A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

City of God
By Gabriel Packard
No one had been able to penetrate the 'favelas' or slum neighborhoods of Rio and their youth gangs until Rocket - a young black teenager with a gifted eye and quick hand with a camera - snapped gang leaders, crooked cops and the rest. The story of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues, the film's sturdy moral center), L'il Dice (Leandro Firmino da Hora), Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele) and dozens more of the favela's violent children has been captured in a powerful new docu-drama, 'City of God.
Drawing energy and inspiration directly from Cidade de Deus (City of God), a subsidized complex on the outskirts of Rio housing the dwellers of the capital's shanty-towns, director Fernando Meirelles gives the film a texture of stripped-to-the-bone reality.

Formerly Brazil 's top director of commercials, Meirelles uses his expertise in experimental film to surprise us with fresh, sometimes raw images. The film follows 15 years of escalating violence in the 'hood. No judgment is passed on its subjects- if they did not hang out with people who smoked pot, or dealt it, they would have no friends at all.
In one scene that distils that way of life, the pint-size but crafty Li'l Dice and his gang come across The Runts, a disheveled band of street children who have been robbing in Li'l Dice's territory. Gang members corner a couple of Runts and casually train their guns on the younger of the two. Li'l Dice gives him a choice: Do you want us to shoot you in the hand or the foot? The child starts crying. Then, after a few threats, the child holds out his hand. They shoot him in the foot. Li'l Dice laughs maniacally, then, as the kid hobbles off, shouts after him, Don't limp!

Each pull of the trigger develops the story. Meirelles achieves this by dividing 'City of God ' into three chapters, each marking a rise in bloodshed, an increase in the size of the weapons, and a change in the significance of the act of killing. The 106 children who play the gang members in this movie come from the favela. To be in the movie, they had to agree to stop dealing drugs. After auditioning, they were trained in improvisational acting, and, in the end, wrote 70 percent of the script.