Student Feature: Zakiya Cowan reviews “City of God”

Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s 2002 film, City of God, is a vortex that swallows the audience into its cyclic narrative that emphasizes the dangers of toxic masculinity and consequences of the notion “being a man.” As observed in the film, a twisted perspective of manhood can be a bullet that passes through one generation to the next, destined to extinguish them all.

City of God

Meirelles and Lund’s film is a stunning execution of a labyrinth-like storyline in which the audience delves into the lives of multiple characters. Then, through cinematic moves such as foreshadowing and flashbacks, seamlessly intertwines these plots that become a metaphorical domino effect. As the film progresses, and gradually strips down the plot, we observe how the actions of one character cause a steady disruption in the lives of everyone else. From the jarring, handheld camera scenes, to the drastic shifts in color gradients from deep, saturated blues, to honeyed yellows, the audience experiences the chaotic and disruptive life of the film’s gang members.  Similarly, to the characters in the story, the audience is overtaken by this whirlpool narrative, trapped in “the slum [that had] been a purgatory.” But, “now it’s hell.”

Throughout City of God, there is a theme of possession and an obsession with power, even at the expense of others. Young boys in the film admire their elders and develop a seething hunger to be “hood” and join this world of deceit, danger, and money; resulting in the tragic downfall of some young men as they endure this conquest to manhood and success. Along the way, women are slain, stripped of their bodily agency, and objectified, left at the disposal of men. Simultaneously, drugs and drug spots are overtaken in an endless battle to be “top dog.” City of God manifests itself into a condemnation of conditioning young men to think that in order to “be a man,” they have to achieve that title by all means necessary. City of God is a violent, brutal attestation to the detrimental aftermath that ensues when boys live in a society where drugs, money, and power equate to the value of one’s self-image.



Zakiya Cowan

A native of Chicago’s West Side, Zakiya Cowan is a senior at Lewis University majoring in Creative & Professional Writing, and minoring in Spanish Language & Culture. She is Managing Editor for Lewis’ internationally-recognized literary journal, Jet Fuel Review, works as a tutor for the University’s Writing Center, and is a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Incorporated. Outside of her academics, she enjoys experimenting with various forms of poetry, reading texts dealing with politics and social sciences, and listening to R&B.


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