Early this afternoon, police agents deployed by Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor, Marcello Crivella, arrived at the Bienal do Livro to identify, mark and cover up any book for sale that might contain pornographic or improper content. This was Crivella’s reaction to the Bienal’s refusal to agree to a sweep of Marvel’s Avengers: The Children’s Crusade. The alleged pornographic content is a kiss between Wiccan and Hulkling, two male superheroes.
Leading the sweep is Wolney Dias, a “fiscal,” or agent of the prosecutor’s office, who defended the legitimacy of the operation arguing that the role of his team was to follow City Hall’s instructions, and that they were only looking to tag and cover pornographic or improper material, an act that according to him could hardly be considered censorship. He also added that if the exhibitors refused to comply with the Mayor’s order, the offending books and comics would be requisitioned.
Wolney Dias’ teams focused on the LGBTQA+ exhibitor’s stands and in the sales bins of comic book exhibitors, where the 2016 Avengers: The Children’s Crusade that angered Crivella was originally bought. It must be noted that in Brazil, the depiction of a kiss between two persons of the same sex is not considered pornography.
One of the exhibitors affected by the agent’s sweep was the publisher Editora Coesão Independente, an association of independent publishers (among them, comic book publishers) that team up for events like the Bienal to keep costs down. They were forced to tag and cover the books that were considered improper.
The reaction attendants to the Bienal was swift: Rafaella Machado, from Editora Galera, printed the articles from Brazil’s Constitution about freedom of expression, criminalization of homophobia and censorship and distributed them to every exhibitor. Their legal team had confirmed that the fiscais operation was illegal and that publishers had every right to refuse to comply. Editora Galera has been publishing Young Adult LGBTQIA+ novels since 2014.
“Everyone deserves a voice, to be heard and to be seen. These books have helped and help thousands of young adults to see themselves represented and understood,” said Machado.
“We are living dark times -- it’s scary. The right-wing movement is so scared of intellectuals, that they are trying to censor everything,” she added.
Vá Ler um livro, a Brazilian YouTube channel that covers the literary world, followed and recorded the agents as they roamed the halls of the Bienal.
CONFIRMADO: a prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro enviou fiscais para lacrar, carimbar como inapropriado e esconder livros que contenham conteúdo considerado impróprio (assim como o dos tweets acima). Veja fotos enviadas direto do evento: pic.twitter.com/FwjxmZOzQd— Vá Ler um livro (@valerumlivro) September 6, 2019
Publisher Todavia Livros, in an Instagram post, “refused the idea that there’s such a thing as an improper book.”
Finally, the LGBTQIA+ panelists speaking on Saturday asked the guests of the Bienal to come dressed as superheroes to protest Marcello Crivella’s illegal crackdown to censor LGBTQIA+ books.
More on this story as it develops.