‘Brazilian Holocaust’: Documentary arrives on Netflix and shows brutal life in the largest asylum in the country

‘Brazilian Holocaust’: Documentary arrives on Netflix and shows brutal life in the largest asylum in the country
‘Brazilian Holocaust’: Documentary arrives on Netflix and shows brutal life in the largest asylum in the country

The documentary Brazilian Holocaustan impactful work that highlights one of the most tragic and dark chapters in the history of Brazil in the context of human rights, premiered on Netflix this Sunday, 25th. Based on the book of the same name by Daniela Arbexpublished by Intrínseca, the film offers a detailed look at the inhumane conditions that patients at the Barbacena Psychiatric Hospital Centerknown as Colognewere submitted, This place, in the decades from 1960 to 1980, was the scene of more than 60 thousand deaths, highlighting a period of extreme negligence and cruelty.

Scene from Brazilian Holocaust, Netflix documentary Photograph: Video Playback/Netfix

The documentary reveals the stories of people marginalized and stigmatized by society, including homosexuals, prostitutes, single mothers and victims of abuse, many of whom were sent to Colônia without an accurate psychiatric diagnosis. These individuals were subjected to torture and brutal treatments, such as force-feeding rats, drinking sewage water, exposure to cold, as well as electroshock sessions, all under the connivance of the state and society at the time.

Brazilian Holocaust, by Daniela Arbex Photograph: Intrinsic/ Disclosure

Directed by Daniela Arbex and Armando Mendz and originally released in 2016, Brazilian Holocaust, rated for over 16s, delves into the hidden stories of Hospital Colônia de Barbacena, lasting 90 minutes. The film exposes the inhumane conditions faced by survivors, former employees, researchers and family members, revealing truths hidden for more than five decades.

In conversation with the EstadãoDaniela Arbex, author and co-director of the documentary Brazilian Holocaust, offers a detailed view of the work’s creation process. She reports on the challenges of sensitively bringing to light these events marked by profound atrocities and reflects on the continued relevance of the topic covered by the documentary in current debates on mental health and human rights.

The research process for ‘Brazilian Holocaust’ required delving into deeply emotional and traumatic stories. Could you share with us a moment or discovery during your research that was particularly impactful for you or that changed your perspective on the topic covered in the documentary?

O Brazilian Holocaust “was born” for me when I had access to the photos taken by the magazine’s former photographer The Cruise, Luiz Alfredo, inside the Colônia hospital in 1960. I had access to these images in 2010, 50 years after they were taken. I was struck by those photos, because in none of them I could see the hospital. They sent me to a concentration camp.

From that contact with Luiz Alfredo’s work, I wanted to find the people he photographed 50 years earlier. The great difficulty was the uncertainty about the chance of finding survivors. In this case, the probability was even lower, as they were people who were raped and institutionalized for their entire lives. The process of investigating the whereabouts of these survivors required extensive research. I went to countless addresses, knocked on many wrong doors. But when I found the first survivor photographed by Luiz Alfredo I didn’t stop. Initially, I located 20 people. I later found 160 remnants from that period. The location of each one was one of the most impactful moments of my career.

When dealing with such a complex and sensitive topic, what were the main challenges you faced in balancing fidelity to real stories with the need to create an understandable and engaging narrative for the documentary’s audience?

As incredible as it may seem, the biggest challenge was not finding the survivors. It was getting hospital employees and former employees – witnesses to this story – to talk about what they saw. They felt trapped in the face of work that would bring to light a reality made invisible by oblivion. They were difficult conversations. But I prepared for them all. I was there to listen to them and not to judge them. When they understood this, they ended up revealing atrocities that occurred in that place with the connivance of the state and a society whose hygienist culture contributed to the existence and maintenance of a space that was not destined to treat and care, but to exclude socially undesirable people.

Daniela Arbex wrote a book and co-directs the documentary ‘Brazilian Holocaust’. Photo: Leo Aversa Photograph: LEO AVERSA

Considering the current context of mental health and human rights, what is the relevance of bringing to light the history of the Barbacena Psychiatric Hospital Center? How do you believe that the awareness generated by the documentary can contribute to current discussions about the treatment and perception of mental health in Brazil and around the world?

The documentary has never been more current, because racism is still the basis of Brazilian asylum logic and mental health remains under dispute in the country. In the last decade there have been numerous setbacks in this area, with a permanent threat of a counter-reform of mental health policy, based on ideologized discourses aimed at the return of asylum practices.

Today, when we talk about issues related to this issue, such as the harmful use of alcohol and other drugs, the entire discussion on this topic continues to be focused on a perspective of prohibitionism and the war against drugs, especially the return of compulsory hospitalizations that gained strength with the increase in beds in religious therapeutic communities that are financed by the public authorities. Brazil jumped from two thousand beds to 10 thousand beds in recent years. These beds are also being used for the compulsory hospitalization of the LGBTQIA+ population, with a focus on gay healing.

The fact is that the search for control over bodies and subjectivities considered deviant is recurrent in history. Since the ancient world, social undesirables, including the so-called insane, have been segregated, raped, and condemned to live in invisibility under the justification that these people represented the refusal of civilization, as British sociologist Andrew Scull pointed out in his book on the madness in civilization. But care in freedom is a non-negotiable right. And the book and the documentary Brazilian Holocaust It’s there to remind us of that.

The article is in Portuguese

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