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Does Oscar's Nod To 'The Edge Of Democracy' Step Over The Edge Of Liberal Hypocrisy?

Brazilian demonstrators in a scene from the Netflix documentary The Edge of Democracy


I’m thankful to Ricky Gervais. As host of the Golden Globes this month he mocked Hollywood’s brazen hypocrisy – calling “The Morning Show,” for example, “a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company who runs sweatshops in China,” referring to Apple Inc.

That skewering of moviedom’s politically correct double standards has helped me understand why conservative Brazilians are irked by this week’s Oscar nomination of the documentary “The Edge of Democracy.”

It’s not that Brazilian director Petra Costa’s Netflix film isn't a good documentary. It's a gripping, often poignant narrative about Brazil’s recent political and economic implosion. It’s not that it doesn’t convey an important message. It does, especially for the Trump era – namely, that tribal polarization is toxic to any democracy, especially one as fledgling as Brazil’s.

But “Edge of Democracy” steps over a line that’s toxic to the credibility of any documentary – that is, into political propaganda. It lays – no, slams – the blame for Brazil’s past decade of dysfunction on “fascist” mobs and demagogues. And it largely ignores – no, absolves – the culpability of the Brazilian left.

READ MORE: Brasileiros Divided: Did Moro Bust Brazil's Corruption - Or Betray Its Democracy?

In fact, the Brazilian left’s flagship party – the Workers' Party, or PT, of which Costa is a dyed-in-the-wool member – ruled the country for 13 years, from 2003 to 2016. Its social-minded reign admittedly did good things for Brazil, like using a commodities boom to enlarge the middle class. But the PT was also in power during some of the worst corruption scandals in Brazil’s history. And given Brazil’s history, that’s saying a lot.

Sure, conservative Brazilian politicos were also involved in epic larceny like the multi-billion-dollar Lava Jato bribery swamp and the multi-million-dollar Mensalão vote-buying scheme. But so were a hell of a lot of leading PT figures – including no less than party co-founders like former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his former chief of staff, José Dirceu.

What angers conservative Brazilians about The Edge of Democracy's Oscar nomination is that the world's most powerful cultural arbiter is giving the Brazilian left the same pass the film does.

Lula’s corruption conviction was admittedly controversial. Still, Costa’s film conveniently glosses over the fact that his successor and PT comrade, former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, chaired the state-run oil firm Petrobras – the focus of the Lava Jato scandal.

Instead, Costa insists over and over in “Edge of Democracy” that Lula, Rousseff and the PT were unjustly “targeted” by reactionary forces pining for Brazil’s brutal 1964-85 military dictatorship. And she argues that’s why Rousseff was impeached and removed from office in 2016. Not for her Petrobras negligence. Or the shell games she played with the federal budget, which was at the heart of her impeachment. Or that Rousseff – a brilliant, tough economist tortured by the dictatorship in the 1970s – turned out to be a dismal, arrogant president in the 2010s. No: the documentary casts her as an innocent martyr.


It’s sadly reminiscent of how U.S. liberals, especially U.S. feminists, cast then President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, as the victim of a “vast, far-right conspiracy” when he was impeached in 1998. (He was not removed from office.) And how appallingly they disregarded what prompted his impeachment – the things Clinton did to a female intern that would have had them marching on the White House with pitchforks if he’d been a Republican.

But “Edge of Democracy’s” nomination for best documentary is a reminder that Hollywood is one of America’s leading perpetrators of that liberal hypocrisy – an industry that decries gun violence at its awards podiums, yet delights in gun violence orgies on our silver screens. (Hello, “Joker”!) What angers conservative Brazilians is that the world’s most powerful cultural arbiter is giving the Brazilian left the same pass for their country’s troubles that Costa does.

Credit Orlando Brito / Netflix
Former Brazilian Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (right) and Dilma Rousseff

There’s another, just as serious consequence that results from that dishonesty: It weakens our understanding of the mistakes that usher in extremist governance. Were the conservative Brazilian politicians who led Rousseff’s impeachment sleazeballs themselves? You bet. But they simply walked through the political door that Rousseff and the PT opened for them – and so did Brazil’s current right-wing train wreck of a president, Jair Bolsonaro, elected in 2018.

So did Venezuela’s left-wing train wreck of a regime, which emerged not out of thin air but as a popular backlash against the pillaging of the country’s vast oil wealth by hyper-corrupt elites. And so did President Donald Trump – now impeached – who exploited liberal America’s cluelessness about this fact: behind his movement's bigotry and nativism, there lay a few valid grievances, like globalization’s abandonment of the American working class.

But that helping hand Trump got from liberals is another subject Hollywood would rather avoid.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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