A Tale of Two Brazilians

October 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is a commentary concerning the works and fates of two Brazilian artists. Only one of them is well known in his native land. Only one of them is still free and lacking a criminal record in relation to what they did.

Read on through the end, where I’ll explain the tie-in to the United States: American film festivals and an American university have exhibited one of these works. This fact has not yet received media attention.

But first, let’s look at the situation in Brazil itself.

Brazil is usually serious about prosecuting child pornography, according to news reports. Since 1990 they’ve had a rather strict definition of what child pornography means. It’s forbidden to show a minor’s genitals in an erotic manner and it’s forbidden to show a minor in a sexual act. Minor is defined as somebody under the age of 18 for pornography but under 14 for unfilmed sexual activity.

Eu Me Lembro, written and directed by the Brazilian native Edgard Navarro, is a coming-of-age story in celluloid form. It was first introduced to an audience in December 2005 at the Brazilia Festival of Brazilian Cinema and reached general Brazilian theaters in September of the following year.

The main character is a young fellow named Guiga. The film shows him growing up in Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s.

As would be expected, Guiga develops sexual urges like any normal boy. The difference between this film and other coming-of-age films is that it shows what most others merely hint at.

The “plot keywords” for the film at the Internet Movie Database include “Boy Nudity”, “Child Nudity”, “Erection”, “Masturbation”, “Oral Sex”, and “Sex With Child” [note 1].

Victor Porfírio is the Brazilian actor who plays Guiga at the age of 11 and he looks about that age. We can say with confidence that he was a prepubescent preteen during the filming.

Rare Film Finder, an Internet resource for films of all sorts featuring actors and actresses under 18, tells us the film shows…

“Two cases of Guiga masturbating, first fully clothes and then naked in the shower. Includes shots of his erect penis in the first case, hand stroking the penis in the other case.” [note 2]

I watched this and can confirm the above description is accurate. Porfírio masturbates for real both times, although in the first instance (a bedroom scene) the activity is obscured rather than graphically presented.

After he’s finished masturbating the first time, the camera shows his erect penis (which is immature and not surrounded by any pubic hair). This even includes a zoomed-in shot that focuses the viewer’s attention on only that one thing.

No semen is visible. He couldn’t ejaculate because he’s still prepubescent.

In the scene that comes next, Porfírio is standing in a shower. The camera actually shows him jerking his penis with his hand. His scrotum is completely exposed to the camera and some of his penis is as well.

An ordinary Brazilian who watched the film thought “Guiga’s offbeat behavior in his early childhood makes the best part of the film: a candid and very funny account of early sexuality (including masturbation scenes that may startle people who pretend Freud never existed and believe children are asexual)” [note 3].

If that’s shocking enough, wait until you hear about what William Santos does!

Santos plays another male character (seemingly an adolescent). This time it isn’t about self-pleasure but about male-female interaction. Rare Film Finder says…

“An even younger boy peeks through a window to watch where Zeca is being masturbated by yet another woman, but not until after we see Zeca fondle & suck (presumably, his head obscures the actual act) her breast. Includes close-up shot of her hand on his genitals.” [note 2]

This again is exactly what is shown. His penis is held by the woman.

There isn’t a body double in any of the 3 scenes I just described. The camera pans the boys’ bodies in continuous shots between their faces and genitals.

To sum up, Navarro’s film represents actual child pornography in three respects: an erection, masturbation, and fondling by an adult.

Antônio Augusto de Araújo Lima, another Brazilian, along with four of his associates, met a different fate. A dentist by trade, Lima supplemented his income by starting a photography business featuring preteen and adolescent girls between the ages of 10 and 15 and selling his works to the American model agencies Willey Studio and Flower Studios [note 4]. By all accounts, his photos were bright and cheerful and at least semi-professional in their appearance.

For the general public, Lima offered photos of the girls fully dressed in various attire. Individual customers, however, could custom order nude photos of the girls and suggest poses for a high price. Nude photo shoots took place in 2004 and 2005 with “Tropical Beauties” with stage names like “Emmie”, “Skye”, “Alicia”, and “Chelda”. One of Lima’s models said she and the other models had been asked to open their blouses and take off their shorts and skirts [note 5]. The mother of a 10-year-old girl had been told the agency made only typical commercial photographs but that no parents were allowed on the set during the photo shoots [note 5].

Lima’s custom nude sets showed the girls in sexually suggestive poses. Allegedly, some other photos found in Lima’s possession showed unspecified sexual acts between adult men and young girls and between adult women and young girls [notes 6,7].

In May 2007, Lima was arrested for violating article 241 of the Brazilian Criminal Code (the Statute of the Infant and of the Adolescent), the law that prohibits Brazilians from making and publishing pornography showing an individual under the legal age. He was also accused of rape (article 213) and aiding in prostitution (article 228).

So let’s review. Navarro and Lima manufactured their similar imagery in the same country in the same timeframe with the same age group of subjects. That means they were governed by the same law, at least in theory. The only differences were that they worked with the opposite genders and different mediums of expression (motion pictures versus still photography).

Anyone who thinks this stuff is harmful yet claims boys need less governmental “protection” than girls is a sexist. Aren’t Victor Porfírio and William Santos “victims” just as much as Lima’s models?

I call foul.

As I said, Navarro’s Eu Me Lembro has been shown to the public several times in the United States. It hasn’t been commercially released in too many countries, but that’s irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make.

The film was shown uncensored at several American festivals: the 2007 Palm Springs International Film Festival (Palm Springs, California), the 2007 Chicago Latino Film Festival (Chicago, Illinois), and the 2007 Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil (New York, New York).

The Palm Springs venue was its U.S. premiere. On January 11 and 13, 2007 audiences at the Palm Springs Regal 9 watched what the festival billed as “Edgard Navarro’s magical portrait of boy growing up in Brazil from the ’50s to ’70s captures his changing times, from Catholic repression and teen lust, to civil rights and the hippie movement…” [note 8]

Sylvia Ebreau, the film’s producer, attended the Palm Springs exhibition [note 8].

Beyond the festivals, Eu Me Lembro was shown at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on April 23, 2007. Five days before the showing, Jennifer Graff, Director of the university’s Office of International Education, and Associate Professor Catherine M. Bryan of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures wrote to members of the listserv international@lists.uwosh.edu:

You are invited to the screening of Brazilian film “Eu me lembro” (“I Remember”) and following, a discussion with its writer and director, Edgard Navarro

[...] At the 38th Festival of Brazilian Cinema held in Brasilia, the film won numerous awards this year including: Best Film, Best Director, Best Script, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Critics’ Prize.

It was an Official Selection at the Montreal World Film Festival and, this week, will be included in the Chicago Latino Film Festival.

Edgard Navarro will take a short break from the festival in Chicago to come up to UW Oshkosh to show his film for us and talk to us about it afterward. [note 9]

Jorge Moreira of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures was listed as the contact point. This department, along with the Spanish Club, were the sponsors of “this exciting event” [note 9].

The listserv message also contained a warning:

“Please note: Viewer discretion is advised. This film is not intended for minors.” [note 9]

That’s hypocritical considering it shows pornographic scenes with actual minors.

Maybe Larry Clark (a photographer of teenagers) is right that underage porn should be seen by underage people. In an interview Le Monde published on October 2, 2010, Clark said this kind of “censorship is an attack by adults against teenagers. It’s one way to tell them: ‘[...] We don’t want you to go into a museum to look at art that talks about you and what is happening to you’.” [note 10] Clark suggested that maybe adults, rather than minors, should be the ones barred from visiting his pornographic exhibition at a museum in Paris [note 11].

The French politician Étienne Pinte spoke on Canal Plus of how it’s “regrettable that today’s teens cannot go see” Clark’s exhibition since sexuality is part of adolescence “today more than yesterday, obviously.” (translated from the French) [note 12]

The American festivals and university discussed above broke federal and state laws on what’s permitted to be advertised, exhibited, transported, and possessed. The federal laws are part of Title 18 of the criminal code, and every state has its own statutes of similar character.

When it comes to unsimulated masturbating and sexual touching with real children, federal law and most state laws provide no exemptions for films and no loopholes for artistic merit or consensual acting for pay (a film is still commercial exploitation). Since 1984, federal law makes it a strict liability offense.

Underage erections are also illegal in most circumstances.

California exempts MPAA-rated films, but Eu Me Lembro isn’t rated by the MPAA.

The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case New York v. Ferber ruled that images of boys under 16 masturbating could be outlawed. (The federal age was later statutorily raised to 18.)

It’s outrageous that this film was shown in the United States while young boys and girls and their friends get arrested for lewd, self-shot, non-commercial photos and videos showing themselves nude and masturbating.

Navarro and Ebreau were actually invited to attend showings of their child porn film and not arrested, while Lima and his partners probably languish in jail.

The festivals and university either need to be held accountable for breaking the law or, perhaps preferably, the law needs to be changed to officially allow some kinds of consensual porn showing people of the ages involved in the film (11 and older). Navarro and Clark have lots of defenders in the art and political worlds. Will these people lobby their governments for more permissiveness in legislation?

Update added March 4, 2013:

The announcement Sylvia Abreu, director of Truque Produtora de Cinema, wrote for Mostra do Filme Livre 2012‘s showings of Eu Me Lembro in March-April 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Sao Paolo split the cast listing between adults (the first part of “Elenco”) and minors (the subsection “ELENCO INFANTO-JUVENIL”). Both Victor Porfírio and William Santos are listed in the latter category [note 13], confirming that Santos was under 18, as seemed obvious from his physical appearance.

The announcement also says “Classificação Indicativa: 16 anos” meaning “Rating System: 16 years old”. Why can’t 11 year olds watch the film? That’s the age Porfírio was.

Notes
1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492967/keywords
2. http://www.rarefilmfinder.com/showfilm.php?id=20887 [this text was displayed to all until September 2011 but now it only shows for members who log into their site with a username and password]
3. “Portrait of an artist…and a generation” by debblyst, November 3, 2006, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492967/usercomments
4. “Willey Studios/ Agency Modeling photographer busted”, August 12, 2007, http://www.oinkie.com/?cat=13
5. “Pedofilia na internet” by Alessandro Torres in Jornal Hoje, August 14, 2007, http://jornalhoje.globo.com/JHoje/0,19125,VJS0-3076-20070814-296074,00.html
6. “Dentista vai depor e fica preso” by Nathália Lobo in Diário do Nordeste, May 29, 2007, http://diariodonordeste.globo.com/materia.asp?codigo=437913
7. “Site pornográfico ainda no ar” in Diário do Nordeste, June 7, 2007, http://diariodonordeste.globo.com/materia.asp?codigo=440481
8. http://www.psfilmfest.org/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=11922&fid=29
9. http://lists.uwosh.edu/archives/international/mh/msg00450.html
10. “Censorship claims hit Larry Clark exhibition in Paris” by Olivier Laurent in British Journal of Photography, October 8, 2010, http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/1741350/censorship-claims-hit-larry-clark-exhibition-paris
11. “Photographer Larry Clark attacks age limit on his Paris show” by Agence France-Presse (AFP), October 2, 2010, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i7w_7iXeHidwk0RqBnXieKR1gT0A?docId=CNG.269d5b4d24611193b334b94159602133.d41
12. “Exposition Larry Clark : retour sur une polémique” in Le Monde, October 8, 2010, http://www.lemonde.fr/culture/article/2010/10/08/exposition-larry-clark-retour-sur-une-polemique_1421930_3246.html
13. http://mostradofilmelivre.com/12/info.php?c=5477

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§ 2 Responses to A Tale of Two Brazilians

  • Eric says:

    I think that the real chief difference here was how the medium used. Both photography and film can be used for the expression of art, but we must be responsible in how we use such mediums.

    In the case of Lima, he blatantly used photography as a method of sexual exploitation that completely crossed the line of what could be considered art. It was not “art” produced for the purpose of enriching lives or telling a story (or harmless modeling), which would be the goal of any serious photographer.

    Navarro’s film on the other hand is meant to tell a story and therefore cannot be considered a blatant/irresponsible violation of the form. The nudity and sexual awakening in this case was for the purpose of telling a story, not for appealing to the prurient interests of the viewer. It would be utterly ridiculous for any filmmaker to include such a 10-second scene in any film out of the full duration of 2 hours or so simply to appeal to a crowd of pedophiles.

    That said, other films have faced much the same criticism, for example Bernardo Bertolucci’s “1900″ or the Swedish film, “Barnens Ö”. But in such cases, it should be stressed that the scenes are not without purpose regarding the full artistic merits of the films. The nudity advances the storyline in some way and though it may seem shocking, it obviously was not shown without adding some level of importance or symbolism to the film.

    Granted that we don’t always know what might go on behind the scenes and what is involved in the making of them, but these are also different countries and cultures who may not share or at least at the time, did not share our modern societal beliefs and attitudes regarding nudity or sexuality.

    It is ignorant as well to assume that these kids were hurt or that such things were done without consent or parental approval because again, we simply don’t know all the details. In the case of Barnens Ö for example, the actor Tomas Fryk was actually 14 at the time of filming. In another Swedish film, “Nattlek”, the boy playing a 12 year-old was also 14 at the time and though he was nude in one scene just before his mother catches him masturbating beneath the covers and chastises him, the actor later confirmed had no issues with it in an interview that was done this past decade. He said he was 14 at the time and not as naive as audiences probably took him for, so no harm was done.

    And in the case of Tomas Fryk, he went in to star in several more films after Barnens Ö and still to this day as an adult does guest appearances on television shows here or there. He has since married and has a family.

    In another film, “En Tu Ausencia”, the boy who in a pivotal scene is naked (the scene was later cropped for the DVD release as well as before the theatrical release), many audiences particularly in the UK walked out of the screenings even though nothing was actually shown. The director himself worked closely with the boy’s family, who also confirmed that they thought it strange people reacted so negatively because nudity of children in Spain even in movies isn’t seen in the same context as in the Western culture we live in here.

    Though I must say I personally don’t always think it’s completely necessary, especially if the boys show their erections on camera, I also don’t think that any harm is done in the course of filming an artistic motion picture, so long as it is not without merit and serves the greater purpose of film as an art form.

    We often forget that these are also biological processes, and in some cases (as in “1900″), it just happens. Heaping judgment on filmmakers simply to appease the view of a biased and sexually hung-up audience who are so convinced that the making of the film was a harmful process for kids involved without knowing all the details of the production is extremely ignorant.

    Kids are becoming more sexually aware at younger ages now than ever before, so we can’t just assume harm is done (in the case of artistic films for example).

    Were it photography that Navarro was doing and the kids were sporting erections or sexually suggestive poses, then I can see how it would be a cause for alarm and criminal charges to be filed.

    But motion pictures that have a purpose are much different.

  • Ron says:

    The listserv warning is not sincere; let’s not be naive here. It should be clearly understood that warnings like this are an attempt to obey the law and avoid prosecutorial efforts and dissuade potential complainants. In other words, they were just covering their ass.
    Yes, it is odd that young people cannot legally express themselves sexually. These vulgar exhibitions are a part of growing up but can hardly be regarded as artistic. Perhaps a case of documentary can sometimes be made. Alfred Kinsey et. al. have documented all kinds of sexual behavior by all kinds of subjects in the guise of scientific research which, by the way,can be just as spurious an argument as claiming it is art. We should accept our human natures and admit that we do sometimes have prurient interests especially when we are young and trying to understand the world. The desire to ban this material is as much a propaganda effort as more active and direct efforts. The issues to any intelligent and compassionate human being really are: 1) Was anyone harmed, 2) does the scene serve the story or artistic vision and 3) was it shown in the proper venue (public-private)? Of course, it is hard to address these issues under current laws and societal norms and except for the first one, useless in a court of law.

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