the ‘60s onward and the increase in drug trafficking as a force to dominate these spaces are depicted with unusual harshness.
The film is considered a milestone in the national cinema because it is based on a solid narrative, a vigorous style, and modern language. Acclaimed nationally and internationally, City of God exhibits the problem of the expansion of drug trafficking and territorial control taking place in the slums of Rio de Janeiro by means of force. Moreover, the work focuses on the involvement of impoverished youths in drug dealing.
The impact of City of God was not limited to the critics, as the film served as a framework for discussion of the problems of violence in Brazilian society and the shortcomings of the state in ensuring a basic function: the maintenance of order in its territory. The question of the relationship of the police with society is present, as well as the lack of legitimacy in their everyday action. The dilemmas faced by young people from communities seeking courses and alternatives for their lives are portrayed, as well as the appeal of crime.
This can be seen in the conception of the narrative of the film, which is built around Buscapé. The main character responsible for narrating the events of the film, Buscapé is a Black youth, who is poor and endowed with sensitivity, and who fears to embark on a criminal career. He finds in photography his escape valve and a means to record the main events in his community marked by violence.
Buscapé’s speech reconstructs the history of his community and the expansion of drug trafficking. The story also develops around Dadinho, who is a boy from the community growing up in an environment marked by violence. The increase in drug trafficking turns Dadinho into a gang leader who goes on to control the Cidade de Deus and clash with other criminal groups and the police. After taking control of the drug traffic he adopts a new identity (Zé Pequeno) and employs cruel means to keep his power. The trajectory of Dadinho–Zé Pequeno is the same as many poor young people who embark on drug trafficking in the country. The fiction thus touches on a deep problem of contemporary Brazil.
In the wake of the success of City of God, the Brazilian film that was a national and international blockbuster is Tropa de Elite [Elite Squad]. The film is based on the book Elite da Tropa18. [The Elite of the Squad], written by former police officers André Batista and Rodrigo Pimentel together with the anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares, which deals with the everyday life of the Special Operations Battalion of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro (BOPE). The narratives of the book, although fictitious, are based on the experiences of Batista and Pimentel during the period they served as police officers. In short, the picture displayed in the book of the law enforcement practice in Rio de Janeiro is marked by excessive violence and the use of torture19. as a method of work. In addition, the relationship between police corruption and political power is a central feature in this process.
Based on the success of the book, the director José Padilha adapted its content for the cinema. In 2007 Elite Squad was launched and was an immediate success. The film is based on the narrative of a captain of the BOPE,20. Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura), who reports the “war” fought in the daily life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The narrative presents the challenges of being an elite police officer in a corporation dominated by corruption and political interference. Captain Nascimento embodies the honest warrior who uses all available weapons to fight crime. The ends justify the means in his logic, which is why torture scenes against criminals are common throughout the film. Furthermore, the execution of criminals is presented as part of a reality of a war without solution.
In the midst of these events the film deals with Nascimento’s personal problems with his marriage to Rosane (Maria Ribeiro) in ruins. This situation is aggravated by the fact that his wife is expecting their first child. The expectation of the birth of his first child leads Nascimento to seek a replacement for his command in the BOPE. Thus, the film presents the training to form a soldier in the division marked by a strictly military logic and dedicated to combat. In this process two candidates emerge who attract Nascimento’s attention: Mathias (André Ramiro) and Neto (Caio Junqueira). Nascimento sees in one of the two a possible successor of his. Another prominent character in the training is the corrupt policeman Captain Fabio (Milhem Cortaz), who is trying to join the elite squad but finds in Nascimento a barrier to his aspirations.
The murder of Neto in an ambush by drug dealers triggers a quest for revenge. Nascimento sees his marriage fall apart and hunts those responsible for the act. The film ends with the execution of the drug dealer responsible for the death of Neto. Elite Squad generated great controversy when it was shown, because for many critics the film legitimizes police violence. On the other hand, the film and its realism depict a difficult and problematic reality. Despite the criticism, Elite Squad was a blockbuster in Brazil and abroad. The highest award it received was the Golden Bear at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival.
The success achieved by the first movie led to a sequel. Tropa de Elite 2: O Inimigo Agora é Outro [Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within] was released in October 2010. The new film was a greater success than its predecessor and holds the record for the highest grossing Brazilian film, with over 11 million viewers. In this sequel Nascimento matures and reaches the rank of colonel, and as such takes up the post of Sub-Secretary of Intelligence in Rio de Janeiro and launches a war on trafficking in the city. The narrative of the film evolves from that of its predecessor, as the relationship between political power and organized crime is the keynote of the film.
The manifestation of this relationship can be observed in the phenomenon of militias, which have emerged in poor communities and slums in Rio de Janeiro. The militias are formed of corrupt police officers who have taken control of these communities and extort shopkeepers and the population. The militias also specialize in offering clandestine services such as pirate cable TV, illegal transportation, and control of trade in basic provisions such as cooking gas. The power exercised by the militias is characterized as a usurpation of state powers in the same way as that of drug gangs. However, its level of political articulation is much greater, because many of its members occupy positions in state institutions (Zaluar & Conceição, 2007).
The argument of the plot is developed around the creation of militias and how political power is related to them. The rise of the militias is represented in the figure of Major Rocha (Sandro Rocha), a corrupt policeman who used to receive bribes from the drug dealers. At one point he decides to eliminate the middlemen and take control of the criminal activities. To achieve this end, arrangements are made with corrupt policemen and with politicians, who provide protection for his actions in exchange for part of the booty. At that moment Colonel Fabio (Milhem Cortaz) reappears, who now controls the “Battalion of the corrupt” and offers coverage.
The political support for the militia comes from deputy Fortunato (André Mattos), responsible for a police journalism program with a large audience, the Secretary of Security, Guaracy—Nascimento’s boss—who is later elected a congressman. The governor also offers support to the militia, since he needs its support for his reelection. Nascimento discovers this entire corruption scheme and has to protect deputy Diogo Fraga (Irandhir Santos)—a militant in an organization of human rights and a critic of Nascimento’s actions. However, in this new plot Fraga is the current husband of his ex-wife Rosane and their son’s stepfather.
The development of the plot leads to the attempted attack on Fraga, which ends up attaining Rafael—Nascimento’s son. The protagonist is attacked when he is leaving the hospital, but manages to escape alive. These events lead to the outcome of the film in which Colonel Nascimento testifies in a committee of the Legislative Assembly and denounces the involvement of top politicians with the militias. Finally, Rocha is murdered as a cover-up and deputy Fortunato is arrested. The governor manages to get reelected and secretary Guaracy is elected as a federal deputy. The close of the film takes place in the Brazilian Congress in a clash between Diogo Fraga and Guaracy in a commission of inquiry into the militias and organized crime in Brazil.
The path traveled by Nascimento between the two films shows a change in perspective. At first he is the policeman who does not care what procedures are used to fight crime and criminals. The use of force and torture is a characteristic of his work to deal with problematic individuals. Later on, his struggle is against a structural element: the system. The biggest issue is not the individual criminal, but the link between the networks of political power and organized crime.
Police journalism is a subgenre with a long history in Brazil and penetration among the lower classes. Its origin lies in the radio programs that reported crimes that took place dramatically and directly. The first programs originated in the 1950s and took shape over time. In addition, the police programs became popular with the public. The combination of information and entertainment can be seen in this subgenre (Cavender & Fishman, 1998).
Police programs on radio provided the elements that were to be used on television. However, police journalism differs from traditional journalism, for in it there is not the sense of balance and independence of professional journalism. In Brazilian police journalism, hyperrealism, hard-hitting criticism of criminals, and dramatization are the rule. Furthermore, it is up to the reporter and the presenter to make the news more attractive (Romão, 2013).
The first successful program in this model was Aqui, Agora [Here and Now] broadcast by SBT [the Brazilian Television System]. The concept of the program was a popular news program that was easily understandable and for immediate consumption in television format. Police journalism is central in this arrangement. This was why they decided on the famous police reporter Gil Gomes, who commanded a police program on Radio Record in the ‘70s and ‘80s with a large audience on the outskirts of Sao Paulo (Costa, 1992). After his long stay in radio Record, Gil Gomes moved to Capital radio and remained there for three years.
Aqui, Agora was broadcast for six years (1991–1997) and dealt mainly with police news or events in progress. In addition, issues related to consumer rights and celebrity news. The emphasis, however, was on the police cases. Gil Gomes played a major role because of his style of presenting the facts, with great dramatization of the events, based on the distinction between good and evil. The dramatization enacted by the presenter reinforces the gray area between information and entertainment (infotainment) common to these programs (Cavender & Fishman, 1998).
However, the most representative name in Brazilian police journalism is Luiz Carlos Alborghetti. His career starts on the radio in Londrina in Parana state in 1976 on Tropical radio. Three years later Alborghetti debuted on television and his program was broadcast throughout the state of Paraná. In 1982 he was elected as a councillor in the city of Londrina and four years later as a state representative. Alborghetti was reelected to the same post in 1990. Alborghetti’s career gained momentum in 1992 when he debuted in Cadeia Nacional [National Chain]. The program was broadcast by the former OM Television Network, which later became the Central Nacional de Television (CNT) [National Television Centre]. In command of the programme, the presenter attacked politicians and accused them of going easy on crime. This led to his being removed from the program when he leveled this accusation at the governor of São Paulo. In 1998 Alborghetti returned to Paraná and was elected state deputy for the third time. In 2002 he did not manage to get reelected. After the loss of his public office, Alborghetti did not have his program renewed on traditional networks. So, he started to broadcast his programme via the Internet in 2006 and returned to radio in Curitiba on Colombo in the same year. In 2007 the program Cadeia Nacional starts to be aired exclusively on the Internet and has great repercussions. In 2008 his program was transferred to Radio AM 1120 and was then called Plantão Mais! [The More Shift!]. Alborghetti died in 2009, a victim of lung cancer.
In his program, Alborghetti spared no effort to criticize “the criminals who robbed, raped and killed the Paraná and Brazilian family.” His style of presentation was marked by the harshness and violence with which he portrayed the facts. The camera focused on his face, always with a hand towel around his neck, like a boxer, wearing reading glasses, and holding a club in his hand with which he broke objects on his desk and threatened criminals. On the screen, Alborghetti called for the death penalty21. for criminals, especially drug dealers, and said that they should be beaten or even lynched. Rapists deserved to be raped in jail and “human rights” only served to protect the bad guys. This primitive justice of the presenter was always accompanied by a high degree of theatricality.
In addition to this “vigilante” spirit, the television program had an assistentialist character. Poor people who needed something like a wheelchair, dentures, or medical treatment appealed to the presenter for help. This customer relationship was frequent in the program and influenced other attractions of a similar style. This populism in Alborghetti is evident. He is the charismatic vigilante distributing the revenge needed for the victim and the social body. Despite this, his anger does not make him unsympathetic. On the contrary, his paternal action toward the needy mitigates his fury against criminals.
Their presence in the media, their discourse against criminals, and their goal to provide aid to the needy end up attracting presenters of these programs to politics. Presenters of police programs go into politics and get many votes from the poorer segments. For this reason, one of the central characters of Tropa de Elite 2 is deputy Fortunato, who presents a program in this style. The Brazilian police program is personified in the presenter, who acts as a virtual vigilante capable of doing justice and providing for those most in need. The model made famous by Alborghetti set the pattern for this genre in Brazil.
Among the programs that adopt this model are Cidade Alerta [City on Alert] on the Record network and Brasil Urgente [Brazil, Urgent] on the Bandeirantes television network. Both programs focus on police news, which takes up most of the program time. Nevertheless, the programs are presented as instruments for the defense of the citizen. For this reason, issues such as consumer rights and the quality of public services are also dealt with in the program. Thus, the discourse common to all programs is not to present crimes, but to serve the public.
Cidade Alerta debuted in 1995 and ran for 10 years. After a fall in audience figures Record took the program off the air. The program returned in 2011 and remained on the air for three months. The station put it on the air again in June 2012 and it is still broadcast to this day. Brasil Urgente, on the other hand, was launched in 2001 and is still broadcast today. The program is displayed at a similar time to Cidade Alerta owing to the competition between the two. A point common to the two programs is the participation of their own helicopter to cover crimes and police chases in Sao Paulo in real time.
Both programs focus on the news of popular appeal about crimes. Although the language they use is not as aggressive as that used by Alborghetti, the basic discourse of the various presenters who have appeared on the programmes is based on the following points: (1) the need for tougher laws to punish and deter crime; (2) the lack of protection for victims of crimes; (3) support for the war against drug trafficking; and (4) unconditional support to the police. The programs therefore present individualized problems, rather than problematic structures (Mendonça, 2002). This is evident especially when some problem with the police is shown. The policeman guilty of a crime is not the result of a backward and vitiated institutional culture, but someone who betrayed his corporation: in short, a bad apple.
Brazilian police journalism has a very specific format and is closely linked to social changes experienced by the country in its recent history. Its appeal to an individualized view of violence in which structural and institutional factors are disregarded is accompanied by an assistentialist type of logic, where presenters take on the role of defenders of the people in general more than traditional parties or political movements. This characteristic is inseparable from Brazilian police journalism.
Crime and Media in Brazil: A Troubled Context
As noted throughout the article, the relationship between crime and the visual media in Brazil is very intense. This relationship rests on processes of social change observed in the country in its recent history, especially those linked to the industrialization and urbanization of the country. The increase in crime observed in the last five decades in Brazil has been portrayed differently depending on the media, the cultural product, and the approach. However, these portrayals continue to keep up a dialogue with specific social contexts.
This article deals with the two most important aspects. On the one hand, the productions centered on the plane of fiction (television and film), which seek a more critical and contextualized opinion of the weaknesses of the system of justice in Brazil, especially in relation to the performance of its police forces. In this sense, the structural problems of the police forces, such as the abuse of power, violence, and corruption, are recurring themes in these cultural products. The difficulty of access to justice is also dealt with more critically on the plane of fictional production. The criticism of a system that fails to meet its demand and responds selectively to its problems is present there. This is most evident from the three films of greatest national and international success: City of God, Elite Squad I, and Elite Squad II.
The antithesis of this can be seen in Brazilian police journalism. The style, which originated from the radio and is aimed at the working classes, reinforces a hardened view of the problem of crime. Founded from the viewpoint of problematic people rather than problematic structures, police journalism reinforces the idea of the vigilante as a suitable element to provide justice and restore the community’s sense of lost dignity. The inquisitorial logic present in its discourse reinforces the traditional model of management of security that is unable to reform itself in this country.
In short, the media treatment of crime in Brazil, in its different dimensions, is a result of the inherent weaknesses of society and the Brazilian State in dealing with crime and establishing an effective and coherent system of criminal justice with the principles set out in its constitution. From every angle the media coverage of crime is deeply rooted in the tensions observed in contemporary Brazilian society.
Links to Digital Sources
The following links are in English or with English subtitles for international viewers. It is possible to watch different videos about the topics discussed in the text.
The opening of Vigilante Rodoviário: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8OCyFn5Qbo [Accessed August 12, 2015].
A description of the BOPE given by a former member of the British SAS can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAGljlQkjmI [Accessed December 26, 2015].
The Elite Squad trailer can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELlkWtNWyKY [Accessed December 26, 2015]. The Elite Squad 2 movie trailer can be seen at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwTiu3typeY.
The interview with the director José Padilha, Elite Squad 1 and 2, at the time of nomination of the film for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2011 establishes incisively the relationship between the content of the film and the context of Rio de Janeiro: https://www.youtube.com/watch ? v = HsBeiwgNYmg & PLEiD5VFR4eua3om3tbFSkTR-list = & 14sJKiRwp index = 9.
The link below shows a typical Alborghetti performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHqmexhKVJ0.
Review of the Literature and Primary Sources
The research on crime and media in Brazil is very recent. The first studies have started in the ‘90s and in the first decade of this century. This characteristic is the same as observed in the criminological studies in Brazil. It is related with the growing levels of violence observed in the country during this period. Thus, empirical criminological studies have gained attention from the scientific community and society. In the evolving context of criminological studies in Brazil, the subfield of crime and media has emerged with some studies focusing on tabloid journalism or dramatization of real crimes. As discussed before in this article, the term “crime” does not refer to the strict legal definition, but may be understood as all kind of violent acts. The studies have not developed a specific and structured field of research in the country. This literature until nowadays is mainly published in Portuguese.
The book of Maria Tereza Costa published in 1992 about the Gil Gomes program is one of the first in Brazil that discusses questions related with media and law. The study analyzes its radio show in which crimes where not only reported but dramatized. This format has immigrated to the television and has established the pattern of tabloid police journalism in Brazil. Costa has researched Gomes’s files and more than 3,000 letters sent to the program. She shed light on how program’s listeners considered the dramas related by the show not only information, but a way to understand and apprehend reality. Thus, the popular media is an instrument for a large group to understand the intricacies of the legal system.
The relationship between crime and visual media has been object of academic interest recently. Kleber Mendonça has studied a TV show aired by Globo TV called Linha Direta (Hot Line) that aimed to help the authorities to solve crimes by reconstructing them on screen. In a Punição pela Audiência (Punishment by Audience, 2002) Mendonça discusses the program’s narratives and its strategies to construct truth about crime, law, and order when reconstructing real crimes. As a result, the show has been criticized for exposing defendants without the protection of due process of law.
The study of Programa do Ratinho (Little Mouse’s TV Show) analyzed how a prime time attraction portrayed lay views of legality in a broad way (Riccio, 2007). This show adopted an innovative formula in which entertainment is intermingled with public issues. In the show three kinds of legal discourses were identified: penal, civil, and social. A reception study with a group of lay viewers of the show (poor and lower middle class) and a group of legal professionals (lawyers, attorneys, and judges) was carried out. The viewers group perceived the show as an accountability tool to surpass bureaucratic barriers of the Brazilian legal system. The legal professionals group criticized the way in which law and judicial institutions were presented in the show, but understood its existence due to structural problems of Brazilian society. The study has shown that both viewers and legal professionals were critical about the show. It has stressed not only conflicts between their views, but they have also agreed on the embeddedness of the show in Brazilian social dilemmas.
There is a growing literature on fiction or documentaries that depicts crime. This is related with the rebirth of Brazilian cinema in the last years based on films that have dealt with crime. This new context leads to “hyper visibility” of crime films in Brazil contrasted with its “low visibility” in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Esther Hamburger discusses how a documentary about a bus kidnapping in Rio that has gained international attention. On December 12, 2000, a bus was hijacked after an unsuccessful robbery. The bus was stuck by the police and the event has driven the media attention. The kidnapping was broadcasted since the beginning until its tragic end. A young hostage, a 23-year-old pregnant teacher died. The hijacker, Sandro do Nascimento, an 18-year-old young Black man was later suffocated and killed in the police vehicle after being arrested. Hamburger discusses how the broadcasting of events had an impact on the roles represented by each one involved in the hijack: police officers, journalists, public officials, and the offender. Hamburger criticizes the documentary for following the hijacker’s performance for the cameras. The problem of social inequality, crime, and drugs is transformed into a spectacle.
The literature in the crime and media in Brazil is still a developing field. There are common issues stressed by these studies: social inequalities and access to justice, the low legitimacy of police, police journalism, and vigilantism. Those issues are considered elements to understand the how legality is constructed in a daily basis and how citizens interact with the legal system, especially the criminal justice system. Despite the embryonic state of the field in Brazil, those issues will be part of its future development.
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(1.) An example can be seen in the records of the “Map of Violence,” which summarizes the evolution of homicides in Brazil. Between 1980 and 2012 the population grew by 61%, whereas in the same period violent deaths from firearms increased by 387%. When considering the young population between 14 and 25 years of age, the growth of such homicides was 460% (Waiselfisz, 2015).
(2.) Three years after the end of the series, Carlos Miranda joined the Highway Police and was a policeman for 25 years. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Force.
(3.) The Globo Television Network is the leading media conglomerate in Brazil. Founded in 1965, the Globe was the first station to broadcast in color in 1972 and the soap operas are its most distinguished cultural product. Currently it reaches 99% of the Brazilian territory through 115 affiliates responsible for relaying its contents. Retrieved on January 14, 2016, from http://www.ahistoria.com.br/rede-globo-de-televisao/.
(4.) References to the serial were retrieved on November 28, 2015, at http://memoriaglobo.globo.com/programas/entretenimento/seriados/plantao-de-policia/episodios.htmem.
(5.) The protection of women was extended in the Brazilian legal system with the 1988 constitution, which was published at the end of the authoritarian period.
(6.) The term “movement” is used to refer to participants of drug trafficking in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. In contrast, the term “tarmac” refers to the middle- or upper-class residents who live in more affluent neighborhoods.
(7.) The series was written by Netinho de Paula (popular composer) and Laura Malin, and the directors were Pedro Siaretta and Claudio Callao. Netinho de Paula dropped out of the project in its second season because he disagreed with the series’ emphasis on violence.
(8.) The Record Television Network began operations on September 27, 1953, in São Paulo. The emphasis on journalism and popular programs is the hallmark of the station, which currently competes with Globo and the Brazilian Television System (SBT) for leadership of audience figures in the country. Retrieved on January 12, 2015, from http://rederecord.r7.com/historia/.
(9.) According to Claudio Beato, this lobby prevents structural changes in the Brazilian police model marked by a difficulty to act legitimately and effectively toward the population. Retrieved on January 17, 2016, from http://veja.abril.com.br/noticia/brasil/precisamos-de-uma-nova-policia-diz-sociologo/.
(10.) Check the full record of the series. Retrieved on August, 12, 2015, from http://memoriaglobo.globo.com/programas/entretenimento/seriados/forca-tarefa/segunda-temporada.htm.
(11.) The series was created by Carlos Amorim, Roberto D’Avila, and Newton Cannito, inspired by the attacks of the criminal organization Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) [First Command of the Capital] on May 15, 2006, which resulted in several deaths. The premiere took place in 2008 and 20 episodes were produced. Retrieved on August 12, 2015, from http://veja.abril.com.br/blog/temporadas/series/series-brasil/9mm-sao-paulo-agora-e-calibre-9/.
(12.) Umbanda is an Afro-Brazilian religion brought by slaves that incorporates elements from other faiths such as Catholicism and Spiritism.
(13.) For a list of the most important Brazilian films about crime see http://www.observatoriodeseguranca.org/dados/visao [accessed January 16, 2016].
(14.) The film was directed by Roberto Farias and the cast included Eliezer Gomes, Luiza Maranhão, Reginaldo Faria, Grande Otelo, Atila Iorio, Miguel Rosemberg, Clementino Kelê, and Helena Ignêz.
(15.) The military regime in Brazil lasted from 1964 to1985.
(16.) This reform school belonged to the State Foundation for Children’s Welfare, the former FEBEM, known for its practices of ill treatment and abuse with their internees. The FEBEM was responsible for juvenile offenders in the State of São Paulo (the most populous in Brazil) and suffered more than 80 rebellions in 2003 and 50 in 2005. The former FEBEM was replaced by the CASA Foundation (Socio-Educational Service Center for Adolescents) that sought changes in the structure and practices in working with the juvenile offender, but it is still the subject of constant complaints about its operations. This change occurred due to intense criticism from Human Rights Organizations throughout the globe, Brazilian judicial authorities and from the Organization of American States (OAS).
(17.) In 1996 José Jofilly shot Who Killed Pixote in which the circumstances of Fernando Ramos Silva’s death and his life trajectory are portrayed.
(18.) The book was published in 2006 by the Objetiva publishing house of Rio de Janeiro.
(19.) In several scenes in the movie, Captain Nascimento uses torture to get information and violence to coerce criminals. In short, the logic of his action is that the ends justify the means.
(20.) The BOPE initially had a small effect and was employed in crisis situations. The image of its officers as “incorruptible” was very strong. However, several complaints of corruption and deviations were registered. Among the most recent cases is the arrest of former members of the battalion accused of passing information about operations to drug dealers. Retrieved on January 16, 2016, from http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/geral/noticia/2015-12/policiais-do-bope-sao-acusados-de-negociar-armas-e-receber-propina-no-rio.
(21.) The death penalty is prohibited by the Brazilian constitution, except in the case of war (art. 5, subsection XLVII).