Monday Movie: Madame Sata, by David Bax

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Have you ever heard a fascinating true story from recent or distant history and thought, “How is there not a movie about that?” If you’ve ever heard tell of the twentieth century Brazilian folk hero known as Madame Satã, you may have had that exact reaction. But wait! This time, there is a movie! Madame Satã (real name: João Francisco dos Santos) was a gangster, murderer, capoeirista and celebrated drag performer in 1930s Rio de Janeiro who, as the gay son of former slaves, became a figure around whom Brazil’s marginalized classes and outcasts could rally. Madame Satã is a 2002 film by Karim Aïnouz in which Santos is portrayed by Lázaro Ramos, who plays the near-mythical man with such white hot urgency you might start to wonder if the police aren’t on his tail in real life as well. Aïnouz is not here to glorify the man – in fact, he comes off as something of an implacable monster much of the time – but to depict his singular presence in the world, one that was too potent to have been lived any other way.

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