Artur Ribeiro, director of the French-Brazilian theater company Dos a Deux, said his show "Gritos" was canceled in Brasilia
Artur Ribeiro, director of the French-Brazilian theater company Dos a Deux, said his show "Gritos" was canceled in Brasilia AFP / MAURO PIMENTEL

After a state-run theater in Brazil suddenly dropped his LGBT-themed stage show "Gritos," Artur Ribeiro began to worry it was curtains for his company under President Jair Bolsonaro.

Ribeiro said the Caixa Cultural theater in the capital of Brasilia last week canceled the show, in which he plays a transgender character.

"We knew Bolsonaro's arrival in power (in January) was going to be a dramatic turning point, but even in my worst nightmare I could not have imagined that it would be so terrible," said Ribeiro.

His French theater company, Dos a Deux, opened its doors in Brazil in 2015 and Ribeiro now fears any new project by the company will be targeted by Brazil's censors.

"They can very well say: 'Dos a Deux, no,'" Ribeiro said.

Andre Curti, who works with Ribeiro, said censorship under Bolsonaro is more subtle than during the military dictatorship in the early 1980s when "censors attended rehearsals and interrupted us by saying, 'This, no.'"

"Now it is hidden, implied," Curti said.

In an email to AFP, Caixa said Dos a Deux put forward two shows, including "Gritos," after initially offering seven.

In the end only one show was selected by Caixa, which did not explain why.

Bolsonaro -- who once said he would rather see his own son "die in an accident" than come out as gay -- denies charges of censorship.

But he insists on the need for "filters" when deciding on grants for cultural projects.

Ex-culture secretary Henrique Pires was sacked in August after he disagreed with a decision to drop four LGBT-themed television series from a list of finalists for broadcast on public channels.

Bolsonaro had criticized the contenders which included "Religare Queer."

"This one tells the story of a former lesbian nun... frankly, everyone does what he wants with his body, but spend public money for that ..." Bolsonaro said before trailing off in a Facebook live broadcast and throwing away the piece of paper he was reading from.

"One more that goes into the trash."

'Afraid to talk'

After his sacking, Pires, whose position was ministerial-level before it was absorbed into a new Citizenship Ministry created by Bolsonaro, said he would not defend the use of "cultural filters."

"For me it has a name: censorship. If it's to applaud censorship, I'd rather be unemployed," Pires was quoted by local media as saying.

"Religare Queer" deals with the presence of homosexuals among believers of major religions that are "traditionally homophobic."

Its screenwriter Kiko Goifman does not mince words about the government's decision to drop the show: "It is a completely arbitrary decision, we have been censored."

It is not the first time Goifman feels he has been a victim of censorship under Bolsonaro.

Goifman was the co-director of the documentary "Bixa Travesty," which won the 2018 Teddy Award, the LGBT trophy of the Berlin Film Festival.

The film has not been distributed in Brazil despite its release in more than 25 cities in France.

"Last year, we won a prize of 200,000 reais (about $48,000) from (Brazil's state oil giant) Petrobras that was supposed to cover distribution costs," Goifman says.

"But someone from Petrobras called me in March to tell me that they would not pay, without giving any reason."

Goifman hopes to overturn the decision in court. In the meantime, he feels gagged, knowing that everything he says could be held against him in a lawsuit.

"It's another form of censorship, we're afraid to talk because of legal issues," Goifman says.

Petrobras told AFP it had axed the award as part of a "redesign of its cultural sponsorship strategy."

The company was in contact with producers of the affected films "in order to conclude the process in agreement between the parties," it said in an email.

Felipe Haiut, a comedian and screenwriter, is nervous about the possible reaction to any new idea he has.

"As soon as I have an idea, I have to ask myself if I will be attacked online, if I'm going to get financing," Haiut says.

"Even companies are afraid to fund us right now."