Not only City of God

A guide to other great films about the favelas

 Brazilian cinema has been getting more attention with recent award-winners like The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?) and Aquarius. But the Brazilian movie that really made its mark on the world will always be City of God.

The 2002 classic follows two kids as they grow up in one of Rio’s most dangerous favelas. City of God established the hood cinema genre in Brazil, leading to a movie sequel and even a TV series. Moreover, it made the favela a cultural staple of Brazil abroad. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s a taste of what you’re missing out on. 

However, what many fans around the world will be happy to know, is that favela cinema doesn’t stop – nor did it start – with City of God. Here’s our list of five mind-blowing movies that will transport you to Brazil’s colorful favelas.

Uma Onda No Ar (2002)

Uma Onda No Ar tells the true story of Brazil’s first community radio “Rádio Favela.” Four young friends take over the radio waves to broadcast the “true voice of Brazil,” informing residents of police invasions, getting kids off the streets and challenging the media’s narrative about the hood. Veteran activist filmmaker Helvécio Ratton directed the movie, with Babu Santana (who recently starred as Tim Maia in the 2014 biopic) playing the role of the street-tough Roque.

Antônia (2006)

Antônia is the story of an all-female rap group from the outskirts of São Paulo trying to make it big as singers in the hip hop world. The four friends, none actually named Antônia, face the challenges of sexism, racism, motherhood, and poverty. The film, directed by City of God’s Fernando Meirelles, features nonprofessional actors from across São Paulo’s favelas in a raw depiction of the local hip hop scene. Even better, the whole movie is available on YouTube with English subtitles.

Once Upon A Time (2008)

Once Upon A Time is a classic Romeo and Juliet spinoff, Brazilian style. Dé, a hot dog vendor from Rio’s Cantagalo favela, falls in love with Nina, a rich daddy’s girl living in one of the beachfront high rises. “My mother always said, the rich will be rich and the poor will be poor... but every time I saw her I forgot all of that,” says Dé in the opening line of the trailer. Their love is pure but pays the price for defying Brazil’s strict social hierarchy. You’ll laugh, you’ll fall in love, you’ll cry your eyes out.

Stolen Dreams (2009)

Stolen Dreams takes us through one year in the life of three young classmates in a Rio favela looking for a way out of poverty through prostitution. When the easy money turns their lives upside down, the force of their friendship keeps them strong. While the storyline enters into tough topics like rape, prison prostitution, and domestic violence, the film keeps us grounded through the amazing acting of the three young women. Rio rapper MV Bill also makes his first appearance on screen. The full version of Stolen Dreams is also available on YouTube with English subtitles.

The Violin Teacher (2015)

The Violin Teacher tells the true story of Brazil’s first favela symphony orchestra, the Heliópolis Baccarelli. A spin on the classic teacher movie, award-winning actor Lázaro Ramos plays the role of the aspiring professional violinist who reluctantly starts teaching music classes in São Paulo’s largest favela because he needs the money. As he starts to form a deep bond with his students, who look to music as their only escape from crime and poverty, he is torn between his professional career and his teaching. The film features local Heliópolis residents and students of the Baccarelli Institute.

Whether you stream it on YouTube or find it at a local indie theater near you, these movies will change the way you see Brazil, and its favelas, for good.

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