As the world’s fifth most populous nation and by far the largest Portuguese-speaking country, Brazil possesses a massive media market. Despite factors boosting demand for homegrown audiovisual content, the fortunes of the country’s film industry—prized as a means of expressing national identity and as a testament to technological modernity—have fluctuated over time. Historically, the sector has struggled in the face of competition from imported cinema, especially Hollywood product, which has dominated Brazilian screens since the mid-1910s. Nevertheless, Brazilian cinema has attracted mass audiences at home and won critical acclaim abroad, though not always with the same films. The humorous chanchadas (musical comedies) that characterized the industry from the 1930s through the 1950s were tailor-made for domestic audiences, but gained little traction internationally. By contrast, the politically charged and stylistically inventive films of the Cinema Novo movement attracted the attention of European and US critics, but held limited appeal for most Brazilian spectators. After Cinema Novo, few works of Brazilian cinema circulated in international markets until a series of gritty crime-themed films like City of God (2002) and Elite Squad (2007) reached global screens at the turn of the 21st century, bolstered by state incentives for private investment in film production. While this fare was also popular domestically, present-day Brazilian audiences often prefer romantic comedies, biopics, and religiously-themed films. These trends in Brazilian cinema have responded dynamically to the tastes and expectations of both national and international audiences. Onscreen representations create enduring images of the nation that circulate at home and abroad, while everyday practices of moviegoing forge an evolving realm of shared experience.
Since its establishment in 1889, the history of the Brazilian republic was marked by the centrality of the armed forces, particularly the army, in political life. But between 1964 and 1985, the military was in direct command of the state, imposing indirectly elected generals as president. After overthrowing the reformist center-left government of João Goulart on March 31, 1964, the military installed a tutelary authoritarian regime to control civil society and the political system, serving as a political model for similar regimes in Latin America during the Cold War.
The military passed arbitrary laws and severely repressed left-wing political groups and social movements while also seeking to accelerate capitalist development and the “national integration” of Brazil’s vast territory. They intended to modernize Brazilian industry and carry out bold infrastructure projects. On the other hand, they faced strong opposition from civil society, led by political groups, artists, intellectuals, and press outlets of diverse ideological backgrounds (Marxists, liberals, socialists, and progressive Catholics). These groups were divided between total refusal to negotiate with the military and critical adherence to the policies of the generals’ governments, composing a complex relationship between society and the state.
Understanding the role of the military regime in Brazilian history requires a combination of historical research and historiographic criticism in light of the disputes over memory that continue to divide social and political actors.
Bernardo Buarque de Hollanda
Football appeared in Brazil in the end of the 19th century, among a favorable environment for the practice of English sports. These sports were initially practiced not professionally by English migrants and young students of Law, Engineering, and Medicine. Fluminense was the first club from Rio de Janeiro, at that time the capital of the country, to be dedicated exclusively to practice football. In the beginning, football represented nobility for the local elite. The social profile of people who attended matches at Fluminense’s field was very near to that of the players, be it for family reasons, friendship, or other motivations. Young women who went there desired to see their distinguished idols, and from this practice many relationships started. While this idyllic image of the past was produced, a historical point of view can notice a decisive enhancement in social segments interested in football. In the decade of 1910, a collective enthusiasm arose for football, mainly due to the fact that it was easy to practice and watch football in any kind of open space. This allowed it to spread out of clubs and the National Team. Far from the spatial and economic restriction of performance arts, football could be practiced and watched freely, in most diverse situations. The clubs’ lack of structure to allocate players and fans contributed in making football a popular game, since they needed to seek public spaces to practice. At this point, the club that opposed to Fluminense has been Flamengo, which until then was not more than a regatta club. When it opened a football department, it practiced in open fields near the beaches. Many passersby started to look out their training and matches, and some of them adopted Flamengo as their club even if not participating of its internal sphere. The players became idols, first in the neighborhood and then in the whole city. This encouraged the talk about football in bars and cafés, with reflections on the increasing number of people to attend matches. Historian Leonardo Pereira says that in a few years football has become a mania. The making of the first national team to dispute friendly matches against England and Argentina has also stimulated football’s repercussion. Noticing public interest over matches with teams from different cities or countries, sports press left its poor attitude about football and began to carefully pay attention to this kind of rivalry and the consequent emotions each fan is able to express for his team, especially the National Team.
Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–d. 1955) was a Brazilian singer and actress who made her debut on the radio in the late 1920s and soon became one of the most popular voices in Brazil. She recorded close to 250 singles, many of which were major hits, starred in five films (four with the Cinédia studio and one with Sonofilms), and gave innumerous performances on the most elite stages of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Urca and Copacabana casinos. Her signature look was a stylized version of the typical Bahian woman’s outfit, known as the baiana, complete with an abundance of bracelets and necklaces, platform shoes, and a whimsical turban that served as a base for all kinds of adornments. In 1939, she was invited by the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert to perform in his musical review The Streets of Paris and moved to New York with her band Bando da Lua to bring authentic Brazilian music to North America. A success overnight, Miranda would then be invited to star in her first US film, Down Argentine Way (1940), with 20th Century Fox, and would be cast in thirteen subsequent films. Carmen Miranda’s iconic look was immediately recognizable and became prime material for imitations by both male and female impersonators in theater, film, and cartoon media. Her excessive femininity, imbued with style, exaggeration, and playful deception, and her inclusion in musicals governed by theatricality and artifice, made her a productive site for camp interpretations that have remained in vogue to this day.
Sueann Caulfield and Cristiana Schettini
Over the past forty years, increasing attention to gender and sexuality in Brazilian historiography has given us a nuanced understanding of diverse ways in which women and men in Brazil’s past experienced patriarchy, racism, and other forms of oppression. As gender historians have shed light on how racialized and patriarchal gender and sexual roles have been reconstituted in different historical contexts, empirical studies in the field of social history have focused primarily on the historical agency of women, particularly non-elite women, who lived within or pushed against the confines of prescribed gender roles. Pioneering histories of sexual minorities have accompanied this trajectory since the 1980s, although this subfield has grown more slowly.
A few nodal themes help to explain transformations in gender relations during each of the major periods of Brazil’s social and political history. Under the empire (1822–1889), honor is the entryway for analysis of gender and sexuality. Gendered standards of honor were critical tools used to mark class and racial boundaries, and to traverse them. Historians of the imperial period also stress the centrality of gender to the social, cultural, and economic networks built by members of various occupational, familial, and kinship groups. During the First Republic (1889–1930), the focus shifts to state vigilance and social control, together with debates over modernization of sexual and gender norms, particularly regarding urban space and prostitution. In the Vargas era (1930–1945), patriarchy and racialized sexuality formed the core of intellectual constructions of the nation’s history and identity, at the same time that homosexuality and women’s and worker’s rights generated intense debate. A new emphasis on domesticity emerged in the context of developmentalism in the 1950s, helping to spur a reaction in the form of the counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The dictatorship (1964–1985) went to great lengths to suppress challenges to gender and sexual norms as part of its broader strategy to demobilize society and repress oppositional political movements. These challenges reemerged in the 1970s, when feminists and sexual minorities gained much greater visibility within a new wave of social movements.
The 1988 constitution articulated these movements’ aspirations for social justice and equality through its foundational principal of human dignity. Significant legal changes followed over subsequent decades, including recognition of equal labor rights for domestic and sex workers, affirmative-action policies, and the legalization of same-sex marriage, in 2011. Despite notable setbacks, the momentum toward gender and sexual equality at the start of the 21st century was remarkable. This momentum was halted by the political coup that ousted the first woman president in 2016. The anti-feminist mood that accompanied the impeachment process underscored an overarching theme that runs through the historiography of gender and sexuality in Brazil: the centrality of gender to the major legal and political shifts that mark the nation’s history.
Since the early 20th century, Brazilian public health has focused on rural areas, the people living there, and the so-called endemic rural diseases that plague them. These diseases—particularly malaria, hookworm, and Chagas disease—were blamed for negatively affecting Brazilian identity (“a vast hospital”) and for impeding territorial integration and national progress. For reformist medical and intellectual elites, health and educational public policies could “save” the diseased, starving, and illiterate rural populations and also ensure Brazil’s entry into the “civilized world.” In the mid-20th century, public health once again secured a place on the Brazilian political agenda, which was associated with the intense debates about development in Brazil in conjunction with democratization following World War II (1945–1964). In particular, debate centered on the paths to be followed (state or market; nationalization or internationalization) and on the obstacles to overcoming underdevelopment. A basic consensus emerged that development was urgent and should be pursued through modernization and industrialization. In 1945, Brazil remained an agrarian country, with 70 percent of the rural population and a significant part of the economy still dependent on agricultural production. However, associated with urbanization, beginning in the 1930s, the Brazilian government implemented policies aimed at industrialization and the social protection of organized urban workers, with the latter entailing a stratified system of social security and health and social assistance. Public health policies and professionals continued to address the rural population, which had been excluded from social protection laws. The political and social exclusion of this population did not change significantly under the Oligarchic Republic (1889–1930) or during Getúlio Vargas’s first period in office (1930–1945). The overall challenge remained similar to the one confronting the government at the beginning of the century—but it now fell under the umbrella of developmentalism, both as an ideology and as a modernization program. Economic development was perceived, on the one hand, as driving improvements in living conditions and income in the rural areas. This entailed stopping migration to large urban centers, which was considered one of the great national problems in the 1950s. On the other hand, disease control and even campaigns to eradicate “endemic rural diseases” aimed to facilitate the incorporation of sanitized areas in agricultural modernization projects and to support the building of infrastructure for development. Development also aimed to transform the inhabitants of rural Brazil into agricultural workers or small farmers. During the Cold War and the anti-Communism campaign, the government sought to mitigate the revolutionary potential of the Brazilian countryside through social assistance and public health programs. Health constituted an important part of the development project and was integrated into Brazil’s international health and international relations policies. In the Juscelino Kubitschek administration (1956–1961) a national program to control endemic rural diseases was created as part of a broader development project, including national integration efforts and the construction of a new federal capital in central Brazil (Brasilia). The country waged its malaria control campaign in conjunction with the Global Malaria Eradication Program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and, to receive financial resources, an agreement was signed with the International Cooperation Agency (ICA). In 1957 malaria eradication became part of US foreign policy aimed at containing Communism. The Malaria Eradication Campaign (CEM, 1958–1970) marked the largest endeavor undertaken by Brazilian public health in this period and can be considered a synthesis of this linkage between development and health. Given its centralized, vertical, and technobureaucratic model, this project failed to take into account structural obstacles to development, a fact denounced by progressive doctors and intellectuals. Despite national and international efforts and advances in terms of decreasing number of cases and a decline in morbidity and mortality since the 1990s, malaria remains a major public health problem in the Amazon region.
Japanese immigration to Brazil started in 1908 as a replacement for European immigrants to work for the state of São Paulo’s expanding coffee industry. It peaked in the late 1920s and early 1930s, in the face of growing anti-Japanese sentiment in Brazil. The Japanese migrated to Brazil in mandatory family units and formed their own agricultural settlements once they competed their colono labor contracts and became independent farmers. Under Getúlio Vargas’s nationalistic policies, a 1934 immigration law severely limited the entry of the Japanese. Strict legal restrictions were also imposed on them during Vargas’s Estado Novo (1937–1945). Japanese immigration was eventually terminated in 1942. Then the number of Japanese immigrants reached 188,986. At the end of the war, the Japanese were sharply divided among themselves over the defeat of Japan, and Sindō Renmei’s attacks on other Japanese factions terrified the nation of Brazil. Having given up their hope of returning to their homeland, the Japanese and their descendants began to migrate on a large scale to the cities, especially São Paulo City. Japanese immigration resumed in 1953 and peaked in 1959–1960. A total of 53,657 postwar immigrants, including many single adult men, arrived in Brazil before 1993. By 1980, the majority of Japanese Brazilians had joined the urban middle class, and many were already mixed racially. In the mid-1980s, Japanese Brazilians’ “return” labor migrations to Japan began on a large scale, due to Brazil’s troubled national economy. More than 310,000 Brazilian citizens were residing in Japan in June 2008, when the centenary of Japanese immigration was widely celebrated in Brazil. But the story does not end there: the global recession soon forced unemployed Brazilians and their Japanese-born children to return to Brazil.
Daniel Aarão Reis
Luís Carlos Prestes, from his birth in 1898 to his death in 1990, had a long, restless, and bustling life. His childhood and youth, as well as key events in his family life, are especially important in understanding the formation of his character. Trained as a soldier, Prestes would as an adult participate in the struggles of Brazilian army officers for the modernization and democratization of the nation (1920s), commanding, with Miguel Costa, a guerrilla column that traversed the country from 1924 to 1927. After that, Prestes became a communist and joined the Communist Party, leading a revolutionary putsch in November 1935, which was quickly put down. He then spent nine years in prison. By the time he was released, in 1945, he had become the undisputed leader of Brazil’s communists, and he was elected senator from the city of Rio de Janeiro in December. Between 1946 and 1964, through victories and defeats, he was one of the leading lights of the Brazilian Lefts. He was also an important player in the international communist movement, serving as an interlocutor in talks with the Communist parties of the USSR and China. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the defeat of the Brazilian Left in 1964, when a long military dictatorship was established in Brazil, Prestes’s prestige at home and abroad declined sharply. However, in the context of redemocratization, a process initiated in 1979, he remained a frequent reference point for leftists, albeit on a secondary level, who lauded his integrity and determination. For the Right, he stalked the political scene like a menacing ghost. Upon his death in 1990, no one could deny his impact on the history of Brazil, and on the Brazilian Left in particular.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (b. Caetés, Pernambuco, Brazil, October 27, 1945) was born in severe poverty in the Brazilian northeast. “Lula” was a nickname which he legalized as an adult so that it could be listed on election ballots. He is universally referred to as Lula in Brazil. When he was seven years old his mother took the family on the back of a truck to the state of São Paulo in the hope of joining Lula’s father, who had abandoned the family. With her help, and without Lula’s illiterate and abusive father’s encouragement, he went to school to become a lathe mechanic. He then became a union activist and a leader of massive strikes in the industrial suburbs of São Paulo during the last years of Brazil’s military regime.
In 1980, Lula joined with progressive union leaders, activists, and intellectuals in organizing the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), or Workers’ Party. The PT was distinguished by its internal democracy and intellectual openness, and many on the left, in Brazil and elsewhere, believed it had great potential for reconciling socialist economics with political democracy. It initiated participatory budgeting practices in an effort to go beyond formal electoral democracy. Lula da Silva’s charisma made him the Party’s most popular leader. Lula won a seat in Congress in 1986, then was defeated in presidential campaigns in 1989, 1994, and 1998. In 2002, he adopted a more moderate campaign platform and was elected president of Brazil. He was re-elected in 2006 and passed the presidency on to his chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, at the end of his second term.
As president of Brazil, Lula followed moderate economic and social policies, building on the accomplishments of his predecessor rather than making the radical changes many Workers’ Party activists and supporters wanted. The economy grew during his presidency, and he was able to increase funding for income redistribution programs that helped the poorest Brazilians. His administration was tarnished, however, by a massive corruption scandal involving illegal payments to members of Congress. Brazil went into a recession after Dilma Rousseff’s re-election in 2014, and there was an even larger corruption scandal involving the national oil company. Rousseff was impeached in 2016, and the Workers’ Party lost control of the Brazilian government and fared badly in municipal elections. Lula da Silva was convicted on corruption charges. If his conviction is not reversed on appeal, or if he is convicted on other pending indictments, he will not be allowed to compete for the presidency in the 2018 elections.
João Roberto Martins Filho
The coup that took place in Brazil on March 31, 1964 can be understood as a typical Cold War event. Supported by civilians, the action was carried out by the armed forces. Its origins hark back to the failed military revolt, headed by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), in November of 1935, stirring up strong anticommunist sentiments. The Estado Novo coup, which occurred two years later, was supported by the army (war) and navy ministers. It marked the beginnings of the dictatorial phase of Getúlio Vargas, who had been in power since 1930.
At the end of the Second World War, officers who had taken part in the struggle against Nazism in Italy returned to Brazil and overthrew the dictatorial Vargas regime, who nonetheless returned to power through the 1950 presidential elections. In 1954, under pressure from right-wing military forces, he committed suicide, thereby frustrating existing plans for another coup d’état. The Superior War School (ESG), created in 1949, had become both the birthplace of the ideology of National Security and stage where the French doctrine of guerre révolutionnaire was welcomed. During the 1950s, the military came to be divided into pro-American and nationalist factions.
The alliance between the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) and the centrist Social Democratic Party (PSD), which had elected Vargas earlier, now enabled Juscelino Kubitschek’s victory in the 1955 elections, disappointing the conservatives of the National Democratic Union (UDN) and its military allies. The latter were briefly encouraged when the 1960 presidential election put Jânio Quadros at the head of the executive. In August 1961, when Quadros resigned, his military ministers tried to use force to keep Vice-President João Goulart, Vargas’s political heir at the head of the PTB, from taking office. The coup was frustrated by the resistance of the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Yet the Goulart administration was marked by instability, in the midst of intense social struggles and by a sharp economic crisis. The outcome of this drama began to take shape in March 1963, when the government took a leftwards turn. A massive demonstration in downtown Rio de Janeiro on March 13 served as an alert, and the March 25 sailors’ revolt as the match in the powder keg. On March 31, military forces carried out the infamous coup. The Goulart administration collapsed. Social movements were left waiting for orders to resist that never came.
Mary Ann Mahony
For most of the 20th century, a narrow coastal strip of the Brazilian state of Bahia was the largest producer of Theobroma cacao in the Americas and the second largest in the world. Cacao arrived in the region from the Amazon in the first half of the 18th century, and its cultivation expanded rapidly in the 19th century due to several factors, including a favorable climate, available land, labor too limited for growing sugar, and a developing international market. Initially grown by members of the rural poor, including mission Indians, slaves and ex-slaves, by the 20th century cacao had turned southern Bahia into a plantation region dominated by large estates and exploited workers. This economic expansion came at the expense of the region’s flora and fauna, as well as of the small holders who had initiated the sector. The problems associated with this form of development became clear when the cacao disease known as Witch’s Broom arrived in the region in 1989 and cacao production collapsed. Southern Bahian planters attempting to avoid bankruptcy laid off hundreds of thousands of illiterate rural workers and sold off surviving tropical hardwoods. Historians know the region primarily through the writings of cacao-area native and Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado, but the region’s history goes much beyond the topics he covered and offers numerous opportunities for research.
The John F. Kennedy administration took a bet on the incoming president of Brazil, João Goulart, as he took office on September 8, 1961. Goulart was not a radical socialist, but his opponents portrayed him as an unpredictable nationalist who might unadvisedly fuel the flames of social upheaval and radical revolution, turning Brazil into a second Cuba. Yet, the White House estimated that Goulart was someone they could do business with and sympathized with the idea of Reformas de Base (Goulart’s program of “basic reforms”), which included the extension of labor protections to rural workers, redistributive agrarian reform, and universal suffrage. United States support for Goulart materialized in the form of economic aid, financial assistance via the IMF, and development assistance via the Alliance for Progress partnership. Within a year, however, the tide turned as Goulart failed to comply with American demands that he ban leftists from his cabinet. In a matter of months in 1962, the White House abandoned any hopes of engagement with the Brazilian president. While the crisis that led to Goulart’s fall in March 1964 was the making of domestic political actors within Brazil—as was the military coup to unseat the president—the likelihood and success rate of the golpe grew as the United States rolled out successive rounds of targeted actions against Goulart, including diplomatic and financial pressure, threats of abandonment, support for opposition politicians, collusion with coup plotters, signaling future military support for the plotters in the eventuality of civil war, and the granting of immediate diplomatic recognition for the incoming authoritarian military leaders after the coup. After Goulart, Brazil remained under authoritarian rule for two consecutive decades.