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The Death of 'Pixote' Star

September 20, 1987

The tragic conclusion of the life of Fernando Ramos da Silva, star of the movie "Pixote" ("The Short Life, Bitter Death of Pixote" by William R. Long, Sept. 4), is a poignant reminder of how strong the grip of poverty is. We in the West like to pat ourselves on the back for all our concern for the world's less fortunate. But this is the question that must be asked: Have we offered lasting solutions?

Here was a boy pulled from the decay of a Brazilian slum and given the starring role in a movie about a boy in those very same conditions. But instead of providing him a way out of his squalid environment, the film became a millstone around his neck.

There was no way Da Silva could overcome his illiteracy and years of social conditioning as he tried to carve out a film career. In the end, he was the perfect "Pixote" and "Pixote" was the perfect Da Silva. Eight bullet wounds from a police gun at the scene of a robbery he had committed made sure of that.

Some might draw a moral lesson from Da Silva's story that fame is fleeting. But having spent more than half of my professional life as a film and television producer in Third World locations, I honestly think that's a cop-out. Da Silva's short life and bitter death had nothing to do with the fickleness of celebrity. But it has everything to do with our belief that poverty can be cured without ever putting our hands on it. When the cameras and microphones were gone, Da Silva remained where he was.

Lasting solutions to poverty can't be applied via television or the cinema. They must be hand-delivered. Fortunately there are those who have seen fit to take this narrow road. I've been privileged to watch many of them in action during my travels. They are missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers and organizations like World Vision, the Red Cross, and others. Theirs is a passion for sticking with the children of need, helping them fight off the nightmare of poverty, no matter how difficult, discouraging or unglamorous the battle might be.

They dedicate their entire lives to solving problems and giving slum-dwellers like Da Silva a chance to find freedom, something Academy Award consideration never could do.



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