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Brazilian Filmmaker Vicente Ferraz Will Tell Revisionist Tale Of Black Slave Battalion During Paraguayan War

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 10, 2014 12:56 PM
1 Comment
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Vicente Ferraz, Brazilian director of I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth (2005), El Último Comandante (2010) and A Estrada 47 (2013) is reportedly developing a fictional feature film about a slave battalion during the very real Paraguay War, one of the most significant historical events in South America, that helped forge what the modern nations of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay - a conflict fought from 1864 to 1870 that I can't say has been tackled very much on film.


Also known as the War of the Triple Alliance, this was the longest conflict between independent nations of Latin America, lasting from November 1864 to March 1870, when the Paraguayan leader, Marshal Solano Lppez, was killed in the final siege inside Paraguay itself. The war was the result of Paraguay's desire to parlay its riches from the mate tea industry into a transformation from its status as a buffer state between Brazil and Argentina into a full-fledged regional power. This required dominating Uruguay to secure access to the sea, leading to ill-considered invasions of that country, as well as the vastly larger Argentina and Brazil.

From 150 to more than 200 thousand people died in the war, whether on the field of battle or from disease or other consequences of the conflict. Paraguay's male population was devastated, while the societies of all the nations involved were irrevocably altered.

Conventional history states that the war helped to quickly bring an end to slavery in Brazil.

Director Ferraz's film will be titled Bastards, and will take somewhat of a revisionist approach to it ("a mordant act of historical revisionism," as Variety calls it), in that it'll pit slaves being used as cannon fodder during the war against their *masters,* when the son of one of the slave traders is forced to fight alongside the slaves.

Here's a description:

“Bastards” begins with Rafael, the bastard son of Rio’s biggest slave trader being sent by his father to Paraguay to find his legitimate half-brother, who has disappeared in battle. Doing so, Rafael hopes to be recognized as one of his father’s heirs. Lost after the first skirmish, he happens at dawn upon three black soldiers, slaves who had enlisted in return for their freedom. Seasoned soldiers, they protect him, but treat him like a slave. They in turn are being used as cannon fodder. Discovering his father had really dispatched him to his death, Rafael ends up fighting side-by-side with the slaves. 

“He assumes his condition as a bastard, sides with the black slaves, the other ‘bastards’ of the story,” Ferraz said to Variety. “All political processes are grand pacts made by elites. What defines Brazil most is slavery, the ghetto,” he concluded.

The project is currently set up at Tres Mundos Producoes, Ferraz’s Rio-based production company. The director says it'll be a "low-budget movie" that will be financed locally, via the Brazilian government, and will shoot in Portuguese and Guarani, one of Paraguay’s two official languages. Although he says that he plans to have an international cast, with an American actor playing one role as "the cultured slave of a monarchist writer who fought in the war and wrote a chronicle' about it." No word on what black American actors he's considering for the part.

The news comes on the heels of announcements on this site of a number of films on the horizon that will focus on Brazil (whether past or present), both fiction and non-fiction, as well as Cinema do Brasil's revelation of a new initiative that will promote the exporting of Brazilian cinema around the world, to reinforce and expand the participation of Brazilian film productions in the international market by providing non-Brazilian production partners with logistic and strategic support, so as to encourage co-productions and expand markets for the distribution of their productions, and enhance the value of the Brazilian film industry abroad.

And in that regard, Ferraz's Bastards will be a Brazil-USA co-production effort.

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1 Comment

  • No | April 10, 2014 1:39 PMReply

    So, why is there archival photo of a black US Army unit when the film is about a war that "helped forge what the modern nations of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay"?

    You folks are aware that the men in the picture are Americans wearing American uniforms, circa 1860s, with their belt buckles reading "USA"?

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