Ana Luiza Flauzina, director of the film Beyond the Mirror. Photo- Alexandre Alves
Ana Luiza Flauzina, director of the film Beyond the Mirror. Photo- Alexandre Alves

It is not possible to understand Brazil without understanding that one of the pillars that sustains Brazilian society until today – and on which our social formation was structured – is racism. Seeking to provoke reflections on this topic in Brazil and in the United States, Ana Luiza Flauzina, a lawyer and professor at Unilab (University for the International Integration of Afro-Brazilian Lusophony), master, doctor and post-doctorate in Law and specialist in Criminology, brought together two great icons of black intellectuals for a conversation, which generated the documentary beyond the mirror, under your direction. Journalist Edson Cardoso in Brazil and Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima in the United States, engage in a debate that addresses themes such as violence, academia, resistance, memory and love.

Rooted in respect for ancestry, the film conveys the wisdom, generosity, years of struggle, discovery and delicacy of Cardoso and Gerima. “It is a didactic and political instrument that I would like to see circulated, to provoke reflections”, explains Ana.

In a back-and-forth of dialogues, the film draws attention to a cruel aspect: the understanding that racism is a process of dehumanization. “It is the expropriation of the base that allows, authorizes and endorses barbarism, without any implication of conscience”, says Ana. Therefore, the current loss of more than 45 young black lives due to homicide (corresponding to 70% of the total) is not moving. Most people don't revolt.

Brazil is the country that has explored slavery for the longest time in the world. It is also the one that most subjected Africans to cross the Atlantic to serve as slaves. This History of Brazil has profound consequences. In modern racism, state security forces try to eliminate and incarcerate entire generations of black youth and women under the argument of the “war on drugs”. With the justification of fighting drug trafficking, an entire population, a community, a profile of Brazilians is criminalized.

We seem to have forgotten who we are. Whoever falls over the black body makes a point of erasing the memory (both of the aggressor and the victim) and tries to write down another narrative: exchange of fire, armed subject, resisted arrest. “It is in the war for memory, for the processes that made us what we are, that public policies, access to resources, control of the State are disputed”, says the professor. “The looting of memory is the primary presupposition of genocide.” Gerima calls this importance a “memory weapon”.

Because of this past, resistance is one of the main characteristics of black people. “We are the fruit of a people who survived the horror with pride; who faced whip and fought back with war; who loved when everything was disappointment. We are people who cook with leftovers and make seasoned food; that deceives hunger with sleep; who insists on dreaming in times of crisis. That sense of belonging has to be shared, cultivated, honored.”

Fighting racism is everyone's commitment.
To contribute to the finalization of the documentary, click here.

Brasileiros – Why did you want to make the film?
Ana Luiza Flauzina – 
I don't know if I wanted to make the film, in the sense that I had an idea and naturally decided to build a cinematic narrative from it. In fact, I think the movie chose me. when came to me insight After recording Edson and Haile's meeting, I couldn't go back. I struggled a lot, I confess, for being in another country, having little contact with cinema, but the demand for commitment won.

How was the choice of the two great black intellectuals as a reference for the discussion that the film brings? How does the importance of ancestry compound with this choice?
The choice was very organic. Edson is a very important reference in my life. He is one of the greatest black Brazilian intellectuals and a militant who speaks of delivery, of generosity. I met Haile in 2010 and had the honor of being a listener in some of his courses at Howard University. Haile is a rare man, one of those militants who captivates with sweetness and teaches boldness. Hearing him speak made me teary-eyed, I missed Edson in those moments, it was something that touched me in a very special way. I recognized each other in some way and I swear that the initial desire was just to introduce them, but I understood that mediating their dialogue would be an important record for us. And that, of course, went deep as a way of honoring what is called ancestry. Not only as a metaphor and idolatry of those who are gone, but as the concreteness of those who surround and inspire us, with all the risks involved. That they are not perfect people, that disagreements, including with my perspectives, are a given, but that they are part of the ground that paved and paves my path.

What goal would you like the film to achieve?
I think the greatest quality of the film is that it is accessible. The two deal with the most diverse issues around racism, violence, resistance, love, and many other themes, in a very generous way. It is a didactic and political instrument that I would like to be circulated, to provoke reflections around the theme. It is a material that can be used at the University and in community centers, it has versatility for the language it uses, despite the density of reflections. So I hope we can take ownership of the film to explore its potential as a catalyst for discussions about race.

Edson Cardoso, at the beginning of the documentary, he talks about racism and the dehumanization of black people. “Racism is saying that, moreover, they are not human like us”. I would like you to say what racism is to you. 

I chose Edson's synthesis in the definition of racism, because I share it. Racism is fundamentally a process of dehumanization. It is the expropriation of the base that allows, authorizes and endorses barbarism, without any implication of conscience. Perhaps this is the greatest capacity of racism. Being able to naturalize black pain as a consensus that does not involve people in an ethical dilemma. It is the operation that calms the sleep of the elites, while genocide slaughters a contingent considered abject, smaller, disposable. It is the best kept legacy of the rubble of slavery in Brazil and the Diaspora.

Haile Gerima also talks about what racism is and says that “genocide is not just when you are physically killed. It happens when your memory is stolen too. It is the weapon of memory.” Can you explain what this memory hijacking is like? What does this imply?
The issue of memory is essential in confronting racism and this has always been very clear to me. I have a degree in Law and History and I ended up digging my feet in the legal trenches. I always say that I left History out of cowardice, because I knew that there was the great space of our dispute. I took refuge in an arena that wants to say more relevant but, in reality, is weaker in this game. The way in which the past can be mobilized, accessing versions of historical narratives is one of the greatest political assets one can have. The subjugation of blacks and indigenous people is only possible because we have a restricted, looted memory. If you only give the gift to a marginalized group, they are suffocated in their contingency, inhibited from articulating resistance and demanding redress. It is in the war for memory, for the processes that made us what we are, that public policies, access to resources, control of the State are disputed. The elites narrate this story as an acquired and natural right. Resisting this state of affairs is to produce a counter-narrative that understands the inequality that plagues us as expropriation and violence. So the looting of memory is the first presupposition of genocide. That's what Haile shows us brilliantly in the film.

About the quota system, Edson makes an important reflection: it is not enough for black people to occupy spaces in universities. Universities need to “change” themselves, move away from the European orientation and include fundamental black history. How do you see this possibility?
I think the debate on quotas in Universities is a good emblem of our challenges. About how this category of inclusion is limited in what it produces. Edson works this well. He always reminds us that it is possible to promote such “racial equality” without facing racism. In other words, it is not about “coloring” academic spaces, but about negotiating epistemological meanings, the very way of producing knowledge. With quotas, we do not want to transform only the landscape of the University, we want to save the University from its mediocrity, from an expansion of possible approaches. Because this is something to the absolute credit of the elites: this poverty of higher education in Brazil, with a weak academic production, especially in the field of the humanities. They are obtuse lenses that do not want to expand, unable to give answers to basic questions that assail daily life, because they refuse to face Brazil head on. This even in the so-called progressive ranks. Colonial stupidity is a fact so ingrained in the formation of university elites that there is no incentive to break paradigms with European horizons, nor in the strongholds that call themselves critics. This is true for almost all areas. So when we talk about quotas, we are not talking about a system that is there not to compromise the quality of education, as many still insist today, but to save it from its decay. Because there is no system of excellence in higher education in Brazil built by whites to be tarnished by blacks and indigenous people. What there is is a deficient conservative structure that needs to be revised to expand the scope of its production and social intervention. Either quotas have this kind of horizon or they become a pendant of neoliberal diversity, which makes up the institutions while reinforcing their obsolete practices.

In your opinion, what is the role of white Brazilians in confronting racism? 
I confess that this question always troubles me a little. Because somehow there is an implicit notion that the racial issue is a matter of exclusive interest to black men and women, since it is even up to us to say what whites should do. The history of racism is made up of characters who suffer violence and others who experience privileges resulting from this violence, naturalizing them as rights, as Jurema Werneck points out. So the deconstruction of this web of vilification is up to blacks and whites and the paths to overcoming racism by white people have to be discovered and followed by them. I think it's white people, experts in racial privilege, who have to find ways to dismantle this castle. To me, this question always sounds like a somewhat spoiled space of whiteness, which wants a ready answer for everything. As if social transformation had some kind of finished recipe and wasn't about hard work, washed down with political education and commitment. In other words, white people must strive, as we do, to discover the pitfalls of racism, test possibilities, face its paradoxes. And not to put another burden on black people who suddenly have to come up with magical solutions to the dilemma of their privileges. So the role of whites is to entrench themselves against the racism of their place, politicizing their issues and finding effective answers to the ongoing violence.

Please explain, from your point of view as a black woman, how racism and sexism overlap and what this entails.
Racial and gender issues, with their related dimensions of sexuality, are the backbone of Brazilian social formation. There is no way to understand Brazil without facing these variables. Personally, I am increasingly concerned with making the consequences of the association of these vectors visible within communities and black militancy. I have said that we have been able to denounce the effects of racism outwards, particularly in the politicization of the extermination of black youth, but we still have a long way to go to challenge the effects of racism in our communities. And in this plot, black women have definitely had their pains and narratives silenced. Black suffering has been encapsulated in the image of a black mother mourning the loss of her child. If this is a well-finished image of our daily tragedy, it cannot be the only one to signal the data of our misery. After all, the pain of black women is not only derived from the violence inflicted on black men and boys, but is also caused by them. And, of course, here I am doing the opposite operation of the stereotype that caricatures black men as violent beings, in the justification of extermination. I'm talking about how the sense of masculinity, which has plagued women as a whole, has to be thought of on the horizon of racism. What pressures are black men under and what is the extent of the explosion of these tensions for black communities? What deception is there in this pact of black and white masculinity that has been a disservice in the face of racism? The question we black women are asking is: what does it mean to be a cis-heteroconform black man? The politicization of the meaning of this masculinity is urgent if we want to face genocide in a radical way. We have to deal not only with the deaths caused by the police, but, in the same breath, with broken ribs, rapes, and psychological violence. It is necessary to face what racism has also provoked in our guts. There is a new generation of black feminists, like Carla Ackotirene, who have been consolidating this type of discussion. But I think we have to deepen this debate even further.

The two intellectuals claim that black resistance, the ability to resist and survive, is a treasure. What is your point of view on this?
Resistance is the great link that unifies the characters in the film, as a metaphor for what mobilizes us as people. It is important that we take this with pride. We are the offspring of a people who survived the horror with pride; who faced whip and fought back with war; who loved when everything was disappointment. We are people who cook with leftovers and make seasoned food; that deceives hunger with sleep; who insists on dreaming in times of crisis. This sense of belonging has to be shared, cultivated, honored. Steve Biko once said that “we are either alive and proud, or we are dead”. It is from this matrix of pride to be who we are without reservations that I am referring. From resistance as the foundation of human life, which matters especially to black people due to the precarious conditions imposed by racism. This, as Edson and Haile point out, is what keeps us alive, makes us a constant possibility, gives us purpose to follow.

Finally, the soundtrack that accompanies his film talks about the fear of the mirror breaking. Are you afraid too? What it means?
This song has a strong meaning for me. It connects me to my grandparents, who are now gone. It tells how ancestry lives in us; of how legacies are reproduced; of how mirrors are able to reflect memories. I thought it was a good summary of the film and it was on par with Edson and Gerima, for inspiring so many to follow the paths of compromise. It's a song that not only illustrates, but tells, itself, of the hopeful horizons that guide the journey of black people. I am especially touched by the unpublished version that Cris Pereira made for the film, in the reinterpretation of this classic by João Nogueira. It is worth checking.

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