Bertha Lutz

Marco Buti, Elementary Course


Commentary on the film directed by Guto Barra and Tatiana Issa.

Two Brazilian directors, Guto Barra and Tatiana Issa, had the good idea of ​​filming Bertha Lutz: the woman in the UN Charter. The cameras follow two researchers in their 20s, one Algerian and the other Norwegian, as they come across documentation in London that led them to “discover” Bertha Lutz. The Brazilian scientist, in addition to being a biologist and director of the National Museum, was also a suffragist and founder of a pioneering feminist association, based in Rio de Janeiro, as early as 1919.

A delegate from Brazil, Bertha Lutz participated in the meetings that created the United Nations (UN) in 1945, in San Francisco, at the end of World War II. The film shows the relevant role she played in demanding that women's equality figure in the UN Charter. Of the 850 delegates only 8 were women, yet she insisted that women's rights should be mentioned separately. And that, as experience has shown, when talking about “human” rights, it came to be understood that they belonged only to men and not to women either. Other delegates told her to stop appealing to feminist arguments, which was vulgar behavior…. Then, after much struggle and much discussion, she managed to impose her point of view and women appear separately in the Charter, with explicit parity of rights.

But things didn't stop there. The film shows how Bertha was subsequently erased from the memory of the UN, this crucial moment in the struggle for emancipation being credited to the Americans and British, who at the time were against what she wanted to impose. The advanced positions came from the Southern Hemisphere and were systematically contradicted by the Northern Hemisphere, the imperialist policy prevailing.

Its update increases the interest of the film, with the narrative focus centered on the present, that is, on the two researchers and their Way of the Cross through Geneva, New York, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, trying to correct the historical error and rehabilitate Bertha. No one cares, neither at the UN nor in Brazilian diplomacy, all shielded in pleasant and absolutely inoperative small talk, all trained in deceiving others with empty promises, which they do not intend to keep.

The two researchers are astonished to find nowhere a special mention of her name, a bust, a portrait that was, in that immensity of male representations. But everyone replies that there are many illustrious people, that it would not be possible to contemplate everyone, etc. They have a practical objective: to correct the UN website, which shows four women (the Brazilian, the Dominican, the Chinese and the American) signing the UN Charter.

As if that were not enough, the American is the one who spoke out against the inclusion of feminist vulgarities... And the site even has a huge photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of American President FD Roosevelt, holding the Letter, as if she were its author – and she he wasn't even at the San Francisco Conference. Thus, imperialism was usurping Bertha's great militant journey and attributing her accomplishments to the Americans.

The two researchers wander around for three years without convincing anyone. However, their efforts had a happy ending. In the wake of movements like me Too (Me too and Time's up (Now enough), managed to get Bertha's crucial performance recognized, albeit reluctantly and to a small extent, by both the UN and Brazil.

By the way, it is with a heavy heart that we see the two researching Bertha's collection bequeathed to the National Museum, and then we see images of the criminal fire at our main museum, in which this entire collection, and the importance of this extraordinary person, it was reduced to ashes, along with the treasures stored there.

More films are needed showing women who serve as models for the new generations, women who were made invisible to the collective memory by deliberate silencing actions, as is the case with so many of them in various sectors of the country's cultural and political life. Once again, it appears that the corrosive work of patriarchy, and even more so when reinforced by imperialism, manages to usurp women's militancy even a posteriori.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).


Bertha Lutz: The woman in the UN Charter
Brazil, documentary, 2020.
Directed by: Guto Barra and Tatiana Issa.
Available on HBO GO streaming platform


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