The world of Brazilian humor is largely male-dominated (though that's changing), meaning that a lot of popular, mainstream comedy--such as TV and websites--has a lot of machista, homophobic jokes. With growing feminist and LGBT rights advocacy in Brazil, comedians are sometimes coming under fire for targeting women and gays. To a lesser extent, there's also emerging criticism of racism in comedy.
Part of the reason the documentary is compelling stems from the fact that you really can appreciate both sides of the political correctness debate. On one hand, you can understand why in some cases, people shouldn't take humor so seriously--it's a joke, after all. You can also see how those in favor of political correctness can sound a bit annoying, which I found surprising, since two of the activists featured in the film (LGBT activist and Congressman Jean Wyllys and feminist writer Lola Aronovich) are seasoned, compelling advocates. On the other hand, you can also understand why it's important to change the ways people think and promote tolerance, since humor not only reveals societal prejudices, but can help promote them. This is pertinent when it comes to homophobia, for example, since Brazil reportedly has the largest number of gay hate crime murders in the world.
Director Pedro Arantes told TRIP that it's possible to enjoy humor without feeling guilty:
"[Y]ou're going to laugh at something at some point and later on you're not going to find it funny anymore. Some things you didn't find funny before, you'll later find funny. That's one of the goals of the film. It's not to make anyone feel guilty because he laughed at something. When I was younger, I laughed a lot at gay jokes. Now, having thought about it, I really don't find those jokes funny anymore. You work through it in your head and from then on you don't find it funny anymore. The idea of the movie is to show this: guys, it's ok. We laugh and that's part of life. But we have to think things through. Guilt is a torturous feeling. You don't need to make yourself feel guilty--you just need to reflect."
The movie looks at how humor can reveal problems with limiting free speech. Comedian Rafinha Bastos has had this happen numerous times. After making a horribly tasteless joke about rape last year, he was asked to testify before prosecutors for "inciting rape." (As the movie shows, the incident also spurred a productive conversation about rape in Brazil.) He was sued by a famous singer after making a similarly tasteless joke about her baby, and the singer won in January. Pending appeals, Bastos will have to pay the singer R$100,000 (around $47,000). Just this week, he was involved in a new scandal, after Bastos called TV personality Luciano Huck an "inconsequential playboy" in an open letter. Huck was recently fined and lost his license after refusing a breathalyzer at a traffic stop. Huck said he would sue Bastos for making the comments, though Bastos has since apologized.
The film also explores how Brazilian comedy often reveals racism, homophobia, and sexism. In Brazil, hate speech is actually a crime: making disparaging remarks about religion, ethnicity, or race can actually lead to fines and even jail time. (Some LGBT activists are pushing for hate speech related to sexual orientation to be included in such laws.) But these laws restricting freedom of expression don't necessarily change attitudes, as Taylor Barnes describes in a recent Christian Science Monitor piece about hate speech crimes in Brazil:
Despite a constitutional principle of freedom of expression, Brazilian lawmakers and law enforcement have drawn the line when it comes to agitating racial, religious, or ethnic tensions. And though the legislation is widely accepted as legitimate, even advocates of criminalizing intolerance say the best the law can do is make an offender hold his or her tongue, rather than change the racial and religious tensions that still run deep in Brazilian society.
In a country where social movements are increasingly gaining traction, where dictatorship-era censorship legislation still lingers, and where rising levels of access to education and technology are helping to forge change, the debate to balance free speech and political correctness will be an interesting one to watch.
Hat tip to Alex Castro for the documentary.