Roberto Manhães Reis and Viola Scheuerer
São Paulo 2018
Rio, Los Angeles Pan African, Smithsonian African American, Johannesburg
A woman unearths proof of an illegal slave trade in 19th century Brazil.
After Gilda Brasileiro moves to a small community in the Brazilian rainforest, she is confronted by a willful amnesia about the location’s involvement in an underground slave route of the early 19th century, when Africans were forced to work the coffee plantations of the region. Of Afro-Brazilian background herself, Brasileiro begins digging for evidence, and uncovers indisputable proof that not only had slaves been used on the plantations, but the practice continued for a half century after Brazil was said to have left the transatlantic slave trade. Supplementing Brasileiro’s story, the filmmakers gather their own visual record of slavery in the region, conducting close readings of historical posed photographs of slaves by Marc Ferrez. While these images are haunting, the film does not properly contextualize the filmmakers’ backgrounds, making the personal reflections conducted here awkward and somewhat at cross purposes with Brasileiro’s mission. As a result, while there’s intriguing hidden history explored, the doc is on the whole too clunky in its presentation.