AFI Movie Club: BLACK ORPHEUS – American Film Institute



The Oscar®-winning BLACK ORPHEUS transports the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the stunningly sumptuous world of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. With its vibrant cinematography and pulsating soundtrack by film composers Luiz Bonfá and Antonio Carlos Jobim, BLACK ORPHEUS kicked off the bossa nova craze across America and inspired countless filmmakers, including AFI alum Carl Franklin (Class of 1986).

Watch Carl Franklin announce the film:

Movie Trivia about TODAY’S FILM

DID YOU KNOW that the film is based on the musical play “Orfeu da Conceição” by poet and playwright Vinícius de Moraes, which was itself loosely inspired by the Orpheus and Eurydice legend? Initially, Moraes was upset by how the film adaptation diverged from his original work but later admitted that it was thanks to the film that the play was produced. 

DID YOU KNOW that the film was shot all on location in Brazil? It was set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro against the backdrop of Carnival, featuring an all-Black cast. 

DID YOU KNOW that French director Marcel Camus struggled to complete BLACK ORPHEUS? According to an interview in Time Magazine, “he slept on the beach to save hotel bills, lived from meal to meal and worked from reel to reel. Down to his last $17, he was rescued by Brazil’s President Juscelino Kubitschek who told the army to get him some electrical equipment.” 

DID YOU KNOW that actor Breno Mello, who plays Orfeu, was actually a soccer player with no prior acting experience when director Marcel Camus stopped him on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and asked if he would like to be in his film? Most of the cast were non-professionals, except Marpessa Dawn (Eurydice) who was an American singer and dancer.  

DID YOU KNOW that Adhemar da Silva who plays “Death” in BLACK ORPHEUS was also an Olympic athlete? He won two Olympic gold medals in 1952 and 1956 and set four world records in the triple jump. 

DID YOU KNOW that the songs sung by the character Orfeu were dubbed by singer Agostinho dos Santos and the female voice by Elizeth Cardoso? Cardoso not only sang the original version of the bossa classic “Manhã de Carnaval” from the BLACK ORPHEUS soundtrack, but also recorded what is widely considered the first Bossa Nova album titled “Canção do Amor Demais” released in Brazil in 1958. 

DID YOU KNOW that artist Jean-Michael Basquiat’s earliest musical influences included the haunting Brazilian beat in BLACK ORPHEUS? 

DID YOU KNOW that the BLACK ORPHEUS soundtrack was a bestselling album? The film’s composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá introduced the style of bossa nova to American audiences and almost instantly became international superstars. 

DID YOU KNOW that BLACK ORPHEUS won the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and the 1960 Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Film? 

DID YOU KNOW that the music video for Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife” features clips of BLACK ORPHEUS throughout? It is one of frontman Win Butler’s favorite films of all time and was an inspiration for the album. 

DID YOU KNOW that director Mario Van Peebles was majorly influenced by BLACK ORPHEUS? He said, “My father made the first Black Power film in 1971, but more than a decade earlier, you have ORFEU NEGRO, which showed people of color with three-dimensional humanity. It didn’t take on race issues, and this was revolutionary. In America, we were making films that were very conscious of class and race and struggle. The film ignores the whole race question. It shows people having a self-sufficient life that doesn’t depend on a white person giving them their rights.” 

DID YOU KNOW that Brazilian filmmaker Carlos Diegues also made a film from Vinícius de Moraes’ play in 1999 called ORFEU? He said that it was not a remake of BLACK ORPHEUS but, instead, an adaptation of Moraes’ source material.  


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-What is the cinematic and cultural significance of BLACK ORPHEUS? 

-What was the inspiration for BLACK ORPHEUS and how does that mythology translate onscreen? 

-Why do you think BLACK ORPHEUS was such an international success? How did it give a glimpse into Brazilian culture and the country itself? 

-How does the film deal with the concepts of nationalism and identity? 

-What did you think of the love story between Orfeu and Eurdyice? How does it embody the romanticism and tragedy of the original Greek myth? How does it diverge and how is it infused with its own Brazilian style? 

-How does the movie depict Brazilian spaces, particularly the favelas and Carnival? What cinematic techniques did the cinematographer use to make audiences feel immersed? 

-In what way did Marcel Camus try to ensure that Brazil was depicted authentically both in terms of the actors he chose, the local settings and the raw footage he used? In what way, is the film authentic and in what way is it a stylized portrayal of Brazil? 

-What was the Cinema Novo movement in Latin America? Would you consider BLACK ORPHEUS a part of Cinema Novo and do you think Brazilians consider it French, Italian or a multicultural co-production? Why or why not? 

-How is music used to full effect throughout BLACK ORPHEUS? 

-What is the difference between bossa nova and samba? Why do you think this music was so popular when it was introduced in the United States? 

-What purpose do the two young children Benedito and Zeca serve? What is the significance of Zeca picking up the guitar at the end of the film? 

-How has BLACK ORPHEUS influenced contemporary cinema, both in Brazil and globally? 

-How would you rate BLACK ORPHEUS? 

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