On Sept. 7, 1822, Dom Pedro de Alcântara, the troubled ruler of Brazil, received a letter from his father, Portuguese King John VI, demanding that he leave his adopted land and return home immediately or face military action. The two royals had been locking horns for months; Dom Pedro’s popularity in Brazil grew as he supported his subjects’ burgeoning patriotic and nationalistic drive, while the Portuguese court was ever more reviled as it tried to keep Brazil down by rescinding its monarchic privileges and bumping it back to colonial status.
Dom Pedro received his father’s ultimatum as he traveled on horseback along the shores of the Ipiranga River. Along with it came two other letters — one from his mentor and the other from his wife, both advising him to break ties with Portugal. Deciding that he’d had enough disrespect, Dom Pedro unsheathed his sword, ripped the blue and white Portuguese shield from his coat, and cried out “Independência ou morte!” (“Independence or death!”). Thus was born the nation of Brazil as we know it.
Some journalists and revisionist historians have poked holes (1, 2) in that glorious tale, suggesting that it was partly made up, or at least embellished. But of course the official story of the Grito do Ipiranga (“Cry of Ipiranga”) continues to instill pride among Brazilian schoolchildren, and you can watch the pivotal moment above, as re-enacted in one of the relatively rare Brazilian stabs at the epic genre, predictably titled Independência ou Morte.
Released in 1972 to take advantage of the 150th celebration of the declaration of independence, Independência ou Morte was quite popular and still sits at No. 50 on the list of top-grossing Brazilian films. In the role of Dom Pedro is Tarcísio Meira, a very capable actor best known for his work on television. I have vague recollections of watching Independência ou Morte on TV as kid, and since it was released on VHS but not on DVD chances are slim that you’ll ever get to watch it.
Trivia: The scene was clearly inspired by Independência ou Morte, a famous 1888 painting of dubious historical accuracy.