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Wed 03
Cinemark refuses to show movie about dictatorship and sparks debate on freedom of speech

Cinemark refuses to show movie about dictatorship and sparks debate on freedom of speech

The movie generated controversy on social media, where it has been associated with a pro-dictatorship and pro-militarism stance

Luan Sperandio

On Sunday (31) evening, the premiere of the documentary “1964: o Brasil entre armas e livros” (“1964: Brazil between guns and books”) was held simultaneously in ten Brazilian cities. In seven of them, the even happened in movie theaters of the Cinemark chain, and in Rio de Janeiro the movie could not be shown due to technical issues.

The work was produced by Brasil Paralelo, an independent production company specialized in contents about the history of Brazil under a liberal and conservative editorial perspective. In it, the producers have tried to present an “alternative” point of view, ignored by the traditional historiography, about the 1964 coup.

The movie generated controversy on social media, where it has been associated with a pro-dictatorship and pro-militarism stance. In this campaign against the documentary even fake pamphlets have been published. In view of this pressure, the directors of a movie theater rented in a Belo Horizonte shopping mall threatened to cancel the session, but the film was exhibited after a security reinforcement funded by Brasil Paralelo. There were no reports of any disturbances.

On the following day, Cinemark issued a statement which said that “our policy is not to authorize in our movie complexes the divulgation of any partisan media or politically charged events,” and considered the event a mistake due to the “previous lack of knowledge about the theme of the event.”

For Brasil Paralelo, the press release came as a surprise: “the company we hired to provide the rental service of the screening theaters, Cinemark, has shown itself an enemy of the free expression of art by assuming a political stance. They did without even talking to us. They accuse our production, which is nothing more than a documentary with a historiographical basis, of being partisan.” Their position provoked the reaction of internet users in social media, which took the hashtag #BoicoteCinemark (“BoycottCinemark”) to the top of the world trending topics on Twitter.

Never show movies with a political background, but not always

Among the criticism made to the chain, there is the issue that has already shown in the past movies of a notorious political-partisan nature, such as “Lula, o Filho do Brasil”, about the life of Brazil’s former president, “The Motorcycle Diaries”, which celebrates the life of the murderer and guerrilla fighter Che Guevara, “The Young Karl Marx”, about the youth and exile of the notorious socialist revolutionary, and even exhibited free advertisement for politician João Dória’s administration in São Paulo – an attitude which earned him a lawsuit for misconduct in public office. Some of these events were amply publicized by the company.

Lucas Ferrugem, CEO of the production company, maintains that the documental work was produced with “the highest commitment with the telling of historical facts, and the prudence necessary for that sensible period,” based on “countless bibliographies and interviews with intellectuals from all over the world.” He also criticized media outlets which passed judgment on the documentary without having access to its content, “not even a synopsis.”

According to him, the conflict with Cinemark is just the tip of the iceberg: “there are over 300 universities registered to exhibit the documentary and discuss the subject. However, there were episodes of learning institutions issuing statements prohibiting the exhibition of the work, members of the Prosecutor’s Office, and even Child Protective Councils getting involved in demonstrations against the exhibition of the work. True attacks against the freedom of expression.”

Many have associated the production company to Bolsonaro’s government, which sparked controversy by posting a video defending the coup. “We have been producing documentaries in chronological order about Brazil for two years, trying to do better research on facts of specific periods of the country’s history, many of them still immersed in ideological contradictions. The latest one discussed Getúlio Vargas’ suicide, in 1954.” To discuss 1964 is, therefore, “just the continuity of this work.” Brasil Paralelo has already produced 25 documentaries, available for free on their website and their YouTube channel.

For Ferrugem, “it is censorship, but not state censorship”: it is an analysis, made by a censor, of artistic or informative material, based on moral and ideological criteria, to determine the convenience of its release for public exhibition – precisely the definition of “censorship” in the dictionary. “This is not restricted to actions done by the state. Although the state is acting in Child Protective Councils and learning institutions, using public funds and the monopoly of force, the verb ‘to censor’ may also be used within the private sphere.”

Freedom of speech is one of the biggest and better rights to be ensured: if we are not able to speak, all other rights will be relativized. “I don’t support laws which forbid private institutions from doing that, but I think that the restriction of debates by a learning institution, which should be precisely an environment which holds such debates, is despicable,” he concludes.

Brasil Paralelo has notified newspapers which published reports with a defamatory content, and is studying legal measures regarding Cinemark. The movie complex chain merely informed Gazeta do Povo through its press office that the company rented screening rooms for private events.

The noise made by minority groups

In a text published by Folha de São Paulo, Ygor Salles, who had access to the film, wrote that it is “unfair to say that the documentary defends the dictatorship and the coup. There is a criticism of the excesses committed by the military regime, and even references to the actions of ‘psychopaths’ who tortured and killed oppositionists.” However, even if there was an explicit defense of the military of the time, should the exhibition be prohibited?

One must bear in mind that the production of narratives by interest groups in order to manipulate the public debate is commonplace in history. New researches and historical revisions are natural so that more information is available and make it easier to distinguish between what is distortion and what happened factually. The launching of productions revisiting themes is an opportunity to clear the debate on episodes whose history might have been told in a superficial or biased way.

However, this is only possible in an environment in which freedom of speech is duly respected. When there was an explicit demonstration of support to Nazism in the US city of Charlottesville, in 2017, for instance, the act of a few dozen Nazis caused the debate of the entire movement, and it was greatly repudiated all over the world. Even bad ideas should be fought with freedom of speech. When different approaches on all issues are made possible, these subjects are not trivialized, on the contrary: it provides an opportunity to talk about them and get to know them.

It is important to point out that, in this week’s episode, protests were held against the documentary organized by groups which hadn’t even watched it. It is a form of denying the debate, something which goes frontally against the free market of ideas. Critics should at least get to know the work they consider to be inconsistent, in order to be able to express minimally reasonable opinions about it. Anything different from that only impoverishes the public debate.

Lastly, if it is true that any movie theater chain may decide freely on their programming, it should also be true that those who are bothered by the choices made by this chain can organize a boycott against it.

Freedom of speech in Brazil is cause for concern

Despite being a constitutional right, freedom of speech in Brazil is not absolute, and there are restrictions – something which hasn’t gone unnoticed by international organizations. According to a report by non-government organization Article 19, in Brazil it is being threatened in the public space, such as in demonstrations, as well as in the online environment. As well as the criminalization of criticism as slander, defamation, and disparagement, known as “crimes against honor”, which paves the way for judicial activism to censor statements, journalistic pieces, and protests, threats against reporters are among the study’s main concerns. Between 2012 and 2016, 22 members of the press were murdered in Brazil. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism registered more than 60 episodes of violence against professionals of the press in 2018 alone.

These concerns were mentioned by Freedom House, an American think-tank mentioned by British magazine The Economist. Their study assessed the quality of each country’s institutions under the democratic point of view, and has expressed in their latest reports a great concern about these issues. In its 2019 edition, it pointed out the high level of political violence registered during the electoral period, as well as the amount of disinformation. In the freedom of press ranking released by Reporters without Borders, Brazil occupies the 102nd position. There is a long way ahead until freedom of speech can develop here.