Few days before George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, sparking Black Lives Matter protests worldwide, a 14-year-old black teenager named João Pedro Matos Pinto was gunned down by Brazil’s federal police in his uncle’s backyard at Sao Goncalo (Rio De Janeiro) while he was playing with his cousins. The authorities dubbed the incident as an ‘accident’, a raid gone wrong. However, protests raged in the country pointing out (yet again) that this wasn’t an isolated case of police violence in Rio de Janeiro.
According to a Reuters article, 1,814 people lost their lives due to police violence in Rio De Janeiro last year, and while most of them have been reduced to a statistic, a mere data point by the authorities, one person, who was a socio-cultural icon and a vocal supporter of human rights, Black rights, and LGBTQA+ community in the state of Rio, continues to live on, even after her death. Her name is Marielle Franco.
Franco — for those of you who do not know – was a black, bisexual, feminist, and human rights activist, who held the post of Rio de Janeiro’s councilwoman in 2018, during which she advocated for human rights, and openly criticized police brutality and opposed militarization of the police in Brazil. In fact, a day before her death, she took to Twitter, to criticize a young black man’s death, in the hands of police, and wrote, “How many more must die for this war to end?”
The answer to that question is yet to be found, as civilians from marginalized groups and backgrounds are still ending up as casualties. Franco too lost her life. She and her driver were gunned down on 14 March 2018 by two policemen, who were later arrested. But, her legacy lives on.
In a short documentary film, directed by Leonard Cortana, titled Marielle’s Legacy Will not Die, which is all set be screen at the 11th edition of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, we get a glimpse of Franco’s indomitable presence in the state of Rio, even after her death, as women wear t-shirts with her face on them, carnival parades are dedicated to her, every wall, and lamp post is covered with her graffiti and posters, and all questions leading up to one: who wanted to kill Marielle Franco? The answer, after two years of her death, and several arrests is still murky.
But Cortana’s film doesn’t dwell on Marielle’s barbaric murder, nor on the investigation that followed. His film is about memorializing Franco. Cortana’s film follows the activist’s movements that gathered steam after Franco’s death and continue to spreads the intersectional legacy of the Afro-Brazilian activist who was also a brave, and humanitarian politician.
My dream is to see Marielle Franco reflecting in History books, Cortana told News18. “The lives of these fighters, these activists (like Franco) and their works also need to be documented to influence new generations,” he claimed.
“Today with the black Lives matter movement and the fight against impunity of police force, Marielle’s case exists as a reminder of the global colonial roots of police brutality. Her murder has to be thought through the lenses of lesbocide, a racist crime as well as a case of political feminicide too,” said Cortana. “Rio’s walls are still talking about her and remind us that she is not forgotten. The walls are sweating Marielle. People come in every day to worship her. An active site for memorialization.” He added.
In 2017 and 2018, when Cortana was doing fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro, he attended several women’s political rallies, out of which one group called Mulheres na Política (Women in Politics) caught his attention. The group was completely intersectional — Black women, Lesbian and Transwomen together, mothers and community organizers. Their discourses were fierce, anticolonial, giving agency to the people who worked closely with the communities.
“My deep interest in working with these women activists and Marielle Franco (I also followed her work at the Human Rights Commission) in particular stems from my research examining the memorialization of intersectional figures,” said the young filmmaker, who is currently a PhD candidate at the Cinema Studies Department at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and a 2019-2020 Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center, Harvard Law School.
“I started my doctoral dissertation during the #MeToo movement and what I realized is that we are so embedded in this calling out culture and I completely understand that we have to do this work, but we also have to do the work of memorializing our people and bringing out our voices and our histories. We also have to do that advocacy.” He added.
Transforming Grievances into fight
Cortana’s film chronicles the days leading up to Marielle’s one-year death anniversary, as he brings to screen a sure-footed activist movement that has gathered strength after Franco’s death to honour her legacy. It shows the tireless rehearsals before the carnival parade where a tribute was organized in her honour, the meticulous preparation, and planning for the celebration of Franco’s legacy by activists, friends and family in Rio De Janeiro – organizing several events daily, introducing intelligent debates, and upholding Franco’s ideals with passion.
“Something that these activists say all the time is transformar o luto como luta. It translates to ‘transforming the grievance into the fight’. We cannot forget that there is a certain return of dictatorship and political action throughout Latin America, which represents a grieving for the ones who advocate for more inclusion and rights,” Cortana said.
“However, that grieving is becoming a fight for these people and in Brazil, all Black people, Black women who got access through the quotas system to universities, to jobs, are now changing the landscape of Brazilian society. I observed this a lot during my research that in Brazil, there is resistance from a section of the population for these changes to materialize,” he added.
Marielle fought hard against such ‘section of population’. She was a rising political star, a woman who grew up in a favela advocating for all the identities she represented. She was also very vocal about police abuse and violence in the favelas. She had a very strong electoral turnout in Rio’s parliament. And this is something Cortana really wanted to underline about Marielle’s execution through his film, the fact that it was not only a hate crime but it was before all a political crime.
He chose the voices that speak about Franco in his documentary wisely. “We wanted to centre the voice of Black women and Queer women that mainstream media are always erasing off and we also wanted to highlight Franco’s intersectional persona. Therefore, talking to her widow Monica Benicio was important. When we think about it when a Queer person dies, their partners are not invited to talk, which is another way of erasing their Queerness.” Said Cortana.
“Monica Benicio does an incredible job to advocate for Queer communities within and beyond Brazil, her voice was important. Marina Iris was a close friend of Marielle, a Lesbian Black samba singer that provided a great reading of the effect of the Carnival, this popular celebration that defies the logic of things and in 2019 used the platform of the competition to call out for justice for Marielle. Then, Black activist Monica Cunha that lost a son to police violence and created a movement of Black women and mothers “Movimento Moleque” that supports, empowers and makes advocacy against police brutality helped us navigate the current impact of the investigation from her unique standpoint. She now works closely with Renata Souza, in the same political party as Marielle and is actively engaged to spread her political legacy,” he added.
Silence doesn’t help the vulnerable
Cortana said that his major takeaway from the experience of directing this film is that political representation is changing. Slowly but surely anti-racists, members of the LGBTQA+ community (like Franco) are getting elected or getting access to higher spheres of influence. They have the power to collaborate with grassroots communities and relay their queries. However, their presence in political spheres is precarious.
“I truly believe that our generation of media makers need to find ways to mobilize transnational networks of advocacy and solidarity… This is part of the legacy work too. Protecting the persons that follow the steps, be behind them, support them online and offline. We should never undermine the social and emotional cost of their reality on the field. There is real ethics of collaboration to be thought of and it is hard to put in place, it needs a strong organization, access as well as fast dissemination. But, as a start, let’s find ways to circulate stories of figures, events, and fights,” Cortana said.
“There should not be another Marielle Franco murder or Sarah Hegazi suicide. We have to go beyond the normalization of the necropolitics of the activists. If we do not actively advocate, we become complicit of the status quo of the vulnerability of activists.” He added.
Including Marielle’s Legacy Will Not Die, there will be 157 films from 42 countries that will be screened at KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, South Asia’s biggest LGBTQIA+ film festival which is slated to begin from 22nd July. It will be a virtual film festival, due to the coronavirus induced lockdown.