'Breaking Myths' - Brazilian political documentary's queer edge

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022
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A scene from 'Breaking Myths: the Fragile and Catastrophic Masculinity of Jair Bolsonaro'
A scene from 'Breaking Myths: the Fragile and Catastrophic Masculinity of Jair Bolsonaro'

By the narrowest of margins, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the popular former president of Brazil, won the presidential election runoff on Oct 30. Lula received 50.9% of the votes to Jair Bolsonaro's 49.1%.

Hoping to inoculate his campaign against losing, but also revealing his insecurity about being able to win again, Bolsonaro, like Trump, began crying foul before one ballot was cast. And although Bolsonaro refused to concede defeat or call to congratulate Lula for winning, he has, however, promised to follow the Constitution and begin the transition process.

Queer filmmaker Fernando Grostein Andrade's new film "Breaking Myths: the Fragile and Catastrophic Masculinity of Jair Bolsonaro" is a deep dive into the topic of what politics in Brazil has become since Jair Bolsonaro came to power. How does democracy work when the country is evenly split right down the middle? And what is to be done when those who hold the levers of power lose their sense of decency, descending McCarthy style into reckless cruelty?

Bolsonaro first came to the public's attention as a rank-and-file military man when he contacted a journalist to complain about military pay, and she published Bolsonaro's sketches detailing a plan to detonate a bomb in the men's room of the military college, and another bomb to blow up water pipes supplying the city of Rio. For this, Bolsonaro was tried and convicted of plotting a terror attack. But the military dictatorship had just ended and the court had mercy on him, choosing to simply throw him out of the military and give him a second chance.

The film contains tons of archival footage, a crash course of sorts in Brazilian politics. To be sure, the director's decision to include facts about his own interesting life in the film provides a fascinating contrast with Bolsonaro's life. And it's strange to realize the two men affect each other's lives even without knowing each other or interacting.

filmmaker Fernando Grostein Andrade  

But it is clear Andrade had a hard time making this film, which sometimes lacks the flow audiences have come to expect from the film. Also, crucial explanations are missing from the film, as when Bolsonaro shows the camera a bizarre "gay kit" that he says are for kids. The film declares it fake with no explanation of what these objects actually are. Are they the infamous sex education kits Dilma Rousseff stopped circulating? Who had them made and for what purpose?

Surely, the subject matter is still too close to him. Nonetheless, he admirably grapples with a very difficult story.

Lunatic politics, venal violence
"Let's machine gun the Workers' Party!" Bolsonaro shouted on the microphone at a rally while holding what looked like a machine gun, then he pretended to shoot it into the air even though inciting violence is illegal and the television platform that broadcast it can be held liable.

"The Trump of the Tropics," as he is called, is not ashamed to advocate child abuse on a political TV show, saying, "If your son acts gay, just beat him up and he'll stop."
Unlike the uplifting campaign songs of other politicos — "Happy Days are Here Again" (FDR), "High Hopes" (JFK) or even the ultra-gay choice of "YMCA" (Trump) — Bolsonaro's supporter sang "Watch out, Faggot. Bolsonaro is going to kill faggots!" in soccer stadiums all over Brazil to the beat of a manic drum line.

The film demonstrates the terrible real-world impact of Bolsonaro's stunts on the general public. When asked if LGBTQ people should be killed, the average man and woman on the street in Brazil answered on-camera, like sheep, yes, they should be. (If the question had been the inverse, I wonder if they all would have answered no, parroting whatever the questioner asked.)

With a straight face, Bolsonaro even claimed he was invited to a cannibal feast by Indians, but "no one wanted to go with him" so he did not go. Many wonder whether he had slipped into a delusional state of mind or if he was pulling the journalist's leg. Either way, the lie was vociferously denied by the Indian tribe he named. Furthermore, the tribe emphasized that in their entire history they have never engaged in cannibalism. Bolsonaro also claimed that a Lula supporter, one lone supporter, is a Satanist.

Power and posturing
A president has the power to influence culture for better or worse. Much harm surely goes under the radar, like parents who may really try to beat the gay out of their children on the advice of their president. But we know that human rights activist and vocal critic Marielle Franco, a Congresswoman, was killed when her car was riddled with bullets in the street because of Bolsonaro. We also know that activist for indigenous rights Bruno Pereira was killed along with UK journalist Dom Phillips while investigating illegal fishing in the Amazon because of him as well.

The Left is also to blame. Lula and his protégé Dilma Rousseff (who was impeached and removed from the presidency, and served a two-year jail sentence for taking up arms against Brazil's military dictatorship as a violent Marxist guerilla in her youth) bear responsibility for the rise of the Right when they were embroiled in their own corruption scandals.

There are indications that the electorate is becoming too immature and too lacking in a classical liberal education to sustain a democracy. Overcoming this huge problem requires being ready to face our demons and understand how we got here.

If conservatives know they can put themselves in the spotlight by exploiting psychological frailties around sexuality and manhood, then getting ahead of this trend is as simple as working to heal society by embracing ourselves as "fearfully and wonderfully made," as King David wrote in the Psalms. As the stated in the film, truth is bulletproof.

But contemporary life instead pushes us toward greater insecurity and conformity, making us putty in the hands of would-be dictators who manipulate the public for political gain.

Andrade's ability to sift through all the noise of the political climate to put his finger on the one most important thing here is what makes the film very much worth watching: this really is about male wounding, in this case the childhood trauma of losing his father and his attempts to heal it by immersing himself in the world of horticulture by growing orchids.

We suspect that the hyper-masculinity and cruelty Bolsonaro displays results from male wounding in his life as well, although undisclosed. Sensitivity turned inside out, inflicting on the world what they have not been able to heal within themselves.

As bisexual author/screenwriter Gore Vidal stated in the highly acclaimed film "United States of Amnesia" about Obama's victory, "I would like to think he's completely virtuous, I suspect he's not. Why do I say that? Because I know how politics works...Americans are farcical when faced with force majeure and money. You can't expect a democracy from a society like this."

And it seems the U.S. is not so different from other nations in this regard.

The full documentary is available at www.breakingmyths.com

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