Noel Nutels

Image: Antonio Lizarraga


Comment on the doctor and anthropologist, object of the documentary "The Pink Indian against the Invisible Beast: the Battle of Noel Nutels"

“The Indians have been trying to pacify the civilized people for 500 years. To date, they haven’t.”

One of the most emblematic figures in the struggle in defense of Brazilian indigenous peoples is, without a doubt, Noel Nutels. The “Pink Indian”, as the writer Orígenes Lessa so well defined him, was a fascinating personality, a Jewish emigrant from Ukraine who came to Recife as a boy, where he grew up and graduated in Medicine.

Nutels is part of a select group of “Brazilian medical interpreters” (1), professionals who delved deeply into national problems seeking solutions that involved the whole of society, going into the field, facing rulers and dictators, creating new methods and approaches, proposing a humanist view of health issues. He rubs shoulders with people of the caliber of Nísia da Silveira, Carlos Chagas, Vital Brazil, Oswaldo Cruz and Sérgio Arouca, among others.

In 1943, Nutels joined the first Roncador-Xingu expedition as an official physician and this mission changed his life forever. Companion of journeys of the Villas-Boas brothers, he started to defend the indigenous peoples in all instances, while organizing actions for the eradication of diseases brought by “civilization” and, mainly, tuberculosis. In 1951, he became a doctor at the SPI, the Indian Protection Service (an entity that preceded Funai), which he managed between 63 and 64. Amazon region.

More than a life where he fought the good fight, Nutels' fascinating personality earned him the admiration of intellectuals, artists and politicians. Beyond the biographical novel by Origenes Lessa (2), the sanitarista also inspired the gaucho writer Moacyr Scliar, a doctor, humanist and Jew like himself (3).

We can't even imagine what Noel Nutels would be thinking if he lived in Brazil in 2020. The only certainty is that he would not conform to the genocidal policy of the neomilitary government, and would fight. His words in testimony to the CPI of the Índio, in 1968 – during the dictatorship – in the Chamber of Deputies are impressively current: “At this hour someone is killing an Indian. It's the greed for the earth, it's the greed for the subsoil, it's the greed for natural riches. It is a vice of economic structure. As long as land is a commodity and an object of speculation, Indians will be killed. Who cares about crime?

But the battle for the indigenist cause and for the memory of the true heroes of that country gains an important contribution this week. Premiere at the Olhar de Cinema festival the documentary The Pink Indian against the Invisible Beast: the Battle of Noel Nutels (4). As a result of a 2018 Fiocruz public notice, the young filmmakers were able to intelligently take advantage of the dozens of hours filmed by Nutels himself during his fieldwork. The guiding line is the testimony to the CPI of Brasília, the only known record of the protagonist's own voice.

The film hits our screens motivated by its international success. Three awards at the Biarritz Festival, including the public's choice, and Best Iberoamerican Documentary at the Buenos Aires International Film Festival. Produced by Banda Filmes and directed by Tiago Carvalho, the first screenings are scheduled for October 9th and 13th, on the festival website (, the Curitiba International Film Festival.

The good Nutels, an amateur filmmaker and documentary maker with his own language and rhythm, demonstrates in the images that he left an attentive and respectful eye on the indigenous communities. Good-natured, he often allowed himself to be photographed in his shorts among the Indians, always with his inseparable pipe. May this documentary motivate young people to better understand the indigenous issue, the health problems that affect the most vulnerable, and revere those who fought their whole lives to improve the world in which they lived. And, above all, that provokes public indignation against the misfortunes of the current holders of power, allied with the centuries-old rage of farmers and miners.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel Terno de Reis (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, musical and literary critic.



(1) Medical interpreters in Brazil (Hucitec, 2015). Collection organized by Gilberto Hochman and Nísia Trindade de Lima.

(2) The Pink Indian – Evocation of Noel Nutels (Codecri, 1980)

(3) The Majesty of the Xingu (Cia. Das Letras, 2009)

(4) Trailer:



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