We are still catching up with Zózimo Bulbul’s Abolição. The two-and-a-half-hour documentary is an unflinching rumination on the state of Black life in Brazil one hundred years following the Lei Áurea, the law that officially ‘abolished’ slavery in the country. Abolição seeks to point out that the Lei Áurea was, in the words of Marcell Carrasco, “a farcical scam”. Director Zózimo Bulbul and his nearly all-Black film crew travel throughout Brazil exploring the remaining traces of colonialism and the ever-present existence of racism that was to be found throughout the country. No facet of Brazilian life escapes Bulbul’s expository camera, as he explores the ways in which racism is prevalent within sports, academia, history, the beaches of Rio, religious practices, the film industry, politics, and every other facet of social life. In Abolição, there are interviews with key icons from the Black Brazilian community, such as Abdias do Nascimento, Lélia Gonzalez, Carlos Medeiros, Beatriz Nascimento, Grande Otelo, Joel Rufino dos Santos and Benedita da Silva. As these figures add to the dialogue of what it means to be Black while living in Brazil towards the end of the 20th century, the film cuts to images of homeless living on the streets in hunger, maintaining the viewer’s focus on the message at the core of the film: society continues to suppress Black lives from anything more than subsistence through racist oppression.
The below copy of Abolição was sourced from a VHS copy of the film that was made and disseminated throughout the 90s. The low-resolution copy, as any viewer will quickly realize, does not adequately represent the beautiful images that were present during the few screenings it had prior to being shelved by Brazilian production company Embrafilme due to their lack of support for the project, nor does it reflect what we would see today if the film were properly restored. Abolição is one of the most important Brazilian documentary films ever made, and it surely deserves better than what you will see below. It is nonetheless vital for us to watch the film as it is, discuss its ideas, and disseminate the work to as many people as possible, so that those with the ability to do so will provide Abolição with the high-quality scan and translation that it truly deserves.