One of Brazil’s most traditional samba schools – the popular associations that organize annual Carnival parades in the country – announced that the theme of its 2020 performance would be the story of Jesus taken to a Rio de Janeiro slum.
Estacao Primeira de Mangueira also announced its performance song, which alludes to the increasing police brutality and to the violence suffered by minorities in Brazil.
Written by the composers Manu da Cuica and Luiz Carlos Maximo, the song talks about a boy in a favela, or slum. He has a “black face, indigenous blood and the body of a woman” and is the son of an “unemployed carpenter” and of “Mary of Sorrows Brazil.”
The narrator of the song said the boy, who ages as the song progresses, struggles against oppression and can be met “where love finds no barriers.” In another part, the song says “Favela, get the vision/ There’s no future without sharing/ And no Messiah with a gun in his hand,” a possible allusion to President Jair Bolsonaro’s promises of loosening gun control legislation and of reducing punishment for police who kill suspected criminals. Bolsonaro’s middle name is Messias.
Another possible reference to Bolsonaro is the title of Mangueira’s parade theme, “The truth will set you free,” which was – with a slight difference in the Portuguese wording – one of Bolsonaro’s campaign slogans in 2018. Bolsonaro, a self-described Catholic, was elected with a strong support of evangelical Christians, and his wife – he’s in his third marriage – is a member of an evangelical denomination.
Father Antonio Manzatto, a theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, said Mangueira’s parade is somehow inspired by the tradition of Latin American liberation theology, a movement particularly influential in Brazil during the 1970s and 1980s; it emphasizes the church’s preferential option for the poor.
“Now that we have a far-right government with signs of obscurantism and persecution of dissidents, Mangueira is bringing us a parade that is somehow related to the period when liberation theology emerged,” he said.