The satirists at Porta dos Fundos faced backlash for their recent Netflix Christmas special titled The First Temptation of Christ. The film depicts Jesus’ returning home from fasting in the desert with his new friend, who, though it’s never confirmed, is implied to be homosexual. The writers knew they were dealing with a controversial topic but pressed on once the courts ruled against censorship. On Wednesday, Rio de Janeiro judge Benedicto Abicair demanded that Netflix remove the film, per the AP, for the “honor of millions of Catholics,’’ despite this clearance. A petition for the film’s removal garnered a whopping 1.8 million signatures as Brazilian members of the Catholic Church were appalled at Christ being associated with homosexuality.
“We strongly support artistic expression and we’ll be fighting to defend this important principle, which goes to the heart of great storytelling,” Netflix told THR in a statement. The streamer appealed to Brazil’s Supreme Court Thursday in an effort to fight the injunction against their showing the special.
A group of hooded extremists took particular issue with Porta dos Fundos’ actions and pelted the comedy troupe’s office with molotov cocktails on Christmas Eve, sending a violent message that there is no place for blasphemy in a country with more than three quarters of the population identifying as Roman Catholic. Fortunately, no one was injured, but at least one suspect remains at large.
Lead actor Fabio Porchat spoke with Variety about the controversy, expressing surprise at the backlash from “insinuated” homosexuality, as neither characters’ sexuality is ever confirmed.
The public has always protested media outlets for offensive depictions that are egregious to some. The people have a voice, and the right to use that voice to object to obstruction of their personal freedoms. Objectively, The First Temptation of Christ did not depict any violations of human rights and, technically, did not commit to the blasphemy that enraged the public. Such a violent reaction to an incomplete depiction of homosexuality seems disproportionate in the States, but in more religious countries, artists face a much more complex task when pushing boundaries and challenging traditional ideals.
Brazilian artists and lawmakers have the final say as to whether The First Temptation of Christ is vehemently offensive in their cultural setting, but it is crucial that we pay attention to censorship in the arts and how it shapes representation.
You can watch the 46-minute Netflix special that sparked violent controversy here and interpret it however you like.