Quilombo Country is a documentary film that looks at the modern day syncretic culture of Afro-Brazilians descended from escaped slaves who set up free black communities on the outskirts of Brazil. It blends culture expression such as music, dance, religion, and ritual with concerns about racial, economic, environmental, and human rights issues that threaten these historic Latinegra/o communities.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Quilombos, encampments of escaped slaves that tried to preserve blended African cultures in the new world, you can either read the history of the Quilombos provided on the film’s website or watch Quilombo, an experimental documentary style film that mixes creative re-telling, performance, and history to address the founding of renegade free black societies in Brazil during slavery.
Both of these films were done by male directors and feature male narrators. While they are informative, I can say that the latter does lack a critical eye for gender or female subjectivity and can only hope that Quilombo Country not only brings the narrative of Quilombos into the present but also their gender politics as well. Having not seen the Quilombo Country, I can say that I am hopeful it has done this based on the number of women who appear in the film. The film opens with women dancing as the narrative explains that this and similar dance were an act of resistance through cultural survival during slavery and the implication is that women used the dance to both retain their African cultures and to express autonomy under enslavement. When the film addresses issues of environmental degradation and urban encroachment, women speak about how new roads and cities are scaring away their livestock and leaving their families hungry. Their discussion of urbanization then highlights the roles women play in Quilombos to sustain the community, generate income, and remain self-sufficient. The director’s eye also lingers on the labor women do to harvest and prepare food, and while these shots to speak to a forced primitive view of the labor going on, it also highlights the work of women and how it comes into direct conflict with Brazilian ranchers who want their land.
The film has been criticized for being too “educational” in tone, meaning that it juxtaposes images of the people with definitions of words and maps that show where the action is taking place, or digitally imposed explanations of the rituals on the screen rather than allowing the narrative to run smoothly. On the one hand, I think this gives people who have no knowledge about these critical free black, Latinegras/os societies, an opportunity to learn it may also hinder their willingness to see this film as anything other than a high school teaching tool.
The other major critical complaint about the film is its juxtaposition of Quilombos with the rest of Brazilian society as primitive or stuck in time vs. modernity. While the goal of the Director was to create the sense of continuity between the African past and the Latinegra/o present, the traditional vs. modern narrative style comes riddled with embedded hierarchies and erasures that do not lend themselves to honoring any people placed in the “tradition” side. The Director does make sure to interview both women and men from Quilombos on both sides of that divides; a particularly poignant moment occurs when a young woman who has left the Quilombo discusses how the hard work women do inside them nearly killed her grandmother and how she decided modern conveniences outweigh the cultural comraderie she felt in the Quilombos as a result.
The director, Leonard Abrams, will be on hand to discuss the making of the movie and its import to understanding the black diaspora. The Nuyorican is also donating a portion of the proceeds to Haitian Relief, drawing the critical connection between the freedom Quilombo communities represented for enslaved black people in Latin America and what Haiti meant for them in both Spanish and French colonies and ultimately to the entire diaspora.When: Feb 14 Where: Nuyorican Poets Cafe, NYC Cost: $12 ($1 goes to Haitian relief or you can donate more)