SAO PAULO – The Academy Award nomination for a Brazilian documentary about the impeachment of then-President Dilma Rousseff has laid bare the polarization of Latin America's largest democracy.
In “The Edge of Democracy," 36-year-old filmmaker Petra Costa uses her personal story to argue that Brazil's democracy is at risk after the abrupt end to governments led by the leftist Workers' Party between 2003 and 2016.
Leftists argue the accusation of fiscal manipulation of the budget against Rousseff is not a crime and not an impeachable offense. Right-wingers insist that is the case, and some of them argue there were enough problems in Rousseff's administration to do away with it anyway.
With Rousseff's removal in 2016, her conservative vice president, Michel Temer, assumed power and in 2018, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro defeated the Workers' Party candidate to win the presidency.
Leftist politicians said the nomination validates their interpretation of Rousseff's impeachment as a soft coup, as Costa suggests. Brazil's congress had also impeached President Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992 due to corruption charges, but that process was much less divisive.
“The story of the 2016 coup that removed me from the presidency through a fraudulent impeachment has taken the world,” Rousseff said in a statement.
“The movie shows how my removal from power - and the venal media and Brazilian political and economic elites charged against democracy in this country - resulted in the rise of a far-right candidate in 2018.”
Rousseff's mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who recently was released from jail pending appeal of his corruption conviction, praised Costa on Twitter for “the seriousness in which she narrated this important time of our history."
“Truth will prevail,” he wrote.
Conservatives fired back, slamming the film's veracity and insisting Brazil's first female president deserved to be ousted for manipulating budget figures. During her impeachment trials, Rousseff's popularity rating was in the single digits and her administration was largely blamed for the country's economic crisis after a decade of gains.
“Congratulations to filmmaker Petra Costa on her nomination for best fiction and fantasy," the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, which was instrumental in Rousseff's impeachment process, said on Twitter.
Roberto Alvim, Bolsonaro's secretary of culture, also said Costa's documentary amounts to fiction and told local newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that its recognition by Hollywood proves the culture wars are being waged internationally.
Brazil's president, who has criticized artists and the country's movie industry since his days as a lawmaker, has not made any comments about the nomination so far.
Costa, for her part, said on her social media channels that the documentary was urgent “in a time where the far right is spreading like an epidemic.”
The other films nominated for best documentary are “American Factory,” “The Cave,” “For Sama” and “Honeyland.” The winning film will be announced at a Feb. 9 ceremony in Los Angeles.