November 6, 2023
film promo image of women in a prison

With more than 28 percent of UCF students being of Hispanic descent, Associate Professor of Portuguese Sandra Sousa believes we need to share the stories of those cultures. During Hispanic Heritage Month, the Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies program in collaboration with the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures brought to campus the award-winning Brazilian film Olha pra Elas (“Look at them”), which shares the experiences of women imprisoned in Brazil.

Sousa says the film helps teach about the experiences of other people and demonstrates how each person’s voice is just as important as the next person.

“The film is art produced with the purpose of having an impact on society and I think that type of art is important to have at our disposal,” she says.

Sousa says that it’s important to expose students to works that discuss social issues to “inspire positive change.” By hearing stories that are not often told, students are offered a chance to make an impact in the lives of other people.

Graduate Teaching Associate Maria Cabail, who attended the showing of the Brazil film, says that students benefit from events that discuss social issues because it exposes them to diverse perspectives and enhances their critical thinking skills.

“It evoked a mix of emotions, including anguish, anger, desolation and sadness,” Cabail says, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Spanish Language and Literature at UCF. “The pain of those incarcerated women, in the broadest sense of confinement, as even when they are outside of jail, society imposes prisons on their lives and restricts the possibility of fully experiencing their freedom, transcends the screen and deeply affects me.”

The film’s story focuses on five women who are imprisoned and separated from their children and families. Many of the women are wrongly convicted and forced to serve long prison sentences. Although their experience is not unique, Sousa says that the film highlights one of the harshest realities that many women face in Brazil.

One woman is killed every four hours in Brazil, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. According to Biomedical Center (BMC) International Health and Human Rights, the female population of women in prison in Brazil increased by 656 percent in 2016. Brazil is also currently ranked as number three in the top ten countries with the most people in prison in 2023, according to World Population Review.

Sousa says that the film is “gut-wrenching and powerful” as it sheds light on the injustices that many women face in Brazil and how they are poorly treated in both prison and outside of prison.

Sousa says that she hopes people leave the film with a “better conscience about what is going on” and understand that violence against women isn’t exclusive to Brazil, and occurs everywhere in the world.

Hispanic Heritage Month may be over, but Sousa says that we should continue to highlight the positives as well as the negatives of every culture.

“I don’t want to be pessimistic or too negative, but I do want to bring awareness. It unites people and helps solve the issues that many people face on a daily basis,” Sousa says about the importance of representing both the “good and the bad” of people’s stories.

After viewing Olha pra Elas, students spoke with the director of the film, who joined virtually. Sousa says that some students struggled to watch the film but appreciated learning about different cultures and stories that people come from.

“Giving students these cultural stories not only offers them a new set of eyes, but also gives them the opportunity to do more,” Sousa says.

Sousa says that she plans to create more events similar to this one in the future, providing more opportunities for students to learn and effect global change.

Those who missed the on-campus viewing can watch Olha pra Elas on the Vimeo website.

Learn more about studying Portuguese and the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at UCF.