In 2002, Brazilian director and screenwriter Fernando Meirelles unveiled Cidade de Deus, a film that put the microscope on the epidemic of organized crime that ravaged Rio de Janeiro, transforming it into a haven for political corruption and criminality. Adapted by Bráulio Mantovani from the 1997 novel of the same name written by Paulo Lins, Cidade de Deus is told from the vantage point of “Rocket” — a resident of the favelas (The hood) with aspirations of becoming a professional photography while attempting to navigate and survive in a world filled with anarchy and nihilism. “Li’l Ze”; a hardened gangster with an unquenchable taste for blood, holds court over the favelas with an iron fist and sparks a war that ends with his demise.
After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, where it earned rave reviews, and was initially released exclusively in Brazil, Cidade de Deus, which would be released in the U.S. in January 2003, under its American translation City of God, was a critical and commercial success stateside, yielding $7.5 million at the box office.
With a cast that included Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Alice Braga and Seu Jorge, City of God would be one of the most lauded films of 2003, earning Academy Award nominations in multiple categories, including Best Director (Fernando Meirelles), Best Adapted Screenplay (Braulio Mantovani), Best Cinematography (César Charlone), and Best Film Editing (Daniel Rezende), as well as earning numerous honors for best foreign film.
In spite of its plot and actors not having any direct ties to hip-hop, since it was released, City of God has been received as a cult classic, with rappers like Lil Wayne, J. Cole, Snoop Dogg, The Game, AZ and other rappers giving nods to the film in their lyrics, a testament to its status as a cult classic.
In celebration of the 15th anniversary of its state-side release, we talked to some of our favorite rappers about what makes City of God timeless and one of the greatest movies of its time.
“I had the actual DVD from a friend, the Portugese version Cidade De Deus — I was actually going through this phase where I only wanted to watch like, indie foreign films. There was a wave of joints like this too, Carandiru, Cidade de Homens … I was on it. Binge-watched them all in my apartment in The Bronx. [My favorite character was] LIL DICE! He was mad bloodthirsty and disturbing in a way that puts other villains to shame. He was an orphan — just a gangsta, fearless kid who took over the City of God by robbing and killing whoever he had to. I think it was the untrained acting by the locals and kids [that makes it a classic], and the fact that the narrative occurs adjacent to the tropical tourist paradise that is Rio. It put the forgotten slums and the lives that exist there right in front you, and I think a lot of people never saw or cared about that reality. And maybe the actors had lines or scenarios to play out, but it didn’t feel inauthentic or exploitative, just like an empathetic capture of an untold story in the favelas.
“My uncle put me on with City of God during a smoke session I seen it first time last year in April. My favorite character has to be Lil Dice, he shares my reckless way of thinking and getting what I want … by any means. I think that’s what makes the movie a classic is them showing not only the come up but the downfall from more than one point of view.”
“City Of God was definitely a movie you can’t forget! It definitely puts a huge magnifying glass on drugs and violence that goes on everywhere not just in our own communities!”
“City of God is one of those classics that you HAVE to see! This movie is epic because its message stays with you. That’s what art, film and entertainment should do. It made you think; it made you conscious and aware of things going on outside the little bubbles we live in, but also how we are all really in search of the same things: love, survival, passion, power, money and loyalty. It’s so crazy how they brought so many life altering elements into one story! And the fact that they were so young is even crazier!”
“I love the film so much because the style is so fast paced and in your face. Every scene felt like an unforgettable moment in life, and the way that they captured the emotion and adrenaline in these moments through the cinematography was amazing.”
“A friend of mine had been talking about this wild movie with subtitles that was based in Brazil or something where there were “wild things that really happened in the the hood over there,” so naturally me and all the homies wanted to see it. I watched it on DVD. [My favorite character from the movie was] Benny, man! Dude was the perfect example of a D-Boy who woke up mentally and
was finally trying to get out of the life.
He had a chance to make it out of the ghetto and do good for real and he ended up getting killed in some mix up at a party. It’s the perfect example of what people in and around a life like that fear and it was extremely relatable. He was also just a fly, good hearted dude and everybody in his hood had love for him. He was the hood favorite. I know a lot of dudes in the hood that remind me of Benny. That movie is definitely a classic. It’s definitely up there in my top 3 and everybody should watch it or own the DVD. It captures the struggle and conflicts of coming up in poverty from that perspective of despair and how all these different people from different walks of life interact when their paths cross. Like I said, if you’re a person that’s familiar with poverty and unfortunately a life of drugs, gun violence and gang culture, you definitely can relate to all the characters in the movie in some way. Even if you ain’t familiar, it still makes you feel like it’s easy to understand their struggles. Ultimately the characters just wanted to make it out or be comfortable within all that madness in some way and the film
“Dope movie, I Think it’s real and says a lot about the slums. That’s how Life goes in the streets. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time”