The Edge of Democracy: The Rise of Authoritarianism in Brazil

In her new film, The Edge of Democracy, director Petra Costa tells the story of how Brazil went from a rising star among free nations to a democracy on the verge of collapse. With unprecedented access, Costa documents the rise and fall of Brazil’s Workers Party and its charismatic leader Lula da Silva, the impeachment of Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, and the rise of President Jair Bolsonaro who has ushered in, as Costa puts it, a new era of rule by the bible, the bullet, and the banks. After the end of military rule, many had high hopes for Brazil, yet the Bolsonaro regime has been marked by an increase in violent repression and gender-based violence. In this very personal conversation, Laura and Petra discuss life and politics in the U.S. and Brazil—nations built on land theft, genocide, and extraction. They wonder if democracy can survive in states that fail to reckon with their pasts. 

“It felt like a change of symbols. But something in our social fabric started to change. The country divided into two parts, and this wall would rip us apart. The party soon caught in a corruption scandal. The greatest investigation in the country’s history.”–Petra Costa


  • Petra Costa, Director, Actor, Filmmaker

Costa was born in 1983, just two years before the return of civilian law to Brazil. Her grandparents made their fortune in the construction industry, which propped up the likes of Temer and Bolsonaro (and continues to do so), and her Marxist parents went to prison because of their opposition to the military junta that once controlled the country. At one point in The Edge of Democracy, Costa observes her mother’s warm first meeting with Rousseff; both women were held at the same prison, although not at the same time, and have much in common.