Wagner Moura Is Expecting Hatred from the Right and Criticism from the Left for His Film Marighella

Debuting as a director, Wagner Moura is making a R$ 10 million action film about this guerilla

Seu Jorge, who plays the title character and director Wagner Moura on the set of Marighella – Ariela Bueno/Promotional Photo

A few days ago, Wagner Moura tells us, the production crew for Marighella received a tip off. They found out on the social networks that a group was threatening to invade the set of the feature film that he’s directing about the most famous guerilla to fight against the military dictatorship.

“But what happened was beautiful,” says the first-time director. “Fifteen youths from an anti-fascist group came to protect us. This was the worst and the best moment of making a film about Marighella.”

In such a polarized situation, an undeniable tension permeates the production, and Wagner Moura doesn’t hide the fact that this film “takes sides.” “I wanted to release this film before the election, but it won’t be ready in time.”

Folha accompanied filming on Sunday, January 28 on a blocked off street near 25 de Março in São Paulo.

Filled with VW Kombis and Bugs, they were filming a chase scene that they’d been rehearsing the entire night. Two militants abandon their hideout and trade gunshots with the police. The sound of the gunfire is loud. The cameraman runs after them, with his equipment in his hand, in a scene that recalls the shaky chases of Elite Squad.

Played by Seu Jorge, Marighella appears and points a revolver at an unwary driver. The director gives the actor his instructions. “You have to put pressure on this driver.” Moura raises his voice to show the tone he’s looking for: “Stop the car and turn around shooting at the police bang, bang, bang.”

The scene makes it clear that this is an action film. “That’s because I want to make a film that will popularize his story as an example of resistance, especially for young black men,” states the director.

This is why Moura says he even chose a “blacker” actor than this man really was. The real man was the son of a mother from Bahia who was a descendant of slaves and an Italian blacksmith. “But to me, he was a black hero.”


This is one of the R$ 10 million production licenses allocated to O2 Filmes, co-founded by Fernando Meirelles.

“I’m preparing to be hated by the right and criticized by the left.” He says he’s found inspiration in José Padilha, whom he worked with on Elite Squad, to make “cinema that’s popular but potent with powerful language.”

Situated someplace between the hagiography of the left and the demonization of the right, the Bahian guerilla Carlos Marighella lived a life that could be made into several films.

He led strikes, was detained for writing political poems, lived through successive bans of the Brazilian Communist Party, was shot by the police in a cinema full of children, and founded an urban guerilla group called ALN (National Liberating Action), which participated in the kidnapping of the American Ambassador Charles Elbrick in exchange for the freeing of political prisoners.

He also sent letters to Fidel, wrote a guerilla manual that inspired the Black Panthers, and became the subject of a song by Caetano Veloso.

His death in 1969 in an operation commanded by Inspector Sergio Paranhos Fleury was one of the events that marked the end of the urban guerilla movement. The locale where he was gunned down on Alameda Casa Branca in São Paulo is now marked by a stone on a sidewalk surrounded by luxury buildings.

Of the more than 700 pages of the biographical tome of written by journalist Mario Margalhães, which was one of the sources for the screenplay, the director decided to focus on the last five years of his life.

“It’s the best part in terms of illustrating the theme of sacrifice,” believes Moura, who’s been working on this project since 2012. Since then, we’ve gone through an impeachment and he says that “Brazil has changed for the worse.” The theme of resistance has been added to the theme of sacrifice.


In the same week that Moura was shooting scenes of his biographical film of the guerilla who wrote the manifesto Por que Resisti a Prisão (Why I Resisted Prison), the sentence against Lula was confirmed on appeal. He says that he’s “shocked” by the parallels between the two periods.

“I’ve always thought the blind defense of PT was silly, but denying Lula the right to be a candidate amounts to a continuation of the coup,” states the actor and director, who defines himself as being “on the left” of the ex-President and “the conciliatory politics that got him elected and led to his downfall.”

Moura hopes that Lula will be a candidate in the election, but doesn’t want to vote for him, unless “it’s during the second round and he’s against someone who supported the coup.” “The left has to reinvent itself and present a new project.”

Last year Moura participated in demonstrations for direct elections, signed the Brazil Nation manifesto against the “dismantling of the country,” participated in the campaign for the Audiovisual Law and, in a video produced by the MTST (Homeless Workers’ Movement), calling the Social Security reform a “project that only interests the owners of money.”

On its news website, the MBL (Free Brazil Movement) has a “Desist Wagner Moura” campaign and calls it a “scandal” that his film about the “terrorist Marighella” has been authorized to receive R$ 10 million by the audiovisual incentive law.

“The first attacks are always against artists because our material is politics,” responds Moura.

Art and politics are deeply interwoven in this work. Except for Marighella, the names of the other militant characters in this film are those of the actors who play them. “They want to sign their names under what we’re doing. It’s an engaged group. There are no right-wingers here.”

Political stances apart, Moura hopes that the result will be a work that goes beyond the dichotomy of artistic and commercial success. “I’ve never been a fan of the idea of artists as special people whose works few people understand. I think that’s decadent.”