Filmmaker Tata Amaral named her musical drama Antônia in honor of her storytelling great-grandfather, but it makes me think of the
two Antonias I already admire and adore: Willa Cather‘s
and the matriarch of Dutch film Antonia’s Line.
If the four women at the center of the new Brazilian film possess the same strength as their real and fictional forebears, they’ll do more than just survive —
but survival comes first, and their fight for it is the subject of Antônia. The film is currently playing in New York, Newark and Los Angeles, with dates planned
in additional cities soon.
As if positive name associations and a movie poster describing women on stage as glorious warriors aren’t enough, the film is earning generally
for its realistic depiction of the musical and personal challenges faced by São Paulo residents and aspiring rap artists Preta, Lena, Barbarah and Mayah
(Negra Li, Cindy, Leilah Moreno and Quelynah respectively). All four stars are actual rap, hip-hop
and pop musicians rather than professional actors; they wrote some of the music in the film and still perform together. It’s no wonder they’re each so natural with a mic.
The story follows the women as they push their way out from behind their male counterparts to form an all-female rap group, the titular Antônia.
But as they get more gigs and more success, they get more drama; they’re quickly separated by pregnancy, violence, poverty, jealous partners and jealous friends.
All could go in a soapy direction, but the trailer looks right gritty (and gorgeous), with music to match:
In interviews, Amaral explains that the film is the third in her trilogy about
the phases of a woman’s life. While earlier award-winners Through the Window and A Sky of Stars focus on maturity and death, Antônia
focuses on the beginning of life. I have little doubt it’s due to Amaral’s involvement as director and co-writer that the film also foregrounds friendship between women
while romantic entanglements sing back-up (and these are real BBFs, not sidekicks).
I can recall another recent film with a focus on “friendz,” but I’m betting that the mood of
Antônia is rather different than that of a well-lit shopping strip.
Yeah, like, whatever. No comparison. I know who I’d want to hang out with in a minute.
While I also know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or a woman by her glasses), Amaral seems like another person I’d like to meet:
(No, she’s not a prodigy; the little one, Nathalye Cris, plays Preta’s daughter Emilia. She’s too young to be a poor judge of character, right?)
I hope that the director is smiling just as broadly now. The feature took years of research and preparation to make (mapped out by a preceding short film, documentary and
television program), but it’d be hard to hear words like these and keep a straight face:
The beauty of Antônia is its down-to-earth nature. These women are not super-heroines. [...] Amaral spent three years researching the
project and the authenticity cries out from every frame.
[Antônia] explores cultural and sexual oppression with sensitivity and verve. The story may lack complexity, but it is loaded with irrepressible energy and a deep appreciation
of female friendship. And that’s always something to sing about.
The power of female friendship in all its complexity is given fierce, fresh life here. Nothing is pat, and the film presents the reality of these women’s
lives with unvarnished honesty and passion, not to mention some kick-ass music.
Listen to clips from two songs on the film’s site, and go see it if you can (tell us how it is, too!).
I’ll be lining up for tickets as soon as it makes it here — and if it never does, Netflix will come through. They’re
due to distribute a DVD version come December.