(Watch the documentary for free and with subtitles at: Porta Curtas)
On October 17, 2008, after being held hostage for four days in her own apartment, Eloá Cristina Pimentel was shot in the head and groin by her former boyfriend and kidnapper, Lindemberg Fernandes Alves. On October 18th, she was declared brain dead. The documentary “Who Killed Eloá”, a twenty-four minute short, deals mainly with two issues: the ethics of the press coverage of the hostage situation and how the media generally treats women in situations of domestic violence.
The documentary explores these two questions with an impressive depth. The strength of the film is really the question of ethics. The documentary consists of numerous clips of reporters, police and Lindemberg during the hostage situation (Lindemberg was in constant contact with the media). In a creative way, the journalistic audiovisual of 2008 is interspersed with comments from feminists, activists and lawyers in 2015. The comments of the experts—on issues of class, about the description of men who practice this type of crime, on the use of the phrase “crime of passion”—stimulate viewers to reflect on how the media sees femicide and, by extension, how society understands the subject.
In several recent interviews the director has been asked if things have changed between 2008 and today. It is a difficult question to answer.
In 2008, the law ‘Maria da Penha’ had existed for two years (named after an incredible woman), twitter and facebook did not have half the users they have today and Instagram did not exist. Without a doubt collective consciousness about rape culture, the various forms of domestic violence, media manipulation, and the impact of race and class on Brazilian women is greater today because of the law and social media.
So…could what happen to Eloá in 2008 happen today?
The constant and invasive coverage of traditional media may not occur today (one television channel was sued as a result of their coverage), though social media would probably provide equal means for exposure. What is certain is that the reality of domestic violence remains as strong today as it was in 2008, particularly for Afro-Brazilian women. And the way intimate partner violence is interpreted remains similar. At the time of the kidnapping, Lindemberg (the kidnapper and killer) said (in a live broadcast) “Eloá won’t cooperate, dude. If she is going through this, she deserves it. If she is going through this, she wanted it this way.” Eight years later and a significant number of Brazilians continue to blame women for the violence they suffer.
With great respect, I have two criticisms of the documentary.
1) Lack of context. I didn’t live in Brazil in 2008. Watching the documentary, I didn’t understand exactly what had happened: who was in the apartment with Eloá, how was contact with the media made, what happened to Lindemberg? I googled these questions and found out that after the failed rescue attempt by police, during which Lindemberg shot Eloá and her friend, he was sentenced to ninety-eight years in prison, in 2012, and a year later his sentence was reduced to thirty-nine years. I think that two brief summaries, at the beginning and end of the film, would have easily resolved this issue. Also, I don’t understand why the experts were not identified. It took me a while to understand who they were.
2) A significant omission. The documentary is twenty-four minutes. It’s amazing what is covered in such a short time. However, at no point is the age difference between Eloá and her killer addressed. Eloá started dating Lindemberg when she was twelve. He was nineteen. This was a fact that society used to blame her mother, and was mentioned in reporting of the case in an article posted on UOL, “Responding to criticism that she has her share of blame in the death of her daughter Eloá, by letting the 12 year old get involved with Lindemberg, then 19, Ana Cristina Pimentel (the mother) said it is difficult to deal with teenagers.”
For me, as a woman who grew up in the US, a twelve year old dating a nineteen year old is shocking. It’s unfair to blame an individual mother because it truly seems to be more of a cultural phenomenon (as it is in many parts of the world). I personally know two examples: my neighbor was thirteen, turning fourteen, when she started dating a thirty-seven year old married man. The son of an acquaintance started dating his now-wife when she was thirteen and he was nineteen. Regardless of the cultural element, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) identifies “young age” as a possible risk factor for intimate partner violence. There is no way to ignore that some men choose younger women to facilitate their attempts at domination.
Overall, the documentary is excellent and discusses femicide in a country (Brazil) where thirteen women die a day because they are women.
Everyone should watch and consider how the media treats women who suffer domestic violence and how we label and understand this issue.
It is the least we can do in memory of Eloá and all the many other Eloás who have lost their lives.