When compared to the United States and its brutal history of racial violence and exclusion, Latin America is often touted as a sort of post-racial utopia, where historic mestizaje between indigenous, African, and European elements created a fluid, color-blind society in which one’s race is at best an incidental quirk. But we all know that’s a fantasy.
In case there was any doubt, Brazilian director-provocateur Adirley Queirós has created Branco Sai, Preto Fica (White Out, Black In): a tripped out docufiction-sci-fi hybrid that follows the daily lives of two black Brazilians who were victims of a violent 1980s police raid that left one paralyzed and the other without a leg. As the two actors/subjects reveal over the course of the film, on that fateful evening, local police used a drug raid as a pretext to cry “Whites out, blacks in,” as they stormed a club on the outskirts of Brasília and brutalized all of its black patrons.
But rather than simply retracing the series of events that unfolded around this horrific act of racialized state violence, Queirós takes a tip from the anything-goes Tropicália modernism of Brazil’s Cinema Novo and mashes the whole thing up with a dystopian sci-fi plot about a time traveler who arrives to warn our two disfigured heroes about some impending future disaster. Queirós also takes the opportunity to fictionalize the subject’s actual hometown of Old Ceilânda – a satellite city designed to keep poor, darker-skinned provincial migrants from setting up shop in the capital – creating a dystopian alternate reality out of the impoverished shanty town with the constant sound of sirens and Big Brother-style loudspeakers.
For its part, the trailer isn’t particularly revealing, but we can appreciate that there’s plenty of old-school hip-hop and 80s dance music. One of the characters is apparently some sort of pirate radio DJ while the other spends his days trying to rig up a new prosthetic leg, then there’s the time traveler who spend most of the runtime in a shipping crate as he barrels through the fourth dimension. It’s all a bit convoluted, but it seems that’s partially the point.
Queirós has essentially taken a conventional documentary about institutional violence and racism in Brazil, and radically exploded the format to reveal some of the deeper rifts still present in Brazilian society. We’ve got to give it up to him, for somehow mixing a low-budget version of Interstellar with an Errol Morris documentary and drowning it in a whole lot of cachaça.
Branco Sai, Preto Fica had its international premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January and most recently picked up a Special Jury Prize and the International Critics Award at the Cartagena International Film Festival.