Lázaro Ramos Imagines A Dark Dystopia In ‘Executive Order’ – Review
The phrase, “go back to where you came from” is unsettling. It is a loaded phrase that is packed with so much hatred, racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Now, imagine if a government that operates on stolen land and built by stolen bodies put out an executive order to deport the descendants of slaves, specifically Black people, back to Africa.
In Lázaro Ramos’ dystopian thriller set in the near future in Brazil, an authoritarian government responds to calls for reparations and equality from its Black citizens by ordering all citizens of African descent to move to Africa. This understandably causes chaos, confusion, protests, and underground resistance. As a Black person, the film is distressing to watch because the ideas Ramos toys with here are not out of the realm of possibility. Sure, a mass exodus of citizens is a rather shocking event, but with how most developed nations dealing with immigration and the refugee crisis, amongst other issues as it pertains to equality and human rights, the sentiment “go back to where you came from” is one that is shared by many many nations.
Today, the Dominican Republic is stripping Haitian immigrants of their birthright citizenship, many being rendered stateless and are facing race-based violence and discrimination in a place that has been their home for generations. The US has a long and sorted history with ICE decimating immigrant communities with mass deportations. The list can go on and on. Brazil’s racial issues are not new or surprising, so Ramos’ vision isn’t entirely far-removed from reality.
The film is a composition of a few dystopian films we’ve seen in the past, however, it is grounded by a more recognizable timeframe. This is set in the near future with the only major technical advancements seem to be computers and phones. There are no flying cars or hoverboards just yet. The film also slowly builds out just how intrusive and effective the authoritarian government is, by pulling away from behind the curtain and solely focusing on the citizens. There are no cult-like rituals in the government, they just seem to be a ton of people who made voting decisions based on racism and greed.
Alfred Enoch, Seu Jorge, and Taís Araujo comprise the core ensemble who we follow for most of the film. Enoch was cast based on his ability to portray a type of heroism and idealism that would fit the mold of a young idealistic lawyer seeking change in the country he loves but does not love him back. Seu Jorge has the more boisterous of roles as he balances excellent comedic timing with a deftness needed to convey the seriousness of being Black in Brazil. Araujo rounds out the trio with a calming and visceral performance as a Black woman trying to rise above the dangerous and precarious situation she is in. All three are stellar in their respective roles, and each presents a specific facet of Blackness that explores the plethora of horrors we face.
Enoch, in his first lead role in a feature film, exudes leading man energy. He is a star through and through and it is difficult to understand how it took so long for him to get his first leading feature role. Ramos clearly sees the qualities Enoch possessed as an actor to lead a film with such a heavy subject matter. Enoch does so much with just a look and at the times where he is meant to express so much as he shouts for freedom, he shows that he has an exceptional range and deep understanding of the character he plays. Jorge’s character is often a fun reprieve from what we are watching, although that is not to say that there is no depth. Jorge is very much the beating heart of the film as he so beautifully exemplifies the bold defiance to racism and the resilience to forge ahead that is so deeply embedded in our blood. Finally, Araujo perhaps has the most grueling of tasks in the film as she not only carries the narrative of a besieged Black person, but also all that comes with being a Black woman. Araujo has a quiet and impassioned presence that almost catches you off-guard but is all the more mesmerizing to watch. Although I am unfamiliar with the latter two actors, I can say with my whole chest that these two have more charisma, talent, and abilities than most in Hollywood will ever have.
While the film is dealing with such a difficult and triggering topic as the mass deportation of Black people to Africa, it is handled with careful consideration. Ramos has the presence of mind to not set his film in an unrecognizable future, but instead is informed by the very dystopian moment we are in right now. Executive Order is not necessary viewing for Black people, in the sense that the trauma and message depicted in the film are not new for us or something that we learn from. Rather the film does emphasize the resilience and comradery we have in times of struggle. It is necessary to watch this as it is created by a Black creative who has talent in both creating a narrative and executing it on film. Ramos is certainly a talented individual as the film is able to balance so much and remain entertaining and engaging throughout.
The film is in many ways a clear and decisive warning to non-Black individuals. Other than the horrific executive order at the center of the film, the clear villains are the complicity of the non-Black Brazilian people who allow for their neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, and more to be marginalized, hated, discriminated, and worse, killed. It is in their inactions and compliance to the status quo that allows for Black people to be the subject of such inhumane treatment. If this film doesn’t flare up some empathy or intense discomfort, then you have a lot of work to do on yourself.