A new documentary from filmmakers Fernando Grostein and Fernando Siqueira shows two parallel realities: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s toxic masculinity and its disastrous effects on the country, as well as the innocence of Grostein's childhood and teenage years. Titled Quebrando Mitos (Debunking Myths, in English), the film has reached nearly a million views on YouTube since premiering in September.
Quebrando Mitos addresses the elements that helped Bolsonaro win the presidency in 2018. Widespread misinformation on social media sought to portray him as a "champion" of moral values, and he enjoyed support from evangelical representatives in Congress. Bolsonaro also regularly discussed protecting the so-called traditional family unit.
Grostein previously directed the 2011 documentary Quebrando o Tabu, and he is the founder of accounts on Twitter and Facebook by the same name. A constant target of death threats due to his political views and advocacy for marginalized communities in Brazil, Grostein fled the country in 2018.
The decision to use the expression "catastrophic masculinity" throughout the documentary conveys a selfishness by those who believe their wishes should always be granted, even at someone else's expense, said screenwriter Carol Pires. "This is dangerous to democracy and to our existence, as it also considers the environment as his endless property."
The film addresses the misogyny that is commonplace in religion, anti-environmental spaces, politics and the paramilitary groups, or militia, in Brazil. It also exposes the president's relationship and declared support of militia member Adriano da Nóbrega, whose mother and wife worked in the cabinet of Flávio Bolsonaro, one of the president’s sons.
In the documentary, congressman Marcelo Freixo claims that militia killed city councilor Marielle Franco, who was fighting off paramilitary groups in Rio de Janeiro. The film calls into question President Bolsonaro's relationship with Élcio Queiroz, one of the people found guilty of killing Franco. Queiroz visited Bolsonaro's condo the same day Franco was killed. Retired police officer Ronnie Lessa, who was also found guilty of the killing, used to live in the same condo as Bolsonaro.
According to the documentary, people linked to the Bolsonaro family spread false information around Franco on social media the day following her killing.
A questionable figure
Grostein and Siqueira invited Pires to write the screenplay due in large part to her podcast "Retrato Narrado" in which she investigates the roots of Bolsonaro’s way of thinking and analyzes how he became such a controversial figure. "While being blond with blue eyes, he wasn't part of the elite in his hometown. He was in this limbo, and then he started to develop his social resentment." Pires was previously the screenwriter for "The Edge of Democracy," nominated for best documentary feature at the 2020 Academy Awards.
Quebrando Mitos discusses how the media in Brazil gave a platform to controversial statements made by Bolsonaro. "The press would publish any crap we said, and then we would spread it," the president’s former press secretary Waldir Ferraz says in the documentary. "This man is such an articulator. The press was the one who took Bolsonaro [into the Presidency]."
The film features interviews with Indigenous and Quilombola leaders. "[The government] is all about profit. And this profit is destroying the environment," said chieftain Tereza Arapium, from the Andirá village, in the state of Pará, northern Brazil.
Influential politicians such as Congressman Marcelo Freixo and former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso also talked about the impacts Bolsonaro's decisions have had on issues related to the environment, civil society and marginalized communities. Former congressman Jean Wyllys spoke up about the openly homophobic attacks made by Bolsonaro. "There isn't such a story of Bolsonaro and me. There is a story of Bolsonaro realizing how homophobia is a niche for him to amplify his electoral relationships."
When he learned of the documentary launching, Eduardo Bolsonaro, another of Bolsonaro's sons, said on Twitter that his father is "flaccid-proof" and "unshaggable." Recently, in a speech during Brazilian Independence Day celebrations on September 7, the president began a chant of "flaccid-proof." Commenting on this, Pires recalls the death toll attributed to Bolsonaro due to his response to COVID-19 and the deforestation of the Amazon. "If the death turns him on, I can imagine he is flaccid-proof indeed."
When it comes to the president’s typical behavior of harassment, targeted especially at women journalists, Pires said that she has experienced attacks from Bolsonaro supporters because of the opinions she posts on Twitter and her work with The New York Times, Folha de S. Paulo and producing The Edge of Democracy.
Since the launching of Quebrando Mitos, the number of attacks against her has increased. "Since Fernando said the film was coming, I felt this new wave of aggressive comments on my Instagram account. I'm doing what's best in a situation like this: block, report and don't reply."
Main image: screenshot of the Debunking Myths website.
This article was originally published on IJNet Portuguese and was translated by Priscila Brito.