inside my skin

Adir Sodré, Lunch on the grass [acrylic on canvas, 162 x 110,5 cm, 1995]


Comment on the documentary by Val Gomes and Toni Venturi

The history of Brazil is, to a large extent, the history of violence against blacks and indigenous peoples. Slavery is the event that constitutes us and that reverberates to this day, under the most diverse forms. How can a middle-class white man, aware of his privileged condition, contribute to understanding and facing the issue? This dilemma was certainly what motivated Toni Venturi to make the documentary inside my skin, which opens on Globoplay on August 23.

Making clear from the beginning his “place of speech” – the grandson of Italians who took advantage of the opportunities open to European immigrants after the proclamation of the Republic –, the filmmaker sought an exercise in otherness, not free of contradictions. He called a black sociologist, Val Gomes, as co-director, and opened microphone and camera to the life narratives and reflections of a dozen black people from the most diverse activities and social classes.

The result is a poignant and disturbing panel, which challenges the notion of racial democracy and the ideology of whitening. The idea of ​​a “mixed people, where nobody really knows who is white and who is black”, is summarily dismantled by psychologist Cida Bento: “If you don't know who is black and who is white, ask the police. She knows".

In fact, a constant in the various reports – from the waiter to the philosopher, from the maid to the artist, from the doctor to the economics student – ​​are the stories of truculent police approaches, motivated solely by the color of the skin. “This is something I have never experienced and will never experience”, admits Venturi, almost embarrassed. His place of speech is a place in crisis – and this crisis is one of the points of interest of his film.

There are two other moments when the director is visibly disconcerted. One is when trans activist Neon Cunha asks why black co-director Val Gomes is not in charge of the project. The other is at the end, when historian Salloma Salomão says that no action by the black movement was taken in the name of revenge, and adds: “Perhaps it would even be interesting to do it. Killing half a dozen whites, cruelly, with a racist argument, might make this society more sensitive to the issue of anti-black racism, but we still haven't capitalized ourselves in terms of perversity to operate in this field”.

The “naturalization of privilege”, in which white families pass imperceptibly, from generation to generation, their presumption of worthiness and superiority, is revealed, denounced and demolished in a handful of painfully lucid statements by black men and women from different areas.

The most terrible thing is when this naturalization affects the blacks themselves. Elementary school teacher Daniele dos Santos Reis, a light-skinned black woman, married to a much darker waiter, tells a revealing story. “My grandmother, who was the same color as Cleber, asked: 'Are you going to date that black guy over there? Why not get a white man? Didn't you see that I married your grandfather, who is white? This is how the family whitens'.”

From the moment blacks become aware of their racial identity, however, this knowledge becomes an unstoppable transforming energy, as shown in all the stories narrated in the film. “This project [for the naturalization of white power] doesn't work 100% for just one reason: our extraordinary and unthinkable resistance”, says philosopher Sueli Carneiro.

As brutal as the reports are, what stands out in the set is a clear assertiveness, not only in speeches, but also in everyday practice. It is curious to notice, for example, that almost all interviewees carry out, in addition to their livelihood, some creative or political activity. The doctor plays the violin, the model creates visual collages, the waiter composes music and plays the guitar, the civil servant is a trans activist, the historian is also a musician, etc.

The testimonies, always illustrated by scenes from the daily life of the interviewees, are interspersed with informational signs about the history of racial laws and the numbers of police lethality in the country, in addition to one or another archival material (such as the release of the Unified Black Movement, in front of the Municipal Theater of São Paulo, in 1978), and for musical numbers ranging from the batuque circle to the slam.

Only three white people, in addition to the director, speak briefly in the film: the sociologist Jessé de Souza, for whom “we are children of slavery, the rest is nonsense”; university researcher Lia Schucman, who studies the subject; and retired PM lieutenant colonel Adilson Paes, who denounces the unofficial existence, in the police, of a “criminal type, the '3 P': black, poor and resident of the periphery”.

Theatrical director José Fernando de Azevedo comments at one point that the ultra-conservative moment we are experiencing today in the country is a violent reaction by white power to a process of social and racial mobility. Philosopher Sueli Carneiro cites the attack on quotas as “the first moment in which whiteness organizes itself to fight something as an interest group”. According to her, what happened in the quota debate was “a veritable electronic pillory”. We learned that, thanks to quotas, the proportion of black young people in university has gone from 3% to 10 or 12% in recent decades.

Despite the momentary setbacks, the documentary indicates that this is a march of no return. “Something will change”, sings Thaíde in the end credits song of this essential documentary. We can be sure of that.

*Jose Geraldo Couto is a film critic. Author, among other books, of André Breton (Brazilian).

Originally published on CINEMA BLOG


inside my skin

Brazil, documentary, 2020

Directed by: Val Gomes and Toni Venturi

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