‘Bacurau’ Comes to the U.S. and Brings Critiques of Colonialism With It
The Brazilian indie darling carries a class critique, not unlike that in ‘Parasite’
Bacurau, the Brazilian Western/thriller hybrid that took home the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, finally opens in the U.S. today. Set in a not-so-far future, the dystopian epic takes place in a world where climate change and late-stage capitalism have imploded into cruelty, neglect, and water-hoarding. Bacurau is, at its core, a story about class and race, not unlike Parasite or Us. Through its depiction of a global racial hierarchy, the film offers an unflinching critique of capitalism that has a lasting effect.
The story begins as the fictional town of Bacurau is mourning the loss of a matriarch, Carmelita, and is suffering from an imposed water shortage. Cut off from the rest of the country—aside from one precarious road—the town consists of mostly black and brown people who depend on a daily water truck to survive. They are Nordestinos, or northerners, who have been deliberately forgotten and left in poverty and neglect by the mostly white, urban, and southern parts of Brazil — perhaps the only part of the country that benefits from American imperialism. Because of its remote location and its neglected population devastated by climate change, Bacurau is an easy target for the diabolical villains of the story. The town’s population is bought off to be hunted by white supremacists like faceless targets in a first-person shooter video game.
If this feels like an exaggerated projection of a white supremacist and hyper-capitalist future where rich white people can purchase the right to murder brown and black people, it isn’t. Currently, the Brazilian government’s plan is to privatize large parts of the Amazon without consulting or caring about the indigenous communities that inhabit those areas. President Jair Bolsonaro has continuously allowed miners to invade indigenous lands and murder indigenous people. It’s in his business interests for the land to be empty and unprotected, ready to sell to the various corporations of the “global north,” which refers to the developed societies of Europe and North America. It’s not unlike how the film’s Mayor Tony character sells the population off to be slaughtered.
All American presidents know that the “global south” (the low and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean) is for exploiting, and Bolsonaro’s willingness to sell Brazil out is one of the major critiques underlying Bacurau. For years, environmentalists and scientists have warned that the eventual consequences of climate change will be disproportionately felt by global south countries. In a place like Bacurau, where the population is disposable enough to be hunted and murdered by white supremacists, the underlying implication is that their chances for survival were minimal to begin with.
It is impossible not to see the Bolsonaros and the Trumps of the world in the film’s antagonists.
From the start, there is a sense that the people of Bacurau can only trust each other. The reason behind the water shortage is left to the viewers’ imagination, but there are clues that point to a deliberate deprivation of the town for profit from established powers. When Mayor Tony visits Bacurau, presumably taking a momentary break from his cushy life in a far-off city to make his reelection pitch, he is met with accusations, name-calling, and anger. The message is clear: When people have been left without food and security, the authorities become the enemy.
It is impossible not to see the Bolsonaros and the Trumps of the world in the film’s antagonists. The villains of Bacurau are unambiguously white, or white Latinos that identify as European, who have benefited from the exploitation and neglect of the global south that is inherent to racial capitalist imperialism.
Race is everything in Bacurau, a film that harkens to the unrequited racial kinship southern Brazilians feel toward global north whites, exposing their complicity in racial capitalism. Consider what happens when two southern Brazilians are hired by the film’s villains to assist in their mass killing. “They can’t be white, can they?” an antagonist asks. “How can they be like us?” Not long after, the southern Brazilians are murdered by the hunter antagonists, guilty of their desire to participate in what was always meant to be only a white-perpetrated genocide. The scene is yet another allegory for Bolsonaro. Brazil’s president is an avid fan of President Donald Trump, and his support of Trump’s policies comes at the detriment of Brazilian immigrants in the U.S. (Bolsonaro has been called the “Trump of the Tropics”, and his racist and right-wing politics have posed a huge threat to indigenous communities.) But, much like in Bacurau, Bolsonaro and everyone else from the global south are disposable to Trump.
In one particularly haunting scene, a white supremacist antagonist promises, “This is only the beginning!” Sadly, I fear that sentiment is not fiction at all, both in Brazil or the United States, a place where utility companies knowingly poison black people and indigenous Americans are at constant threat of displacement. Bacurau is our reality; it’s just that some of us are too privileged to see it.