Yesterday, the news broke that the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro is demanding payment from Columbia Pictures for using unauthorized images of the Cristo Redentor statue in the movie 2012. Though the statue was built using public funds, the monument belongs to the Archdiocese, which also owns the commercial rights to images and footage of the statue.
Supposedly, negotiations began back in December with the hopes that the two parties could come to a "friendly" solution, rather than a legal battle. Although the Church doesn't charge people to use the image of the statue, they do have "veto power" over its use, which they have apparently used before during Carnival and other events. According to one report, Columbia requested use of the footage to the Archdiocese and was denied, but used the footage anyway. In addition to financial compensation, the Church is demanding a public retraction from the movie studio.
I'm going to go ahead and call bullshit on this. The idea that an organism, be it a church or a government, having this type of control over the use of a public monument's image is absolutely ridiculous. The Christ statue, albeit religious in nature, is a symbol of Rio and internationally, a symbol of Brazil. It's incredible how such an archaic arrangement could still be in place, especially with such an important national treasure. Ironically, it reminds me of the latest New York Lotto print ads, which feature New York landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building with big price tags on them:
Also, if the church doesn't charge for the use of the image, demanding payment for its "unauthorized" use is what exactly? That smells like a lawsuit. It seems to me that the Archdiocese is going to have to sue Columbia, because I'd imagine this kind of demand is not going to go over so well. If they don't reach an agreement by March, the Church says the will bring an "official" lawsuit.
Interestingly, on many of the articles, Brazilians expressed their anger with the Archdiocese and noted that they had loved seeing the Christ in the 2012 movie, since it was evidence of Brazil's rising importance and made them feel proud. There are so many disaster movies where American and European monuments are destroyed with glorious special effects, but never any with scenes from Brazil. This really made an impact on Brazilians - the simple recognition was an incredible stamp of approval and renewed source of national pride. It had an especially important effect because Brazil was included as a major part of civilization, another country on par with the US, Europe and India, rather than the stereotypical images of Amazonian "savages" or scantily clad beachgoers. It was an equalizing moment, even though it was a fictional image of destruction. If you really want to look into the symbolism for what the scenes meant for Brazilians, it could be seen as the end of a history of marginalization, the end of the perpetual "country of the future," a kind of rebirth for Brazil.
Given the Archdiocese's ridiculous demand and a likely lawsuit, this could potentially discourage other filmmakers to include the Christ statue in their movies, or even encourage them to exclude Brazil altogether, given that the statue is the best known image of Brazil to gringos. We'll see how it plays out, but it might get ugly.