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A film still from ‘Pixadores’ (Image courtesy of Amir Arsames Escandari)

Four Brazilian graffiti artists who initiated a protest against police brutality in São Paulo last August are the subjects of a new documentary. Pixadores tells the story of Djan, William, Biscoito, and Ricardo, four young men from the Sabao favela who are passionate about pixação, a controversial form of street art that first emerged in Brazil’s business capital in the 1980s.

The black-and-white film portrays pixadores as rebels reacting against poverty and marginalization by engaging in artistic dissent, using paint to confront a society that’s mostly annoyed by their exploits. Scaling high-rises and surfing trains, they risk their lives to leave their marks up high. When the group is invited to the Berlin Biennale, they are forced to navigate troubling waters in an outside world that challenges their ideals of protest. The movie is the directorial debut of Iranian filmmaker Amir Arsames Escandari, who hopes it will foster understanding about a sidelined sector of society.

“It would be too easy to portray [the pixadores] as people alienated from society or only as criminals, as is the norm in the Brazilian media,” Escandari explains on the film’s website. “I saw much more in them. I saw brothers, fathers and sons, people who don’t consider themselves artists, yet who are always ready to sacrifice their lives for their paintings.”

A film still from ‘Pixadores’ (Image courtesy of Amir Arsames Escandari)

Though Escandari’s film isn’t the first about pixação — the 2009 documentary Pixo chronicled the movement in a grittier way — it comes in the wake of a tragedy that brought the subculture into the national spotlight.

On July 31, 2014, two taggers — Alex Dalla Vecchia Costa and Ailton dos Santos — were killed by police after they entered a residential building to spray paint. The duo had climbed to the 19th floor, where a janitor noticed them and called the cops. When the officers arrived, they shot the two artists. The authorities later claimed the men were armed robbers, though they provided no proof. Friends of the taggers expressed concerns about the official version of events, offering evidence to the contrary — most notably, that a friend had received a text message from one of them announcing his plans to spray paint that night.

Following a protest led by the pixadores of Escandari’s documentary, the military police arrested the four officers involved in the case. They were released just three weeks later. In the last five years, Brazilian police officers have killed 11,197 people — more than all their US counterparts have in the past 30 years combined. It remains to be seen whether the film will draw attention to the case.

To find upcoming screenings of Pixadores check the film’s Facebook page.

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...