Literally adopting the phrase “Go back to where you came from” and structuring a thriller-leaning narrative around it, Lazaro Ramos‘s Executive Order is an often infuriating and incredibly timely film given the racial prejudice that has framed the last 12 months.
Set in a near-dystopian future in Rio de Janeiro, the film starts on the impassioned speech of Antonio (Alfred Enoch), a young lawyer, who is preparing to sue the Brazilian government for the indemnification of all the descendants of African slaves in the country.
Understandably, but no less maddeningly, the government respond by signing an executive order that forces all black citizens (or “melaninized”, as stated here) to be forcefully relocated to Africa, a decision that is initially met with near-humour from the effected residents before martial law is enforced and a race war erupts from within.
The images created by Ramos as the Brazilian people – however natively tied to their country they are – are either rounded up to be forced to another country or, as it escalates, are shot and killed on sight are enough to conjure the most emotional of responses, with the film very deliberately villainising the government and the bigots who unfortunately wield more power than they deserve; Adriana Estevez as a government official and Renata Sorrah as a racist neighbour embodying the sickness of white privilege in the most aggravating manner.
As the film flirts with its personal political agenda, Ramos as a storyteller consistently brings the film around to its elevated genre temperament, offsetting Antonio’s heroic stance – his defiance in leaving his home earns him the title of “the last black man in Brazil” – with an underground movement uprising that his cousin, Andre (Seu Jorge), and his wife, Capitu (Tais Araujo), both join (somewhat unintentionally) and forge forward, sparking a resistance in the process. Despite the “near future” setting, Ramos thankfully never overdoes the mentality or the aesthetics of the underground party, keeping the film grounded in a manner that makes this somewhat-heightened premise resonate in an organic fashion.
Politically and culturally driven it may be, Executive Order still ultimately aims for entertainment and education in equal measure. It’s terrifying to think that there’s truth in the intolerance depicted here but a loud enough voice like that of Ramos indicates the judgement and inequality he highlights and then bends to dramatic promise speaks to his passion as a storyteller and as a man of Brazil.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Executive Order is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between March 16th and 20th, 2021. For more information head to the official SXSW website.