Netflix Chronicles Brazilian Lesbian Couple’s Long-Term Relationship
Originally published on GayCityNews.com.
The Netflix documentary series “My Love: Six Stories of True Love,” released in mid-April, is a case study on long-term romantic relationships. The year-in-a-life account quietly explores the varied societal, communal and emotional experiences of its protagonists.
Over the course of six hour-long episodes, the limited series chronicles the enduring and, at times, imperfect love experienced by six unique elderly couples from different nations. Among the pairs is a lesbian couple hailing from Brazil, where discrimination and violence against the queer community are persistent despite same-sex marriage rights and a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that established anti-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
The “Meu Amor Brazil” episode, directed by Carolina Sá, opens to raining fireworks and a boisterous countdown to the New Year. As colorful sparks and crackling flashes illuminate the skyline, two smiling Afro-Brazilian women, Nicinha and Jurema, share a kiss. Following the proclamation of “Happy New Year” and cheerful dancing, viewers are taken on a tour of the women’s lives.
Jurema and Nicinha live in Favela de Rocinha. which is built on a steep hillside overlooking Rio de Janeiro and boasts stunning ocean and mountain views. Rocinha is one of the most populous and developed slums in Brazil.
The women share a furnished, storied shanty, surrounded by an abundance of children and grandchildren. The two met at a party decades ago when Jurema was 20 and Nicinha was 14: Nicinha had gotten into a fight, so Jurema invited her home to care for her four children.
“I thought that was interesting,” Jurema recalled. “I said, ‘How could this young girl fiercely take on so many people?’” The two have been together ever since, and after 43 years together, they still touch, caress, and playfully tease.
On the morning of Jurema’s birthday, Nicinha prepares a large lunch for her, Jurema’s children, and her own children. Michelle, Nicinha’s eldest, also bakes a cake for Jurema with”6" a “5″ balanced atop. The whole family joyfully sings and celebrates Jurema, who they all adoringly call Grandma.
In a quick statement, viewers learn that all isn’t perfect in their world. Jurema explains Nicinha would get pregnant each time the couple got into a fight.
“I’d leave, I’d say, I’m going to the samba,” said Nicinha. “It was a lie. I was making out with men. I left and came back home pregnant.”
Somehow able to overlook past indiscretions, the two women labor for one another. Nicinha spends her days working as a maid and Jurema takes care of the children. They accompany one another to important doctor appointments and they feed and tend to one another. Importantly, they’re able to save enough money to purchase land in Guando, a countryside village three hours ride from their home, where they retire. Though the home on the property is in ruins and the home walls are crumbling, there is peace, quiet, and possibility. There’s also fresh fruit that’s ripe for the picking.
As the episode progresses, viewers learn that Jurema is diabetic and in need of eye surgery. It’s revealed that the two women are also practitioners of the Umbanda religion, whereby on Fridays, they hold spiritual rituals in the spiritual center of their home. Also, Michelle graduates from college, which is a tremendous point of pride for everyone, particularly matriarch Jurema.
“I’ve always been proud of Michelle,” Jurema says. “She was the first person to tell me, ‘Grandma, all the things no one was able to do to make you happy, I’ll get them done. I’ll get christened. I’ll finish school. And there’s more grandma: I’m going to college.’ And she accomplished it all, living in a favela.”
Happiness is compounded by the fact that Jurema and Nicinha’s retirement home in Guando nears completion, even if they don’t have enough for materials and labor.
“I always told J that dreams are built little by little, one step at a time,” said Nicinha. “Our house in Rocinha, we built it ourselves. And now we’re building this other house, where we want to grow old. Right here, in this house, on this land.” At another point, Nicinha thankfully glances around her unfinished future home, stating, “Oh my god, my house is so big. I’m in awe of this house.”
Jurema, who grew up in Rocinha, saw its transformation during her lifetime. She saw parts of the area morph; fields of banana and orange trees turned into rows of shacks. Another apparent change in the Rocinha area is the rise of drug-related violence and police killings. During one scene, the camera lingers over a plaque that says, “In memory of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who disappeared on 7/14/2013.” The plaque also notes he was taken into custody by police, who killed him. Michelle stands beside Souza in the photo that’s shown.
Souza was just of one of many individuals murdered by police in Brazil’s favelas, and the numbers have continued to climb. According to the Public Security Institute, from January through November 2018, alone, police killed 1,444 people in the state of Rio de Janeiro — a 39 percent jump from the same period the year before. By 2019, 1,814 people were killed by police, and during the first months of 2020, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro recorded upticks in the number of killings by Brazilian police. A story published in O Globo noted that police in the state of São Paulo killed 381 people between January and April of 2020 — a 30 percent increase when compared to the previous year. During the last nine months, the police have been responsible for killing nearly 800 people during unlawful favela raids, according to Federal Fluminense University.
Brazilian police officially are only allowed to use lethal force to address an imminent threat, so officers regularly claim self-defense when executing residents. However, Human Rights Watch and other groups have found that many killings amount to illegal executions.
The police violence in Brazil may hit close to home for Black and brown Americans who indiscriminately experience human rights violations. Even the successful prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who murdered 46-year-old George Floyd, was bittersweet. At least six people were fatally shot by officers across the United States in the 24 hours after jurors reached a verdict, including 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant.
Despite police abuse being a blight on Brazil, Jurema and Nicinha still find moments to revel in their love. The two pay a visit to the ocean near their home in Rocinha and wander down memory lane. They discuss their wedding at the Jordan River, jumping over the fire and vowing to be together until death. They also recall their visit to Nicinha’s mother’s home in Campo Grande. At the time, the couple hadn’t publicly admitted the nature of their relationship. Still, at bedtime, Nicinha’s mother, who knew the two women were lovers, insisted she was no fool and offered them her bed.
In the final moments of the episode, viewers once again get to see Jurema and Nicinha ring in the New Year with their family on the roof of their Rocinha home. Jurema says, “Bring it on, 2020.” Cut to the women in their Guando home, which is complete and furnished. The two are shown eating fruit pulled from their tree, moving about the yard, feeding chickens, and resting on one another.
“Nicinha and I looked for a place where we can live peacefully until death do us part,” said Jurema. “At one point, I thought about life without her. By now, we’ve had many, many reasons to live apart. But we can’t. She can’t live without me, and I can’t live without her. Nicinha is the love of my life. She’s everything to me.”