Maranhão’s search for a son inspires a film with Dira Paes

“I liked the film because I am myself. It’s my story”, says Pureza Lopes Loyola, retired, 75 years old, when universe asks him about the feature film that bears his name, “Pureza”, with Dira Paes, directed by Renato Barbieri and whose premiere is scheduled for this Thursday (19). The inspiration is the saga of the Maranhão woman in search of her son, who ended up in a slavery-like labor farm in Pará in 1993.

Antônio Abel, his youngest son, left Maranhão to work in the garimpo of Pará. Without hearing from him for a month and not knowing if he had reached his destination safe and sound, Purity decided to go looking for him: he took only a bag, his Bible and a photo of Abel. The research lasted three years. “I would go five to six days without eating, dwarfed like an angry ox. But I would override the laws of Brazil and hell because of my son,” she says.

Along the way, he encountered many exploration situations in the countryside. He recorded what he had achieved and reported what he saw to the authorities, in a tireless fight until the creation of a government agency that would oversee forced labor situations.

Walking slowly and calmly, Pureza found the report in the lobby of a São Paulo hotel, amid a battery of events since the film’s premiere. In three days, she was present and applauded at film screenings in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. “I’m tired, can’t wait to get home,” she says, of her current trip across the country.

Dira Paes plays Purity in the feature film named after the character

Image: Disclosure

Pureza was born in Presidente Juscelino, a municipality in the metropolitan region of São Luís (MA), but moved to Bacabal, 240 km from the capital of Maranhão. She and her family made and sold bricks. He had five children. “There are three men and two women, raising them by working and fighting, giving them their daily bread,” she says that, even tired of the film’s launch tour, she is unable to speak, sometimes mixing up stories and topics.

“My life was hard, but I overcame everything that happened. My story is told even in Germany, I’m outside Brazil,” she says, who is evangelical and learned to read at 40 years to be able to understand what was going on. written in the Bible.

Purity saw and reported contemporary slave labor in Maranhão

While searching for her son, Purity went to farms and worked on some as a cook. Thus, living with laborers on a daily basis, he discovered an incentive system that used labor to clear areas of native forest, turning the land into pasture.

The recruited workers were housed in these farms without working conditions and guarantees and their documents were confiscated. They became dependent on their bosses for food, basic necessities like hygiene, and even the tools they used at work, like hoes. This dependence was reversed by debts greater than the salary they received, which kept them tied to the owner of the farm.

They were also physically and psychologically punished, according to Purity’s account. “I kept watching, my brain photographed everything. Me and God. There, I only asked that neither jaguar, nor snake, nor man kill me”, he says.

“Despair for my son, who was the youngest, dominated me. And when I saw what I saw in the farms, the despair increased by 100%. I remember Antônio, an old man , crying like a child because his mother didn’t know where he was, and he couldn’t get out of there. Everyone was in debt. They were beaten, shot. They spent night and day in the countryside, singing, as in the movie,” he says.

Dira Paes and Purity at film tapings - Disclosure - Disclosure

Dira Paes and Purity during film tapings

Image: Disclosure

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“I was the mother, aunt and sister of slaves.”

There were three years and two months of suffering, for the lost son and for the people he saw oppressed on the farms. “I was the slaves’ mother, aunt and sister,” she says. “He said he was going to put his mouth to the paperclip to see if anyone could help him.”

And he added: Pureza traveled to Brazil reporting the work similar to slavery in Maranhão and asking for help in finding her son. With the help of the CPT (Commissão Pastoral da Terra), she contacted the Ministry of Labor and the Public Ministry of Labor of Maranhão, Pará and Brasília. He even wrote letters to three Presidents of the Republic: Fernando Collor, Itamar Franco and Fernando Henrique Cardoso – only Itamar Franco replied.

“I went to Brasília to waste my time, I spent my money and I was too stressed, nobody did anything. I was going to sell the house because the money was no longer enough to pay for these trips”, says the retiree, who talks about the discredit that people had by listening to what she reported.

“To this day there are people who doubt things because they haven’t seen it and they haven’t been there,” he says. “But I never lost hope. This one reigned more than me: in my head, I had the impression of seeing my son near me. I did not give up.”

The mother located Abel while he was working in a mine in Mato Grosso and heard, over the radio, news of the mother’s search for his whereabouts.

The research favored the creation of a government agency

The Pureza struggle and reports provided impetus for the creation of the Special Mobile Slave Labor Suppression Group in 1995. The committee brought together labor inspectors, federal police, and labor prosecutors to monitor the violation of labor rights. work in the country. Between 1995 and 2021, Grupo Móvel freed more than 57,000 workers in slavery-like conditions.

In 1997 Purity received the Anti-Slavery International Award in London, the oldest active anti-slavery organization in the world.

Her story on the big screen, she says, can help raise awareness of the plight of workers, which she says persists. “The movie is going to be good for waking up the whole world. It’s going to be a ‘awakening‘ very large.”

Dira Paes as Purity Loyola in the film - Disclosure - Disclosure

Dira Paes as Purity Loyola in the film

Image: Disclosure

“I saw everything I saw. And I suffered. More than I was told, I saw what was happening,” Pureza says.

Filmed in 2019, the work had its premiere postponed due to the pandemic and is now entering the national circuit. But it has already won 28 national and international awards, including Best Panama Canal Film. international Film Festival and at the Grand muddy United States Film Festival. In Purity, actress Dira Paes also won Best Actress at the Seattle Latino Film Festival, also in the United States, and in Salento international Film festival in Italy.

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