The United States is Overdue for a Film Like Pixote (1980)

by Cassandra Skolnick, November 22, 2021

Press the “channel up” button on your television remote several times. Every channel you stop on features colonial concepts of gender and power, concealing relevant truths about actual lived experiences. This is how those in the status quo maintain systems of oppression; unchanged, unchallenged, and uninterrupted. We need an escape from political ideology in film and television, centering our focus on social problems, like the film Pixote (1980) did in Brazil, under the direction of Héctor Babenco. I intend to examine how Pixote created an uncompromised and devastating view of the lived experiences of street children in São Paulo, forcing people out of their comfort zones and to finally address social problems; supporting my argument that a film like Pixote is long overdue in the United States.

Set in the 1980s, Pixote brings attention to the social problems experienced by abandoned children living on the streets of São Paulo and falls under an artistic genre known as social realism. Héctor Babenco originally set out to produce a documentary, but after nearly a dozen visits to the juvenile reformatories he reported that “…the authorities closed the door on me” (Csicsery 3). Instead, he created a fictional film based on the experiences of the children he interviewed. Concerned that it would not be genuine enough, Babenco hired non-actors from the low-income regions of São Paulo. The boys were not given a script or screenplay and were encouraged to speak in their own language (Csicsery 3). They were only told about the situations in workshops and improvised genuine responses. The result is a film that highlights “…the dark side of life for abandoned children in Brazil” (Shaw 149). 

Beyond extreme poverty, street children experience abuse and exploitation at juvenile reformatories by the men in power, demonstrating an overarching depiction of toxic masculinity that filters down to the boys. Our first glimpse of this transference of toxic masculinity occurs when a few older boys at the reformatory violently gang rape a younger and weaker boy (Pixote, 09:29). The abuse waged against the boys by the men at the reformatory is also responsible for enabling a primitive survival instinct in them. The boys frequently showcase their strength to one another, as well as to the men running the reformatory. This survival instinct is clearly present when one of the boys is framed for murder, and he grabs a knife in the cafeteria and threatens the guards (Pixote, 52:48). The will to survive drives the boys to turn to drugs and criminal behavior as an escape mechanism.

Pixote is the central character, and the point of view in the film is often deployed through his eyes as he encounters an accelerated coming-of-age transformation from childlike innocence to deviant delinquent. Following an escape from the reformatory, Pixote and a few friends form a familial pact and engage in criminal activities to support themselves. This begins with thievery, stealing purses, briefcases, and wallets from pedestrians (Pixote, 01:05:44), and ultimately leads to involvement in drug trafficking (Pixote, 01:14:32), prostitution (Pixote, 01:34:13), and murder (Pixote, 01:30:52; Pixote, 01:57:20). 

The themes of strength and survival showcased by the boys influence a third theme, sexuality, which is explored in an uncensored and often uncomfortable way throughout the film. The character Lilica, a transgender woman, is abused and sexually assaulted by the boys; rarely does she enter a sexual encounter on romantic terms. Sueli is a prostitute who sells her body for her male pimp, giving up her autonomy to support herself and her addiction. At one point, Sueli admits to Pixote that she got pregnant from one of her sexual encounters and gave herself an abortion (Pixote, 01:35:27). Pixote sees the aborted fetus discarded in the bathroom trash can. The boys also explore their sexuality, entering non-heteronormative sexual encounters. Dito, a boy who escaped the juvenile reformatory with Pixote and serves as a patriarchal leader of the group, engages in both romantic and sexual relations with Lilica and Sueli, exploring his sexuality and desire in the process. Pixote, on the other hand, never engages directly in sexual relations but learns about sexuality and desire through his observations of the other boys.  

The purpose of social realism is to illustrate real-life conditions and experiences of people living and surviving in society. Pixote accomplishes this by refusing to hold back on the life experiences of abandoned children in Brazil. In the United States, we have become accustomed to censored television and filmmaking, maintaining dominant concepts of heteronormativity, the nuclear family, and positive views of capitalism. However, I argue that a film rooted in social realism in the United States would challenge these concepts. Pixote showed how a group of boys can become family, incorporating common familial traits like shared responsibilities, unconditional love, financial support, and opportunities for learning and growth. This non-traditional nature challenges the dominance of nuclear families and also challenges concepts introduced in capitalist ideology, ideas that propose “…childhood as a separate and protected space of play and of learning” (Reimer 2011). The children are forced into accelerated coming-of-age transformations, leaving no opportunities for them to experience childhood.   We need films like Pixote to force Americans out of their comfort zone, to see the dark side of lived experiences in the United States. There has been some progress with filmmaking moving in a direction of social realism; Moonlight (2016), introduced us to the intersections of race, toxic masculinity, and sexuality in the lived experiences of Chiron, a queer Black boy living in Miami, Florida. The film was able to challenge the concept of the nuclear family, raising the question, “what is family?” Chiron finds himself supported and unconditionally loved by Juan, a drug-dealer, and his girlfriend Teresa; important traits than he rarely experienced from his birth mother. The film addresses poverty within Black communities, and Chiron’s transition to drug dealing for survival challenges capitalist failures in the United States. While this is a meaningful step in the right direction, we need more filmmakers to take the risk that films like Pixote and Moonlight took to challenge dominant societal norms.

Works Cited

Babenco, Héctor, director. Pixote. Embrafilme, 1980. 

Csicsery, George, and Héctor Babenco. “Individual Solutions: An Interview with Héctor Babenco.” Film Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1, 1982, pp. 2–15,

Jenkins, Barry, director. Moonlight. A24, 2016. 

Reimer, Mavis. “On Location: The Home and the Street in Recent Films About Street Children.” International Research in Children’s Literature, vol. 5, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1–21.,

Shaw, Deborah. “National Identity and the Family: Pixote by Hector Babenco and Central Station by Walter Salles.” Contemporary Cinema of Latin America: Ten Key Films, Continuum, New York, 2003, pp. 142–179. 

Colleges Pressure Students Away from the Humanities

by Cassandra Skolnick, March 7, 2021

The emphasis on STEM-related majors at colleges and universities has been aggressively fueled by the growing influence of educational systems and political propaganda (Wright). Job seeking websites—including—stated that when it came to the highest-paid industries, “…No surprise, STEM majors—science, technology, engineering, and math—came out on top” ( Based on salary figures from 2020, STEM-related careers earned on average 26.45% more than humanities-related careers ( It makes sense that young people would be persuaded towards pursuing STEM related careers. But are there external factors pressuring college students away from the humanities?

In June 2020, the Australian government announced an economic reform package that was directed to lower the course fees associated for “job-relevant” courses, while at the same time, doubling the cost of programs in the humanities (Duffy). This raise puts the cost of humanities programs at the same level as medical schools; med school programs saw a 46 percent decrease, while humanities programs saw a 113 percent increase (Duffy). The Australian government stated that this economic reform package is aimed at increasing the employment rate for graduates, with employment growth in STEM-related fields expected to be significantly higher post-pandemic (Sears and Clark).

Australia is not the only country influencing the career track of college students. George Washington University’s (GW) president, Dr. Thomas LeBlanc, announced in 2019 that he planned to increase enrollment in STEM-related majors from 19 to 30 percent (Rich and Schwartz). As the undergraduate population shifts to STEM related programs, the number of STEM programs and courses will also have to increase in order to accommodate the increasing number of students. Katrin Schultheiss, chair of GW’s history department, worries that “…the changes will necessitate reductions in funding for non-STEM departments and result in a ‘radical shifting of resources away from non-STEM fields’” (Rich and Schwartz).

This push for STEM programs and graduates comes from a fear of losing the race for high-tech supremacy to China (Herman). Where does this fear originate from? In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said, “…Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs” ( We can theorize that this fear derives from the American perception of the “Chinese Threat,” a fear that China will conduct “…brazen cyber intrusions” ( or continue to saturate our economy with global exports (Mack). Fear of the “Chinese Threat” did result in a significant increase in the number of STEM degrees; however, according to a 2016 Census Report, only 74 percent of those college graduates pursued STEM-related careers following graduation (Mand Labs).

Now, elementary schools are introducing STEM curriculums, including hands-on learning to promote STEM skills, hiring and retaining well-trained experts as teachers for STEM curriculums, and working to eliminate the gender pay disparity (Mand Labs); hoping to further increase enrollment in higher education STEM degree programs to meet the growing demand of STEM related careers. Whether or not these new strategies will be effective remains to be seen. What does the continued push for STEM degree programs mean for the humanities, in a world where humanities are needed more than ever? Increasing costs of attending humanities programs, coupled with budget cuts following the 2008 financial crisis, “…have resulted in some schools eliminating courses and degrees in subjects, such as foreign languages, art, and history” (Mullin). Deborah Fitzgerald, a professor of the history of technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says state schools are the first to eliminate humanities curricula: “…Their boards just don’t think they are important anymore” (Mullin).


“The China Threat.”,, 10 July 2020,

 “Current State of STEM Education in the US: What Needs to Be Done?” Mand Labs, Mand Labs, 6 May 2020,

Duffy, Conor. “Humanities Degrees to Double in Cost as Government Funnels Students into ‘Job-Relevant’ Uni Courses.” ABC News, ABC News, 19 June 2020,

Herman, Arthur. “America’s High-Tech STEM Crisis.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 Sept. 2018,

Lawler, Moira. “College Majors with the Highest Starting Salaries.” Monster Career Advice,,

Mack, Graeme. “Perspective | Why Americans Shouldn’t Fear China’s Growing Economy.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Apr. 2019,

Mullin, Rick. “Behind the Scenes at the STEM-Humanities Culture War.” C&EN, C&EN, 16 July 2019,

Rich, Alec, and Ethan Schwartz. “Push to Grow STEM Majors May Mean Cuts Elsewhere, Faculty Say.” The GW Hatchet, The GW Hatchet, 30 Sept. 2019,

Sears, Alan, and Penney Clark. “Stop Telling Students to Study STEM Instead of Humanities for the Post-Coronavirus World.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 Jan. 2021,

“State of the Union Photo Gallery.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration,

Wright, Joshua. “Stem Majors on the Rise as Humanities Decline Across the Country.” Emsi, Emsi, 20 Mar. 2016,

Supreme Court Packing – How safe is the precedent established by Obergefell v. Hodges?

by Cassandra Skolnick, October 30, 2020

The passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg left the United States in insurmountable mourning. While many of us took time to reflect on the life of a human rights icon, conservatives fixated on the opportunity to pack another conservative justice into an already ideologically polarized Supreme Court (hereto referred to as, “SCOTUS”).

Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito also wasted little time mourning the loss of a longtime colleague and friend. Within a month of her passing, both justices were expressing their disgust over legal precedent created in the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same sex marriage. Thomas questioned the courts involvement in the case to begin with:

“It would be one thing if recognition of same-sex marriage had been debated and adopted through the democratic process, with the people deciding not to provide statutory protections for religious liberty under state law. But it is quite another when the Court forces that choice upon society through its creation of atextual constitutional rights and its ungenerous interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause, leaving those with religious objections in the lurch.”


The Trump administration’s appointments of justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the bench would certainly tip the balance in favor of conservatives who are hard pressed on overturning Obergefell

However, I propose in this article that the legal precedent set by Obergefell is safe and here to stay. I will defend my opinion through an analysis of five supporting arguments; the textualist interpretation of law by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court principle of stare decisis, growing empathy and support for same sex couples, the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, and the potential for legislative intervention.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has not been the pariah conservatives had hoped for when President Trump appointed him to the SCOTUS. Gorsuch is a textualist; someone who interprets the law by how it is written.

In July of 2019, David Savage of the Los Angeles Times said of Gorsuch, “He is a libertarian who is quick to oppose unchecked government power, even in the hands of prosecutors or the police. And he is willing to go his own way and chart a course that does not always align with the traditional views of the right or the left” (qtd. in Ballotpedia).

We saw evidence of textualist interpretation in June of 2020, when Gorsuch joined Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and the liberal majority in Bostock vs. Clayton County; a ruling that states that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender employees from employment discrimination (Leonardi).

Gorsuch was right in his interpretation. In the majority opinion, Gorsuch determined that it would not be possible for an employer to discriminate on an employee on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity without also discriminating on them on the basis of sex. Discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited by law, therefore civil rights protections are extended to gay and transgender employees.

It sounds like a clear-cut interpretation, but conservatives were furious with Gorsuch for his ruling. There was a public outcry, with evangelicals and right-wing media calling Gorsuch a traitor and sell-out (Arkes, Perano). However, Gorsuch made his ruling based on an interpretation of law that was already established. While it remains to be seen how he would respond to an opportunity to overturn Obergefell; textually speaking, I have a hard time believing Gorsuch will join a conservative majority in overturning existing precedent.

Stare Decisis

Relatively few people know about the court principle of stare decisis, but this Latin phrase translates to mean “…to stand by that which is decided” (Young). Generally, this means that once the court has established a legal precedent, it usually commits to uphold that legal precedent when ruling on similar cases.

While this has been a common court principle throughout history, I consider it imperative to point out that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has made it abundantly clear to his colleagues that he does not believe in being bound to the court principle of stare decisis. Thomas wrote, “When faced with a demonstrably erroneous precedent, my rule is simple: We should not follow it” (qtd. in Reuters).

With the exception of Thomas, the SCOTUS has remained steadfast in their position, reluctant to overturn precedent without significant rationalization. Overturning Obergefell would mean the potential revocation of the marriages of hundreds of thousands of same sex couples. It would be irretrievably damaging to the Court’s image if they disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans without irrefutable proof that Obergefell is infringing on constitutional liberties.

Americans Support Same Sex Marriage

Public opinion has historically had minimal impact on SCOTUS decisions, but the latest studies by researchers show that this has changed in recent years. One research collaboration, SCOTUSPoll, concluded “that the court’s position in every major case this term was exactly in line with public opinion” (Smith). What does that mean for the future of Obergefell?

Well, support for same sex marriage has grown extensively since the SCOTUS ruling in 2015. A recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) “…found about 70% of Americans said they support granting same-sex couples the right to marry — the highest percentage of supporters the survey has recorded. 28% of Americans said they opposed it” (Andrew). Republicans even showed increased support. The same survey conducted by PRRI found that “…50% of Republicans say they support same-sex marriage, their percentage of support still jumped since the 2017 survey when 42% supported it” (Andrew).

The once stable position of the Catholic Church has also seen a remarkable shift, when a documentary premiered and revealed Pope Francis declaring support for civil unions of same sex couples (Horowitz). While civil unions are not the same as marriages, it is the first time the Catholic Church has expressed any form of support for same sex couples.

Corporate America is another area seeing improvement in their support of same sex marriage. Companies like Nabisco have come under fire from the right-wing conservative coalition–One Million Moms–over commercials expressing messages of inclusion, acceptance, and support for same sex couples. They have organized boycotts in an effort to impede further progressive stances, but these boycotts are mainly symbolic.

However, the biggest confirmation of this shift in support for the LGBTQ+ community may be the growing number of openly gay and transgender politicians being elected to public office. Last month, Sarah McBride, a transgender woman from Delaware, won her primary bid by over 90% of the vote. She is now poised to become the first openly transgender politician ever elected to any state senate (Rodriguez). According to Victory Fund, “Since 1991, Victory Fund has helped elect thousands of LGBTQ people to positions at all levels of government” (Victory Fund).

The level of support in this country is at all-time highs. With public opinion clearly opposing an overturn of Obergefell, the chances remain slim that the SCOTUS will choose to review any cases that attempt to reverse the 2015 precedent.

Full Faith and Credit Clause

The Full Faith and Credit Clause (FFCC) is the most disputed of my arguments. Used for the purpose of enforcing judgments across state lines, the FFCC also recognizes legal marriages contracted in another state. However, the argument has been made that the framework for the FFCC, “does not mandate recognition of same sex marriages or that it does so for limited purposes” (Singer). Prior to Obergefell, scholars also interpreted the FFCC to cover residents of states where same sex marriage was legalized, “but not nonresidents seeking to evade their restrictive home state marriage laws” (Singer).

However, with the Obergefell decision, the FFCC now provides fundamental support for same sex marriage. To stress this argument, I need to explain two important events from the nineties: the lawsuit, Baehr v. Miike, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In 1993, Baehr v. Miike, “was a lawsuit in which three same-sex couples argued that Hawaii’s prohibition of same-sex marriage violated the state constitution” (Wikipedia, “Baehr v. Miike”). The Supreme Court of Hawaii ordered the case reviewed by a trial court to determine whether or not the state was justified in prohibiting same sex couples from marrying. The state failed to present a convincing argument, and the judge ruled that excluding same sex couples from marriage was indeed discrimination (Lambda Legal).

The ruling in Baehr v. Miike panicked conservatives in Congress, who recognized that “a redefinition of marriage in Hawaii to include homosexual couples could make such couples eligible for a whole range of federal rights and benefits” (Wikipedia, “Defense of Marriage Act”). That’s because legalizing same sex marriage in Hawaii would mean forcing other states to recognize same sex marriages from Hawaii under the FFCC. In response, they passed legislation known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA was a straightforward law passed by Congress during the Clinton administration. “It defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman, and allowed states to refuse to recognize same sex marriages granted under the laws of other states” (Wikipedia, “Defense of Marriage Act”). The intention behind DOMA was to create a barrier to the FFCC, preventing states from having to recognize same sex marriages that were performed in states where it was legal.

The SCOTUS cases of United States v. Windsor in 2013 and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 ruled the two sections of DOMA unconstitutional, thus legalizing same sex marriage and restoring the power of the FFCC to recognize same sex marriages across state lines.

Legislative Intervention

The 2020 national election is probably the most important election of our lifetime. Learning from the 2016 fiasco, we know better than to rely on polling to indicate the winners in various races. However, I believe we are going to see a much-needed change in power.

A Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, Senate, and Presidency, would mean passing of a broad legislation known as the Equality Act. The Equality Act means exactly what it says, “…consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service” (HRC).

In a survey conducted by PRRI on support for legislation like the Equality Act, they found, “More than seven in ten (71%) Americans say they favor laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations” (Vandermaas-Peeler et al.).

The main obstacle to passing this crucial legislation has been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Republican majority in the Senate. McConnell has repeatedly refused to hold a floor vote on the Equality Act, regardless of the fact that it has passed the House of Representatives. Pending any surprises in November, we should finally witness the advancement of this crucial piece of legislation.


While nobody can predict what the future holds, I contend that the arguments above provide significant obstacles to conservatives hoping to overturn the precedent established by Obergefell v. Hodges.

Works Cited

Andrew, Scottie. “70% Of Americans Support Same-Sex Marriage — a New High — a New Survey Finds.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Oct. 2020, 6:14 PM ET,

Arkes, Hadley. “Here’s The Only Path Open To Republicans After Neil Gorsuch’s Betrayal.” The Federalist, The Federalist, 29 June 2020,

“Baehr v. Miike.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Oct. 2020,

“Baehr v. Miike.” Lambda Legal, 9 Dec. 1999,

“Defense of Marriage Act.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Sept. 2020,

Horowitz, Jason. “Pope Francis, in Shift for Church, Voices Support for Same-Sex Civil Unions.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Oct. 2020,

Leonardi, Anthony, and Nicholas Rowan. “Supreme Court Rules Workers Cannot Be Fired for Being Transgender or Gay.” Washington Examiner, 15 June 2020,

Nanos, Elura. “Clarence Thomas Refuses to Hear Kim Davis’s Case, But Calls Obergefell Decision a ‘Problem’ Only SCOTUS ‘Can Fix’.” Clarence Thomas Criticizes Obergefell When Rejecting Kim Davis Case | Law & Crime, Law & Crime, 5 Oct. 2020,

 “Neil Gorsuch.” Ballotpedia,

 “Our Mission.” LGBTQ Victory Fund,

Perano, Ursula. “Prominent Conservatives Tear into Gorsuch for Supreme Court Ruling on LGBT Protections.” Axios, Axios, 15 June 2020,

Rodriguez, Barbara. “In Historic Year for Trans Candidates, Sarah McBride Poised to Become the Nation’s First Openly Transgender State Senator.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 25 Sept. 2020, 9:12 AM ET,

Singer, Joseph William. “Same Sex Marriage, Full Faith and Credit, and the Evasion of Obligation.” SSRN, 11 Apr. 2005,

Smith, James F. “U.S. Supreme Court v. American Public Opinion: the Verdict Is In.” Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Kennedy School, 13 July 2020,

Stempel, Jonathan. “Justice Thomas Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Feel Free to Reverse Precedents.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 17 June 2019,

“The Equality Act.” HRC, Human Rights Campaign,

Vandermaas-Peeler, Alex, et al. “Wedding Cakes, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Future of LGBT Rights in America.” PRRI, PRRI, 2 Aug. 2018,

 Young, Julie. “Stare Decisis and Legal Court Precedents.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 13 Sept. 2020,