“Michael, Eles não ligam pra gente”

Mariah Donnelly - Brazil

February 5, 2012


15 years after Michael Jackson chose to record his historic music video “They Don’t Care About Us” in Brazil, the problems that Jackson tried to reveal through his video still exists. If you haven’t watched his video (the one he made in Brazil, not the one that was made in the U.S.), I recommend doing so (located above), not only because I think it is a terrifically made music video with powerful imagery but rather it will show you a side of Brazil that many news casters and even the government try to shy away from.

The opening scene features Jackson walking down the historic center of Salvador, Bahia, called the Pelorinho. To anyone who has visited Salvador, or has studied Brazilian history will know that to different people this historic center can represent many different things.  To a Portuguese settler back in the 1500s it marks the place of the first successful conquest of the Portuguese in the Americas. To someone of Afro-Brazilian descent it can represent years of culture, challenges, and racism. The challenges and racism that Afro-Brazilians faced in the 1500s are probably quite obvious:  slavery and oppression brought on by the Portuguese settlers. But modern day Afro-Brazilians that still try to make a living in the Pelorinho face the same challenges that they did in 1500s. Of course they are not enslaved but the oppression is still ever apparent. After the United Nations declared that the Pelorinho is  a World Heritage Site (basically meaning that it holds global historical value, kind of a big deal) and over 100 million dollars was dedicated to its restoration, many of the Afro-Brazilians that were living there have been either pushed out to 1) Make room for what the United Nations and the Brazilian government feel is more culturally fitting (i.e. artists, gift shops) and 2) Have reaped little to none of the economic benefits from the restoration. When Jackson says, “They don’t care about us,” this is what he means.

But the oppression of Afro-Brazilians not only occurs in this one isolated part of the Pelorino, the oppression of another hidden class is shown in the other back-drop that Michael Jackson chose to shoot his video in: the favela. The favela is basically the equivalent to a slum or the “ghetto” in the U.S. As someone who lives in a favela and passes what seems thousands of them a day to get into the interior of the city, you would think that more people would know about them, they almost seem to be the norm, but the reaction from the Brazilian government when Michael wanted to shoot his video in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most poor favelas says otherwise. The Brazilian Supreme Court at first banned production of the video because they thought the filming of the favelas would hurt their chances at the clinching nomination for the 2004 Olympics. So when Michael Jackson sings, “They are putting me in a class with bad name,” this what he means. I have experienced this first-hand. When I speak to my other Brazilian friends who live in the tourist parts of Salvador or in richer-neighborhoods, they cringe when I tell them I live in Piraja (what many would say is a favela). I can’t even begin to imagine or know what it feels like for someone who gets this type of reaction from people within their own city, let alone country. Citizens are shrugged to the side, left, and forgotten about.

So  I challenge you, as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic news coverage is being revved up, look for news that even begins to touch on the homes and families that are being pulled apart and torn down for the new buildings that are being constructed for the some of the world’s largest events here in Brazil. It’s easy to ignore something when the voices of the oppressed have already been silenced.

Mariah Donnelly