‘Aquarius’ Director’s Protest of Brazilian Coup May Cost Him a Chance at an Academy Award

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Since seizing executive power from president Dilma Rousseff and the leftist Worker’s Party, Brazil’s ideologically confused interim government has made no bones about its low tolerance for the country’s left-leaning, rabble-rousing filmmakers and artists. After initially disbanding the Ministry of Culture in its entirety, interim president Michel Temer (yes, that also means “fear” in Portuguese) has apparently set about on a campaign of personal vendettas against the high-profile artists who dared challenge his authority.

At least, that seems to be the case with filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho, whose latest feature Aquarius premiered to positive reviews at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. And while the film’s story of a gracefully aging woman fighting to save her home from the grips of greedy developers has no overtly political content, Mendonça and the cast did use their red carpet at Cannes to make a powerful statement against Rousseff’s ouster.

Now the team behind Aquarius is suggesting that the newly reinstated Ministry of Culture is out to bar their film from the Oscars with the appointment of right-wing film journalist Marcos Petrucelli to the official selection committee. But it’s not solely Petrucelli’s politics that have earned him the mistrust of the Brazil’s film professionals, but rather a vocal ideological campaign he waged against Mendonça in the wake of his Cannes red carpet protest. In a seething opinion piece published in the wake of the protest, Petrucelli accused the Aquarius cast and crew of “ridiculing” Brazil while taking a “vacation” to the south of France on government money.

In response to Petrucelli’s appointment, three directors have removed their films from consideration for Brazil’s Best Foreign Language Film entry, and two committee members have also stepped down. Aquarius’ defenders have similarly cried out over the Ministry of Justice’s decision to rate the film for exclusively over-18 audiences (think NC-17,) which is generally reserved for only the raciest films and could significantly hamper Aquarius’ performance at the box office.

For their part, both Petrucelli and the Ministry of Culture insisted that the Oscar entry will be reserved for the most viable candidate regardless of political orientation. But with the possibility of an even higher-profile political statement making its way to the Oscars, just maybe they’re thinking twice.