Favela Rising Review
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During the period of 1987-2001, over 3,900 children under the age of 18 were murdered in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. That was over eight times the number of Israeli and Palestinian children killed during the same time period. This city houses over 600 slums, or favelas, where drug trafficking is a teen’s only hope for economic freedom. However, the average drug soldier dies at between 14 and 25 years of age.

Additionally, according to an interview with investigative journalist, Andre Luis Azevedo, Rio de Janiero’s military police killed 699 people in the period of 1997-1998; 61% executed at point-blank range. These underpaid police make up for their situation by supplying guns to and demanding money from the drug lords. Add drug wars between favelas to this massive police corruption, and you have citizens who are afraid to leave their neighborhoods.

Favela Rising is a heart-wrenching documentary that exposes these miserable conditions and illustrates how the strength of a people can change lives for the better. The film follows the evolution of the AfroReggae movement—particularly focusing on Anderson Sá, who, after losing his brother, resolved to end the violence in his favela, Vigário Gera. The key would be to offer a better alternative to youths, persuading them out of the drug army. He sought the help of José Junior, who worked with juvenile delinquents. The two realized that the way to reach kids was through music and culture, so they set out to form a structured group, incorporating music and dance.

This was no small task. Starting in 1993, with a small newspaper promoting Afro-Brazilian pride through music and culture, Sá and Junior proceeded to borrow instruments and recruit volunteers to teach youngsters percussion. This expanded to dance, and they performed free concerts in the favela. Sá risked his life numerous times to accomplish his dream, even to the point of incorporating anti-drug and anti-violence themes into his lyrics. Even a near-fatal freak accident couldn’t even halt this movement.

AfroReggae became so successful that there were pleas to implement the program in other favelas. This would have to be carefully thought out, though, as Sá realized that outsiders would be resented. However, at the end of the film, the program expanded to nine favelas with over 2000 participants. It was no longer slum against slum. In 2001, Universal Music signed Banda AfroReggae, featuring Anderson Sá, to an international record deal.

Is AfroReggae still achieving its goal? The filmmakers claim that in 1993 there were 150 drug soldiers in Vigário Gera. This decreased to 25 in 2004. Homicides were replaced by job opportunities. Interviews with citizens of all ages also verified the success. One café owner bravely admits that she refuses to serve drug traffickers, as her clientele now upports the AfroReggae movement.

I found Favela Rising troubling but, at the same time, riveting. Though it isn’t always an easy movie to watch, it’s a must-see, as it helps viewers realize how seemingly powerless people can successfully implement social change.

Favela Rising is in Portuguese with English subtitles. 100% of the net proceeds from the DVD sales will go to fund educational programs in the favelas of Brazil.

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