Música Is A Quirky Movie Exploring The Brazilian Immigrant Experience In New Jersey

As a Brazilian-Colombian culture critic, the lack of specificity and the generalization of Latine people as one group has always been irritating at best and harmful at worst. Stories about Brazilian immigrants in the U.S. barely exist, and when they do, they do not reflect the realities and experiences of actual Brazilian immigrants. From the fetishization of Brazilians — both men and women — as sexually exotic characters to the casting of Hispanic Latine or just full-on Spanish actors to play Brazilians (shout out to Javier Bardem in Eat, Pray, Love; what a bizarre casting choice) who struggle with the Portuguese-accented English, these are details that someone who isn’t Brazilian probably wouldn’t notice. But for me, it’s a dead giveaway that the scriptwriters of a project don’t care to know their Brazilian characters and are using their Brazilianness as a way to exoticize that particular character. I had pretty much given up on any U.S. TV or film that explores Brazilian immigrants with a humanizing approach, until Amazon Prime Video’s Música
I went into watching the movie with high hopes. Música is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film written by Brazilian-American YouTuber Rudy Mancuso and Dan Lagana. Mancuso directed and stars in the movie as Rudy, the son of a single mother from Brazil living in the Ironbound District of Newark, New Jersey, a neighborhood largely populated by Brazilians in the film and in real life. As he nears graduation from New York University, Rudy must make huge life decisions: Will he move into the city and get a real job with his white American girlfriend? Or will he stay closer to home and continue to work on his passion project, a musical with singing puppets? 

"Stories about Brazilian immigrants in the U.S. barely exist, and when they do, they do not reflect the realities and experiences of actual Brazilian immigrants. "

nicole froio
Like many Brazilians, Rudy is passionate about music, which frames his day-to-day life in Newark. After breaking up with his white American girlfriend, Rudy goes to the fish market to buy a bacalhau for his mother to cook for dinner. This is when he meets Isabella (Camila Mendes), another Brazilian-American who loves the neighborhood in which they both grew up. Stunned by her beauty and charm, Rudy becomes even more confused about his future and his ambitions. Staying close to home feels comforting, but moving to New York signifies an expansion of his dreams. Shouldn’t that be more important than the comfort of culture and family?
Torn between two women and two possible futures, Rudy turns to music, which he hears everywhere — in a bouncing basketball, in the rustle of a newspaper being used to wrap fish, in the chopping of vegetables, in the typing noise of someone studying — to figure himself out. This makes him even more confused because of his synesthesia — when you experience one of your senses through another sense, like hearing a sound and seeing a color — and his ability to make music out of anything. From Rudy’s point-of-view, the messiness and confusion of your mid-20s isn’t only hard because you have no idea what to do — it’s also hard because of how noisy everything seems to be. 
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Prime.
Rudy’s relationship with his mãe was extremely heartening to watch. Played by his Brazilian mother, Maria Mancuso, Rudy’s mom desperately wants him to retain some aspects of his Brazilian culture, even if he grew up in the U.S. As Rudy gathers courage and momentum to do what makes him happy — rather than what others think would make him happy — his mom always has a (usually not-so-great) suggestion at the tip of her tongue. Eventually, Rudy realizes that his future is in his hands and nobody will make his decisions for him. Though he hurts people in the process, it was cool to see a Brazilian immigrant navigate the odd third culture that materializes by being from another country and being raised in the U.S.. It is super confusing to figure out where we fit into the world. It’s extremely scary, and ultimately, the only person who can do it is you.
It was also delightful to see Mendes in a role where she can draw directly on her Brazilian heritage. Isabella isn’t just a Brazilian American; she’s a Brazilian American who shows Rudy the value of preserving your history and living among your people, even if that means you live in a dangerous and underserved neighborhood. Isabella is the bridge Rudy needs to understand that ambition isn’t everything. I was happy to see Mendes speak Portuguese on screen and proudly represent her Brazilian roots instead of portraying a generally Latina character who is only there for representation points. Mendes’ performance feels specific to her diaspora and very true to the coming-of-age story being told in Música. I really hope Mendes gets similar opportunities in the future, as she seemed a lot more relaxed and less robotic in her performance. It makes sense because she wasn’t being asked to play up or down an aspect that makes her more palatable to a white American audience. 

"Música is the first time I can say that a film explores the Brazilian immigrant perspective in a way that doesn’t focus on immigration trauma or that exotifies the characters."

Música isn’t a perfect film by any means. The quirkiness and vividness of the story might irritate some viewers, but I quite enjoyed it. I am also a little critical of how Rudy treated all the women in his life as motivators for his own narrative, but I’m willing to forgive that because this is truly the first time I have ever seen a story of a Brazilian immigrant in the USA that got all of the cultural aspects right. 
When U.S. television and film deal with Latin American immigrant narratives, they focus on just a few nationalities and ethnicities. It’s rare to come across media about Black Latine immigrants from any country, immigrants from Brazil (and other countries), or Latines who expressly identify as Indigenous. Latine experiences on screen often amount to Mexican-American experiences, which are necessary and valid in their own right but do not account for how the immigration system uniquely affects others from Latin America. Although Latine representation has steadily increased, Latine creatives are still navigating a majority white American industry that requires concessions and negotiations to make Latine characters and stories palatable for a white American audience. 
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Prime.
Música is the first time I can say that a film explores the Brazilian immigrant perspective in a way that doesn’t focus on immigration trauma or that exotifies the characters. That’s pretty rare from where I’m sitting.

Regional Diversity: A

We rarely see projects about Latines in New Jersey, even less about the vibrant Brazilian community there. I appreciated the specificity of the film, and I loved that the people Rudy came across were racially diverse. 

Language: A

The language changes from English to Brazilian Portuguese and vice-versa felt very plausible and authentic — kind of what I’m used to hearing at home, which I had never, ever seen on screen. Rudy’s conversations with his overprotective and slightly sexist mom are certainly things I have heard from relatives. 

Race: C 

While the background characters were racially diverse, the main characters weren’t; they were all white or brown Brazilians. There was one Black character, but he was American. I understand this is one of the first films about the Brazilian immigrant experience in the U.S., but Black and Indigenous Brazilians exist and we need them included in these stories, too. I wish I could have learned a little more about the Brazilian diaspora in Newark.

Gender & Sexuality: D

There wasn’t a diversity of sexualities in the film and women are generally supporting characters rather than having a life of their own. I wish I could know more about Rudy’s mother’s journey to the U.S. and Isabella’s family background and story.

Stereotypes & Tropes: B

Música doesn’t traffic in stereotypes, and its narrative is better for it. Instead of sexualizing Brazilian bodies, the film takes its subjects into an existential adventure about culture and belonging. It was refreshing to see Brazilianness appear in a brand new way in American film. 

Was it Actually Good? A

This film really won me over as I watched it. I wasn’t so sure about the puppets Rudy is so fond of, and some of Rudy’s musical illusions bordered on being too quirky for my taste, but the earnestness of the story is very compelling. It makes you want to know more.  

More from Movies

R29 Original Series