Aude Chevalier-Beaumel and Michael Gimenez,
"Sexo, pregações e política"


« Sexo, pregações e política » directed by Aude Chevalier-Beaumel and Michael Gimenez was in the official competition for best documentary at the festival Cinélatino, Rencontres de Toulouse in mars 2017. The interview was conducted on this occasion on the 21st of Mars 2017 by Erica Farges et Cédric Lépine.

Michael Gimenez and Aude Chevalier-Beaumel, directors of "Sexo, pregações e politica" © Laura Morsch assisted by Patricia Sauli

Erica Farges: What is your relationship with Brazil? Why did you choose to deal with the political situation in this country?

Aude Chevalier-Beaumel
: I have been living for about ten years in Rio de Janeiro and Michael regularly comes to Brazil. We have already collaborated on other documentaries before, often related to Human Rights. My first documentary, released in 2010, is about young people killed by police bullets in Rio de Janeiro. We then worked together on a documentary in which my camera follows a politician who runs for the municipal elections in Rio de Janeiro and is threatened by death because he denounces corruption and the local militia, a kind of mafia. In the meantime, we have co-directed several short documentary films. We have always collaborated more or less, but Sexo, pregações e política is the first feature film we directed together. We started shooting in September 2014, in the middle of the campaign for the presidential and legislative elections. We have seen the rise of evangelicals, their presence in electoral debates. Issues such as abortion, homophobia and transphobia were either ignored by candidates or used to campaign. We also wanted to show the paradox of false sexual freedom, which tourists and foreigners may see when they arrive in Rio de Janeiro, thinking that Brazil is a very free and very tolerant country regarding sexuality: one realizes very quickly that this is not the case at all.

Cédric Lépine: Your film begins with some dramatic news and ends with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Eventually, the film becomes an explanation of this context. When did you decide to finish your film with this event?

Michael Gimenez
: So much happened during the shooting that absolutely had to be in the documentary! Especially the excerpts where we see the congressmen voting: the characters in our film participated in this vote, which already built a link.
ACB: I was filming in Copacabana for another documentary on the day of the impeachment vote. There were giant screens where the vote, which lasted more than five hours, was broadcast; the people were prostrated at the statements of the congressmen.
MG: There was fervor. In Copacabana there were all the people who were for the impeachment with football trumpets, every time a congressman voted yes, everybody was shouting, and in the historic center of the city it was rather the opposition, those who were for Dilma Rousseff, people were crying. We were both in Rio de Janeiro; we could not but talk about it because we could see it was a very important step for the country's politics.
ACB: I think it also allowed people to see, for a few hours, who their congressmen were, people who they do not hear often. There, in a thirty-seconds to one-minute declaration each, we have this portrait that we wanted to make.

CL: Is your film also a reminder of what at stakes for the Brazilian presidential elections next year?

: Yes. Congressman Bolsonaro, who is a former career soldier, a former Catholic who converted to Evangelism solely for political reasons, will present himself in 2018 and, for the legislative elections, he obtained the highest number of votes : he is very popular. So there is a real risk. In the meantime, it is very difficult to make predictions, because at the moment the situation is still evolving, with the plausible return of Lula for example.
ACB: The situation is very polarized. However, the positive point is that people are talking about politics again. Of course, with their positions, which are often very firm and very opposed, there are really two sides, but at least they are re-interested in politics, while before they didn’t talk much about politics. Now, on every street corner, in every cafe, at every party, everybody talks about politics.
MG: Congressman Cunha, who we talked about in the documentary and who was leading the Congress and encouraged the impeachment process, was charged with corruption while he accused Dilma Rousseff of being corrupt. Brazilians are also disappointed by Temer, mostly because he froze the budgets for health, education and culture.
ACB: Going back to the film, we could not address individual freedoms without speaking about the broader political context, since we saw the impeachment as an impetus of conservatism and this was the subject of our film. There were the same protagonists who made speeches, wanted to dismiss Dilma and we were following during the campaigns.
MG: When they vote "for my family, for life", voting for “life” is clearly voting against abortion.

EF: Do you think that a similar political situation could take place in France? In your opinion, is this political situation unique to Brazil or does it reflect an international political situation?

: There are more safeguards in France, so I don’t think that would happen the same way. Concerning abortion, it is clear that the prohibition does not solve any problems. I also think of the United States; if they go further and they prohibit abortion, it will surely happen there as it is happening in Brazil with clandestine clinics. We are aware of the rise of conservatism worldwide: when we made this film we thought about that, too.
ACB: In Brazil, Conservatives have always been present, but there is a recent phenomenon that makes the right and the extreme right no longer ashamed to make such statements. We are often asked how we obtained these statements; in fact they are their political ideas, they are not ashamed to make them. And the population follows this as well: before, people didn’t dare to position themselves politically too much.

CL: In Brazil, does the President swear an oath on the Bible as in the United States? Is he accountable to the Church?

: No, the President of Brazil does not swear an oath on the Bible. But Dilma has been pressured by Catholics and Evangelicals for a long time; she signed a letter with the Church guaranteeing that she would not address the issues related to abortion.
MG: This is a subject that is totally absent from the debates; there is not a single candidate in the presidential elections who speaks about it.

EF: Would you say that abortion is a taboo subject in Brazil?

: Yes, I think 90% of public opinion is against abortion, but, as one activist says in the film, it is total hypocrisy.
ACB: And misleading information too.

EF: I remember this activist in the film, she says that people are against abortion, but in the end they still have recourse to it...

: It's true; not under the same conditions, depending on their means. If you're poor, you're much more likely to die in the hands of a mafiosi for having an abortion than if you're rich and you have the means to go to a clinic, also clandestine but more upscale, held by real doctors.

EF: What was Jandira’s social class?

: She belonged rather to the working class, without being very poor. She lived on the outskirts of the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro, which is an area controlled by the militia. She lived in a small house with her mother, her sister, her two children and her sister's three children. It was an evangelical family. Jandira aborted for economic reasons; she could not afford to have a third child.

CL: Among the politicians that you are interviewing, there is a very large majority of men, whereas women are more on the side of the organizations. Is this a representative reality of the current Brazilian political environment?

: We tried to balance it according to reality. There are a lot of male and conservative congressmen who speak in the documentary, but that matches the reality.
MG: Apart from Jean Wyllys, there are not many members who are willing to talk about these issues.
ACB: But indeed there are very few women in politics. There are no laws for gender parity in the Brazilian government.

CL: The hate speeches that are shown in your film, do Evangelical congresswomen say them too?

: The danger with the evangelicals is that they are present everywhere and that within their churches, their groups and their communities, they have women movements, black movements… Women have the impression of being represented, except that the substance of the discourse is the same; it follows the dogma, it is a conservative discourse against abortion. With the establishment of these groups in evangelical churches, people feel that they are represented, when they are not represented at all. There are indeed Evangelical congresswomen who are against the legalization of abortion.
MG: There is even a gay Evangelical church.

EF: It's pretty paradoxical, no?

: It's the strength of the movement: there are plenty of different churches, with variations, but in the end they are all Evangelical. It is a kind of octopus with very solid bases.
ACB: There are plenty of new churches for young people. There is a surfer church that uses a surfboard as the altar. Under a "cool" image, the conservative speech is the same and they seek to guide the lives of young people, including their sexual lives.

CL: Is the growing role of evangelical groups in society coming from the State's deficit in social security?

: Absolutely, there is a hole left by the State, in terms of education and culture too, for a long time. The evangelical churches began to settle in Brazil in the 1980s and now they have infiltrated politics. They began, at first, by infiltrating the daily life of people via TV, radio... Indeed, it is the hole left by the State that allowed this.
MG: When an evangelical group goes to a favela to give a concert with sermons, it is the only cultural event and the only entertainment that the inhabitants of the favela have access to.

EF: The 1980s coincide to the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil. Do you think that democracy has failed to provide basic services to the Brazilian population?

: Yes. I think that when Lula was elected, there was great hope; but he concentrated mainly on turning the country around economically, and he did not have time to look at other issues.
ACB: We see the legacy of the dictatorship in the military police in repression. In Brazilian culture people, even if they are poor, tighten their belts to put their children in private schools. From my point of view, subjective, I was very surprised at first to find that people did not rally together to demand a quality public school. They preferred to borrow money and tighten their belts so they can put their children in a private school, which means that education is still something very important in their minds, but not public education. We see this phenomenon in all social classes. There is no will from the State to be present in the favelas since they are able to be present in other ways, either through the churches or the militia, which work as small mafias using fear and threats: the ‘hereafter’ for the Church and death for the militia if the inhabitants don’t pay their “taxes” to stay safe.
MG: Corruption is another legacy of the military dictatorship, even if Brazil is now trying to do some cleaning on this point in politics.

"Sexo, pregações e política" by Aude Chevalier-Beaumel and Michael Gimenez © DR

CL: Regarding the politicians, how did you conduct the interviews?

: We prepared the interviews to bring them to the question: "Who killed Jandira?" They were first asked about politics in general and about the political crisis, and then at a moment when they did not expect it they were asked: "Who killed Jandira?" That's why we have these reactions of surprise. We beat around the bush for a long time before asking the question. Once, I corrected an evangelical and conservative congressman telling him that the prohibition on abortion kills women, and his response was that abortion kills fetuses.
MG: All their answers are based in the Bible, that's the problem. They don’t do politics according to the Brazilian Constitution; they do politics according to the Bible.
ACB: We often received ready-made answers based on the Bible.
MG: After that, we were interested in documenting their point of view. We didn’t want to have a pro-abortion and anti-abortion argument; we just wanted to show that there are currently young women dying in atrocious conditions because they choose to abort. Anyone, whether for or against abortion, can ask himself questions about this.
ACB: We wanted to take a concrete example to get out of the moral debate for or against abortion.

EF: Many women die as a result of clandestine abortion, why did you choose Jandira specifically?

: Jandira died in August 2014, just before we started filming. The fact that they executed Jandira to make sure she was dead—that they cut her limbs and burned the rest to make the body disappear shows how far they will go to make a profit: this stays in people’s mind!
ACB: Jandira has become a symbol of women's struggle.
MG: That allowed us to present abortion more as a public health problem than as a moral problem. Despite the ban, there are still around 4 million women who abort each year.
ACB: A woman dies every day from the consequences of a clandestine abortion.
MG: In Uruguay, once abortion was legalized, as it was accompanied with prevention, the number of abortions decreased. This is an argument that the Conservatives reject as a whole.
ACB: They're talking about conspiracy...

CL: The title of your documentary links sex, religion and politics. What are the challenges of political and religious control over people’s sexuality?

: It is the upholding of a patriarchal power in which there is not much room for women, homosexuals and transsexuals. One must follow a pattern that has been in place for centuries in Brazil.

CL: So it is rather feminine sexuality than masculine sexuality that is hindered?

: Yes, absolutely. Then there is also a big hypocrisy about male sexual behavior. But women have no room to denounce this hypocrisy about sexuality.
MG: A woman who aborts will be criminalized, but the man who made her pregnant won’t face any problems. This is a rise of conservatism that is international, these are the same values that were defended during the “Manif pour Tous” (protests against gay marriage) in France.
ACB: One of the characters in the documentary explains that there may be a loss of identity, a loss of landmarks that makes people cling to morality and old values. There is also a big disappointment in the left recently: the socialist project is no longer present. We always come back to the issue of education, but when you don’t have quality public education you get religion or crime. After the end of the military dictatorship in the 1980s, there was a rise in drug trafficking.

CL: What is the current situation of transsexuals in Brazil?

: In 2016, there was a 22% increase in crimes against transsexuals compared to 2015. Since the beginning of the year, there have already been more than twenty transsexuals who have been murdered in Brazil because of their sexual orientation. This shows that the situation is getting worse.

CL: Is the Bible being used to justify these acts?

: Yes, but there are several interpretations of the Bible. Not all Evangelicals think the same way. We met an Evangelical pastor who is a socialist militant. For him, the neo-Pentecostal evangelicals practice a bad interpretation of the Bible. We can’t blame all the Evangelicals. I feel that people will always be religious in Brazil, but there is probably a lack of opinions voiced from these Evangelicals who do not support these crimes.
MG: The danger is that many Evangelical pastors are also congressmen. When they preach in front of thousands of people, they also make a kind of political speech. They know that what works well is a bit of populism: so they shift in this direction in order to attract more people and get their votes.

CL: Would you say that evangelicals are a reflection of Brazil's colonial past?

: Evangelicals are very present in Indigenous communities; most of the Indians in Brazil are Evangelical. There is discrimination against Indigenous and African communities. As a sociologist says in the film, Brazil could rethink its politics through its Indigenous, African and European roots, but ultimately the Indigenous and African roots are not taken into account.
MG: Catholicism is the religion of colonization forced on the population; but Brazil is not only that, it is a mixture of several peoples and cultures. The Afro-Amerindian religions that are shown at the end of the film and are more open and are more representative of this great mix that is Brazil.
ACB: These Afro-Amerindian religions are often discriminated against, their temples are often burned and their religious leaders attacked. These religions are not tolerated by Evangelicals. For Evangelicals, the liberation of the populations of African origin is done with the economy, with the capital. Evangelicals have groups of blacks in their churches, but at no time do they speak of African origins, whether in music or in culture; they completely inhibit African roots.

Translation: Michael Gimenez

Original article in French here