The Way He Looks at Us
by Colette Combs
Please watch the video-essay before reading the curatorial statement. Advisory – strong language is used in the video-essay that some viewers may find offensive.
Every 16 hours in Brazil, a member of the LGBTQ+ community is killed (Lopes). Since the election of President Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, his administration has mounted a “return to conservative values” which has included the devaluation and criminalization of the LGBTQ+ community. In September of 2019, Bolsonaro announced that Brazil would end state funding to LQBTQ+ film projects and pull funding from films already in the works, because he believes “these projects go against the values of traditional Brazilian families” (Alface). This will not prevent private production companies from creating queer film, but it will greatly reduce the number of queer films coming out of Brazil. Perhaps more dangerously, the move by the Bolsonaro administration signals that LGBTQ+ people are not considered to be valuable Brazilians- the administration is using film to indicate what is acceptable in Brazil and what is not.
Besides the governmental opposition to LGBTQ+ people, there is widespread societal homophobia. Although Brazil legalized same-sex marriage in 2013 long before the United States, and Rio Pride is consistently one of the largest LGBTQ+ celebrations in the world, there is still significant social stigma associated with being queer in Brazil. In 2009, a group of
Brazilian college students attempted to conduct a study to discover whether or not LGBTQ+ representation in film can be a powerful tool to help foster acceptance for LGBTQ people in the general population. The students discovered that the research could not even be conducted, because citizens in Brazil were unwilling to even see a film with LGBTQ+ themes because “participating in an event like [theirs] labeled the participants through the norm that assigns a certain kind of gender and a certain kind of sexuality to whoever goes to see that kind of movie” (Costa). LGBTQ+ content in film could be a successful way to create tolerance, if people were willing to go see the films in the first place. In creating films with LGBTQ+ themes, Brazilian filmmakers are engaging in a radical political act, one that could potentially put their lives in danger.
One of the directors taking that risk in Brazil is Daniel Ribeiro. The Way He Looks proves that Queer people do not go against Brazilian family values- that they are just as natural in their love and lives as everyone else. In the creation of his film, Ribeiro
wanted to make the romance between the two main characters, Leonardo and Gabriel, as relatable as possible, regardless of the sexuality of the viewer. He wanted to make The Way He Looks a story about adolescence, high-school, and falling in love, experiences that nearly everyone can relate to. In an interview with Philipp Schmidt, Ribeiro explained, “I wanted to have the most things that were universal, so everyone could relate to that, so they could see ‘oh, I’m like that, I’ve had the same feelings, I’ve fallen in love,’ and in that way, you connect to someone who’s completely different from you. It’s about tolerance” (Teddy). In doing this, Ribeiro attempts to show that queer people are not the despicable criminals the Brazilian government makes them out to be- they can be sympathetic characters whose love the audience roots for. Ribeiro suggests that queer people are just like everyone else- a radical concept in Brazil. The juxtaposition of Bolosonaro’s hateful words and the natural, loving innocence of the scenes from The Way He Looks highlights Ribeiro’s point that queer people do not deserve the negative attention they receive from Brazilian government and society.
The title of the video essay, “The Way He Looks At Us”, references the name of the film while juxtaposing the blindness of Bolsonaro to queer issues with the blind main character of the film. In many ways, the main character Leo sees the world much more clearly than President Bolsonaro- despite not being able to see, he falls in love, navigates high school, and deals with harassment from his peers. Leo understands the world better than Bolsonaro, whose ignorance and hate blind him to the cruelty of the oppression of queer people in Brazil. Although Bolsonaro speaks about Leo’s community in the most hateful way, Leo’s calm composition juxtaposes Bolsonaro’s hate and highlights his blindness to human rights. Queer characters are presented in
the most composed, desexualized, natural way in The Way He Looks, making Bolsonaro’s hateful remarks appear ridiculous and out of place. Ribeiro is mindful of his audience and the
potential impacts of his film creating more sympathy for the LGBTQ+ community. His film is an important precursor to the election of Bolsonaro and serves as an important reminder and representation of the fact that despite Bolsonaro’s dangerous rhetoric, LGBTQ+ individuals are just as Brazilian as everyone else.
The video ends with Bolsonaro’s hateful rhetoric splashed across the faces of Leonardo and Gabriel, engaged in a heartfelt kiss. At the moment of contact, images from Rio Pride across the years appear overlayed with the kiss. Audio from these celebrations plays quietly in the background, but increases in volume when the video cuts to black. In some ways, Leonardo and Gabriel’s love is the same as the rest of the LGBTQ+ community in Brazil in how natural it is. However, while Leonardo and Gabriel get their happy ending at the end of the film, the LGBTQ+ community in Brazil has yet to receive theirs. Their voices persist because their story is never over. The community faces an ongoing battle against the homophobic rhetoric that is far too pervasive in Brazilian government and society. Now, with the defunding of queer films that could have potentially fostered acceptance in the Brazilian population, that fight grows more challenging.
- Alface, Felipe. “Brazil Ends Government Funding of LGBTI Television Shows, Films.” The Washington Blade, September 3, 2019.
- Associated Press. “Thousands celebrate 23rd Gay Pride Parade in Rio de Janeiro” YouTube, uploaded by AP Archive, 5 October 2018.
- Associated Press.“Thousands join Brazil gay pride parade.” YouTube, uploaded by AP Archive, 26 June 2016.
- “Beautiful Thing Soundtrack ~ Beautiful Thing Medley.” YouTube, uploaded by xJusteBx, 1 January 2010.
- Costa, ÂngeloBrandelli, et al. “Attitudes Among Brazilian University Undergraduates Regarding
Cinema with Contents on Sexual Diversity.” Journal of LGBT Youth, vol. 6, no. 4, Oct. 2009, pp. 436–440.
- Lopes, Marina. “Brazil’s Highest Court Votes to Extend Anti-discrimination Protections to LGBT People.” The Washington Post, May 23, 2019.
- “Teddy Award – Interview Daniel Ribeiro ‘The Way He Looks.’” YouTube. Interview by Philipp Schmidt, Comments from cast: Ghilherme Lobo, Tess Amorim,Fabio Audi,” Feb 11, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlK4I-meE1A.
- The Way He Looks. Daniel Ribeiro. Strand Releasing, 2014. Film.