Last week, Sylvester Stallone made headlines in Brazil after a panel at Comic-Con, discussing his new movie The Expendibles, parts of which were shot in Rio de Janeiro and possibly other parts of Brazil. Making light of the lax attitude Cariocas had toward filming, BOPE, and the security situation, Stallone really, really pissed off quite a few Brazilians.
The bulk of Stallone's foot-in-the-mouth comments was the following:
"You can shoot people and blow things up and they say, ‘Thank you! Take a monkey home with you!’ We couldn’t have pulled off what we did [somewhere else]. We blew up huge plots of land. It was like, Everybody bring their hot dogs. We’re having a BBQ today. We’re gonna blow up this village.”
He also went on to emphasize that they needed a crew of 70 security guards because of the unsafe situation where they filmed in Rio, and made snarky comments about the BOPE skull and crossbones symbol, saying "Imagine if the LAPD used that!"
The reaction was swift and to anyone who knows Brazil, completely expected. Brazilian Twitter users pushed the term "Cala boca, Sylvester Stallone" (Shut up, Sylvester Stallone) to the top of the trending topics, and the event made news in most major news outlets. (I admit I had to laugh when Globo labeled his comments as "politically incorrect," since Globo knows so much about political incorrectness). Someone with half a brain at the movie studio realized how big of a faux pas Stallone's comments had become, and he quickly issued an apology, alleging his love and respect of Brazil and claiming he'd even recommended that other Americans film there.
There are a couple of issues at play here, ones that an intelligent PR person would have looked into in anticipation of questions about filming in Brazil.
1. Sylvester Stallone is an idiot. He clearly needs to be fed some of his lines ahead of time, even for publicity events. This really should not be news to anyone.
2. Brazilians are extremely sensitive to criticism, regardless of whether the comments are true or not. If you want to avoid a small scandal when doing Brazil-related PR, it's best to avoid anything that could remotely be considered negative or offensive. It's especially bad when a foreign celebrity makes publicly negative comments about Brazil, because it reinforces stereotypes and also perpetuates the inferiority complex that many Brazilians still continue to harbor.
3. While his comments were obnoxious to begin with, Stallone made the epic mistake of including the word "monkey" in his misguided response. While he literally meant a pet monkey, the word for monkey in Portuguese, "macaco," is also an extremely offensive racial epithet. While he didn't mean to use the word that way, it definitely made things worse.
While Stallone's comments were certainly made in an offensive way, there was truth to them: famous gringos are treated with nearly total deference in Brazil (in Rio, especially), and are often given free reign to do whatever they want. Rio is a violent city, and wealthy visitors often hire some form of security when traveling there; few outsiders go into favelas without knowing someone who lives or works there. BOPE exists because of the pervasive violence, which has become something of a fact of life. And plenty of Brazilians do love hot dogs and a good churrasco.
Still, while many people were offended, there were others who shrugged and said, "So what?" (Personally, I think this is a healthy attitude to have, especially in reference to the opinions of someone like Sylvester Stallone) Plus, action movies are really big in Brazil, and it's fairly likely Stallone's new movie will do well there despite this incident.
Overall, the main lesson this little episode offers is: when doing any kind of marketing related to Brazil, tread lightly and be prepared, or you may find yourself with your foot firmly wedged in your mouth, figuratively speaking.