As the Summer 2016 Olympics kicked off two weeks ago, Google Streetview and Maps launched a content series "Rio: Beyond the Map," in which Brazilian actress, Bianca Comparato shows viewers around various neighborhoods within Rio de Janeiro's favelas (impoverished hillside communities).
While the innovative, immersive and sympathetic documentary highlights the creative brilliance of individual residents of these under-serviced sections of the city, it completely omits the structural racism and systemic neglect which necessitate incredible feats of courage and determination to pursue personal passions.
These are passions which more privileged Brazilians can indulge with far more ease.
Google Uses 360 Camera Tech to Profile Favela Residents.
Utilizing their Streetview 360 camera technology, Google treats the public to a breathtaking view and exploration of various aspects of life in the favelas. Whether they be aerial, on foot, or via motorbike, the views of this documentary allow viewers to gain a strong sense of the landscape.
The documentary goes on to feature various citizens of Rio de Janeiro, including Paloma (a computer programmer), Luis (a ballet dancer), Jose Junior (a community organizer and Google Streetview mapper) and a Ricardo (a poor Surfing School owner).
Paloma and Luis, in particular, get the mind working.
Paloma discusses her entry into computer science. She grew up in a home without internet and was only able to study and practice at school and in a public library. She would have to wake up at around 5:00 am every day, and would get home to her favela of Mare late at night.
Paloma's dream of attending the federal university, Centro de Tecnologia was a big one, as neither of her parents got past the 6th form of their schooling. Paloma however, was able to gain admittance to the university, becoming the only person from a favela in her computer science program.
Luis tells the story of his journey as a ballet dancer. In his favela, he had to overcome prejudice against men in the ballet tradition, a prejudice which exposed him to vicious physical attacks.
As his talent became noticed by members of Projecto ViDansa, he was sent for lessons and auditions at the Municipal Theater in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
His poverty was so intense that program directors had to give Luis and his family assistance for needs as basic as bus fare to and from practice.
The devil of their Struggle was in the Details
Throughout the documentary, such details of poverty and structural impediments to success are dealt with at a surface level. This feel-good piece makes no mention of federal and local level neglect of poor Brazilians. Moreover, Comparato's commentary suggests that the social gulf is an organic one.
Standing at the "Cristo Redentor" (Christ the Redeemer) statue in Rio, Comparato states how "the rich and poor areas keep to themselves." However, in watching and hearing the stories being told, it seems as though the poor favela areas are actually being structurally isolated.
High unemployment, a pathetic education system, violent crime and a dysfunctional transportation center makes entry into and exit from many favelas difficult. Moreover, the favelas, in some cases, lack basic resources such mail delivery, as mentioned by Paloma.
And of course, the color line is obvious.
For Google's producer to show poverty but not even briefly explain its causes is to suggest that this "just the way it is" and that there are no power players in Rio de Janeiro who are designing the lives of millions to be structurally marginalized.
Luis and Paloma overcame Structural Bias. Comparato and Google ignored It.
There's no mention of how public dollars and assets fail to aid all of Rio's residents past their particular logistical and structural impediments.
The bulldozing of favelas in Rio de Janeiro has underscored undue burdens faced by low income Brazilian taxpayers
To not highlight why Luis needed bus fare assistance or why Paloma is the only person from a favela in her university computer science program is a willful act.
The bulldozing of poor communities for the World Cup and the Olympics. The relocation of these same communities to inconvenient areas outside of the city. The lack of public transportation. A militarized police force. Wage and hiring discrimination. Corruption and misuse of public land and funds -All of these barriers go unmentioned, despite being critical components of Luis and Paloma's experience.
Instead, viewers are left with the notion that all favela residents should simply become more hardworking if they want a better life. After all, "if Luis and Paloma can succeed, why can't the rest of you?"
Google thought it would be inspiring and insightful to highlight a few exceptions to the reality of systemic failure in Brazil.
However, to willingly tell only half of a story is to not tell "it."
Structural Inequality and Inequity Limits an entire Society
Google's willingness to tell only part of the story highlights a more collective unwillingness of Brazilians to face the collective reality of their society and economy.
For the obstacles of structural bias and governmental incompetence that "faced" Luis, Paloma, and the other featured members of the documentary in their journeys are "facing" them, as they do they rest of Brazil, privileged and unprivileged.
And they won't go away until they're addressed.
Instead, these obstacles which have persisted for centuries will hold back individuals, as well as an entire nation, from fulfilling their potential.
Medvis Jackson is a web designer at Hindsite, curator at Kulchah and avid cricket fan. You can follow him @medvisjackson for his random thoughts. He primarily covers startup, tech and small business ecosystems and resources.