Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 12th 2013 Contents B3
Monday, August 12, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Ten years after a Rio de Janeiro slum
called Cidade de Deus (City of God)
burst into the world s consciousness
with the hit film of the same name,
very little has changed for the resi-
dents and the actors have enjoyed
mixed fortunes, writes Donna Bowa-
ter.In one of the ubiquitous street-side
bars in the west of Rio de Janeiro, Lean-
dro Firmino sits sipping water dressed
in the shirt of his beloved Flamengo
football team. In Cidade de Deus, the
community where he grew up, he
knows almost all who pass by and gives
them a thumbs up or a wave.
He could be any of the million who
live in the city s favelas. But his famously
haunting eyes are unmistakeable.
A decade after playing the terrifying
drug lord Li l Ze in the unexpected
box-office success, City of God, he
shows few other signs of the fame he
achieved back then.
The film, which begins in the 1960s
and ends in the early 1980s, follows
the lives of Li l Ze and Rocket, a young
photographer who chronicles the
decline of Cidade de Deus, against a
backdrop of drugs, criminal rivalry and
Now home to around 40,000 people,
the community was originally built for
families relocated to the outskirts by
Rio s authorities to rid the city centre
of its favelas. However, it became noto-
rious for its gangsters, criminals and
In one of the most memorable
scenes, Li l Ze orders a boy to choose
another boy to shoot dead.
Felipe Silva, one of the children in
the scene, recalls: "I was scared to death
of Leandro Firmino. They kind of made
me fear him so I could cry in that
Firmino, now 35 and father to a 21-
month-old boy, was recruited directly
from the favelas to make the film, an
adaptation of Paulo Lins s novel.
"It s gone pretty fast," says Firmino.
"I m surprised people remember it. It s
very much alive, even among children
of 11 or 12."
Like many of the cast, Firmino
enjoyed a high profile in the wake of
the film s success, which included four
Oscar nominations. He has worked
with film group Nos do Cinema (We
in Cinema) and acted in several Brazilian
In 2011, Firmino was invited to the
reception for US President Barack
Obama when he visited Brazil.
"I didn t go. I had another engage-
ment," he says. "Barack Obama s visit
to Cidade de Deus was a political thing."
But while continuing to act and work
in film, Firmino s life remains unaffected
by one of the most enduring works of
cinema to emerge from Brazil in recent
"Do I feel like a celebrity? No. I think
it s ridiculous. It s a ridiculous word.
Art is about being close to people,
celebrity is about being distant," he
explains. "I grew up here in Cidade de
Deus. I really like it here. And God will-
ing, I will continue to work in cine-
He mentions that others also found
success following the film, many of
whom feature in the forthcoming doc-
umentary, City of God: 10 Years Later.
Alice Braga, who played Rocket s love
interest Angelica, went on to star oppo-
site Will Smith in I Am Legend and
credited City of God with launching
"I think that beach scene, especially
the one with the kiss, really helped my
career because the frame of that kiss
stuck in many people s minds," she tells
"I got an agent abroad. I met many
people thanks to that kiss and the pic-
ture it became."
And Seu Jorge, who played Li l Ze s
arch rival Knockout Ned, continues to
be one of the best known musicians
in Brazil, performing at the closing cer-
emony of the London 2012 Olympics.
Firmino says others have been less
fortunate, mentioning Jefechander
Suplino, who played Clipper, one of
the impoverished thieves in the film s
He could not be traced by the pro-
ducers of the documentary and is feared
dead. His mother insists her son is still
alive and told researchers: "He s not
dead, I m sure of that."
Rubens Sabino da Silva, who played
Blackie, was arrested for trying to rob
a woman on a bus in 2003. He appealed
for help from the film s director, claim-
ing he received no money for his part.
While the cast had mixed fortunes,
the film has become a steadfast cultural
reference for Brazil s social problems,
crime and violence.
After the film was released, original
novelist Paulo Lins says he feared the
reaction of such a brutal depiction of
Rio de Janeiro.
"I was a little scared about the reper-
cussions of the launch [of the film]."
"It was the time of the presidential
election in Brazil. Violence was the
most discussed topic of the campaigns
and the media talked every day about
the movie. Everyone was looking for
me to do interviews. I never thought
I d be so exposed in the press.
"The launch was a show of glamour,
there was a lot of talk from politicians
on criminality, but so far nothing has
been done to effectively stop children
getting into the world of violent delin-
But for Firmino, who returned to life
in Cidade de Deus after the film, there
was little in the way of public response.
"It was normal," he says. "I lived
here. Cidade de Deus has the difficulties
of the favela but it always had a kind
"When I launched the film and
became a public persona, it was cool,
but it wasn t a big novelty because we
had already seen others - musicians,
some who no longer live here, and some
who still live here.
"For example, if you talk about funk
in Rio de Janeiro, you talk about Cidade
de Deus. It was normal. It just raised
morale here among people that I had
produced this piece of work."
The reaction of the community to
the new documentary is perhaps more
telling. Cavi Borges, executive producer,
says: "There are many people in City
of God who don t like the film because
of the violence. When they heard we
were doing a documentary, they were
like: Oh no, not again.
Leandro Firmino, 3rd from left, is still recognised for his portrayal of drug dealer Li'l Ze in City of God. PHOTO
"But ours is a different form.
It s a reference for Brazilian cin-
ema; everything is City of God,
City of God, City of God. It s
good and bad.
In 2009, Cidade de Deus
became the second favela in
Rio to be "pacified" as part of
a government programme to
improve safety and security by
increasing the police presence
in poorer communities.
Police officers moved into
the favela and installed a special
unit to try and drive out drug
traffickers. The murder rate fell
from 36 in 2008 to five in 2012.
Borges says he wants to
change people s perception of
"It s what people think Brazil
is like in reality. Everyone wants
to see the communities. It s like
Danny Boyle s Slumdog Mil-
lionaire," which is set in the
Indian city of Mumbai.
"My dream is to bring this
documentary to all the coun-
tries that saw the original film."
City of God, 10 years on
Located about 20km west of central
Rio de Janeiro
Built in the 1960s to remove slum-
dwellers from the city centre
Home to roughly 40,000 people
Cost about US$3m, grossed more
than US$20m at the box office
Tagline: "If you run, it will get you. If
you stay, it will eat you."
CITY OF GOD
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