Capoeira in Popular Culture

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The Brazilian martial art of Capoeira, noted for its acrobatic movements and kicks, has been featured in numerous films, TV shows and video game series, with varying degrees of popularity. It’s contributions to Western culture and entertainment stem mainly from its captivating, powerful movements.

It’s growing popularity in North America and Europe have stemmed from its addictive blend of music, dance athleticism, and powerful martial arts strikes and dodges.

Its growing popularity in North America and Europe can be seen in its growing relevance in martial arts and action films, from the popular movie/comic character Blade to the niche film Tom Yum Goong by actor Tony Jaa.

Movies: Only The Strong, a 1993 action film, is considered to be the only Hollywood film that showcases capoeira from beginning to end. While many capoeira fans appreciate the film out of a sense of irony, it is generally considered to be a poor quality and cheesy movie which has been rarely used to showcase the sport, probably due to almost completely out of reality impressions about Brazil.

More recent and more widely seen movies such as 2004’s successful Meet the Fockers and Ocean’s Twelve both featured capoeira in several short, but memorable scenes. “Meet the Fockers” portrays capoeira as a useless but amusing joke martial art, while an antagonist in “Ocean’s Twelve” uses his proficient capoeira training to bypass an advanced laser-based security system.

A character of Tenjho Tenge, Bob, also practices capoeira. Another anime character with skills in capoeira is Mugen from Samurai Champloo. Additionally, ex-wrestler turned actor “The Rock” performed a fight scene with several capoeiristas in the film The Rundown.

The movie The Quest, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, had a scene during the tournament of the Golden Dragon, where the Brazilian fighter did an exhibition of capoeira, before his fight. The 1989 movie Rooftops directed by the Academy award winner Robert Wise has also featured a number of capoeira scenes.

Another movie from 1989 was “The Mighty Quinn” featuring Xavier Quinn (Denzel Washington), the Chief of Police of a Caribbean Island and his childhood friend, Maubee (Robert Townsend), who becomes the chief suspect in a murder. Xavier and Maubee fight each other using capoeira in one of the final scenes of the movie, and Xavier performs a rasteira, a signature leg sweep, in one of the first scenes.

Catwoman displayed some capoeira moves during some fights scenes. Actress Halle Berry followed a thorough training with Mestre Boneco of Capoeira Brasil.

Capoeira fighter, Ponciano Almeida from Cordão de Ouro London, has filmed a fight sequence in Hogwarts for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Actress Charlize Theron also trained in the Brazilian martial-art with Professor Xingu of capoeira Batuque for her role in Æon Flux.

In the 2005 Thai action movie The Protector, there is a short fight sequence with the main character Tony Jaa fighting a capoeirista (Lateef Crowder), who was one of the three opponents he faced in the temple fight scene. The fight was presented with a contrast considering Tony Jaa’s athletic style vs Lateef Crowder’s capoeira skills. Lateef Crowder was reported to have been injured during filming, which is why the fight was cut short in the film.

The 2006 film Idlewild featured a short but notable segment of capoeira choreography. The 2006 film Dead or Alive features a scene in which the ninjutsu practioner Hayabusa uses ground capoeira to fend off attackers. Carlos Saura has announced that he will be going to Brazil early 2007 to make a film about capoeira and other local rhythms.

In the 1997 film Mortal Kombat:Annihilation, the character Rayden fights multiple Reptile-like creatures. The last one he fights uses many capoeira kicks and evasions. Many of Wesley Snipes’ action films include scenes involving capoeira, as it is one of several martial arts he practices. Mestre Bimba: A Capoeira Illuminada (2006) is a documentary about Mestre Bimba and Capoeira.

Television: Capoeira first entered public consciousness in the UK by exposure from the Nokia Mobile 2000 advertisement showing Mestre Sylvia and Contra-Mestre Marcos of the London School of Capoeira performing on a beach.

One of the BBC ‘Rhythm & Movement’ idents introduced to BBC One in 2002 shows a capoeira dance, which raised its profile in the United Kingdom. While the attention capoeira has received has caused a boom of interest in this martial art, more skeptical capoeiristas have argued that the way it is used in the media is misrepresentative of what capoeira truly is.

Capoeira formed the basis for the martial arts style called Mustaba, used by the Jaffa people serving Imhotep in the Stargate SG-1 universe. The fighting style was highlighted in the fifth season episode The Warrior.

In the anime Tenjho Tenge, the character Bob Makihara uses this style. Stargate SG-1 also used several capoeiristas from Grupo Axé Capoeira, namely Mestre Barrão, as well as several professores, instructors and students in many stunt choreographies, and conceptualized a race of alien beings practicing a martial art that is based solely on capoeira.

In the animated version of Fullmetal Alchemist, the homonculus Envy uses many Capoiera-styled attacks in his fight scenes. Most notably he can be seen using it during his fight against the series protagonist in the penultimate episode; he also uses it in the fourth season ending credits and during his fight with Greed in the series midpoint.

In the manga and anime One Piece, The Straw Hat Pirates’ chef, Sanji, uses a fictional martial art in which one only attacks with the legs and feet. It draws heavily on capoeira.

In the anime Samurai Champloo, one of the main characters, Mugen, uses a fictional sword art that greatly resembles the methodology, theory, and movements behind capoeira, although the director Watanabe is quoted as saying it is derived from breakdancing. However, the idea of trickery, as well as the high focus on reading others movements are both exceedingly similar to Mugen’s style.

In both the anime and manga of the series Death Note, the character L is seen performing Capoeira in a fight against Light Yagami and in the second opening sequence. In the series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Zack, the Black Ranger, uses a martial art style that includes dance, something he refers to as “Hip Hop Kedo”.

Comics: Batman is said to be trained in all “127 major martial arts”, the DK Ultimate Guide to the character mentions Capoeira by name as one of these, as well as the Greg Rucka novelization to the “No Man’s Land” story arc. Other characters in Batman’s canon are also seen using capoeira like movements, including, notably, the most recent Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, although it is noted that she has no dominant style. Her natural ability of reading movement, however, and her resulting dodges are very similar to capoeira principals.

The afforementioned characters from One Piece, Death Note, and Tenjho Tenge all originate as comic book characters. These characters are Sanji, L, and Bob respectively.

Music: Several pop and rock artists, such as Soulfly, Sepultura, Ben Harper, Leftfield and Gjallarhorn have published albums containing one or more tunes featuring the berimbau. The automobile company Mazda uses a capoeira song, Zum Zum Zum, in their advertisements.

Pop singer Ricky Martin trained Capoeira under the group Capoeira Abolicao in Miami, Fl. He has showcased the art in many television interviews, worldwide. The song “The Garden” on turntablist Cut Chemist’s 2006 album “The Audience’s Listening” is a remix of capoeira music, featuring a berembau, singing in Portuguese and a traditional capoeira beat.

The 2006 music video of Mas Que Nada by Black-Eyed Peas and Sergio Mendes features, among various Brazilian dance forms, several scenes of capoeiristas fighting. Basshunter’s video Vifta Med Handerna (“Throw Your Hands Up”) has clips of Capoeira fighting moves.

Capoeira-related terminology, such as ginga and roda, are included in the lyrics to Nelly Furtado’s song “Explode,” from her Folklore album. In Christina Aguilera’s music video Dirrty, capoeira can be clearly seen roughly 3:55 into the video.

A very short but unmistakable scene of capoeira can be seen approximately 2:31 into Santana and Wyclef Jean’s video for Maria Maria. A capoeira roda is featured in Aaliyah’s music video 4 Page Letter about 3:04 into the video.

Dance: Breakdancing, developed in the 1970s, has many analogous moves. Indeed, many Brazilians had immigrated to the US, and particularly to New York, by that time, and would practice capoeira in the streets where it was able to influence this new dance form. However, the original breakdancers of the early 1970s based their style primarily on actors in Asian kung fu films, rather than capoeira.

The Southern California hardcore metal scene also uses capoeira as an evolution of the early 1980s “slam dancing”. With many of the basic traditions of the “roda” and “volta-ao-mundo”, the participants engage in capoeira at 144-180+ beats per minute. Notably the fans that follow bands such as “Bleeding Through” and “Audora”, dance in this manner. This style is also known as “playing the clown,” because the fans appear to look like clowns in relation to more legitimate and inventive forms of hardcore music and subculture.

Cantonese pop star Denise Ho hired Instructor Berimbau of Grupo Axé Capoeira to teach her and choreograph a piece for a large show in Hong Kong. Mestre Amen was also involved in many of Janet Jackson’s videos from the Rhythm Nation album.

Video games: Capoeira has found its way into a number of computer games, giving the sport introductory access to untold millions of teenagers and young adults.

  • In the games King of Fighters: Maximum Impact and King of Fighters 2006, the character Soiree Meira uses capoeira as his fighting style.
  • One of the earliest video games to make use of capoeira was the 1993 Sega Genesis 2D-fighting game Eternal Champions. In this game, the Atlantian warrior Trident applied the technique in combination with several genre-typical supernatural attacks. As with all characters in the game, Trident’s biography in the “Information” menu offered a brief description and history of the fighting style.
  • Three capoeiristas, Eddy Gordo, Tiger Jackson and Christie Monteiro fight in the popular games Tekken 3, Tekken 4,Tekken 5 and Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection.
  • Chris Bowman from the video game Urban Reign practices Capoiera.
  • In the game The Bouncer, Volt’s rival, Echidna, uses capoeira as her fighting style.
  • Elena fights using capoeira in the game Street Fighter III.
  • In the early Fatal Fury video games, the characters Richard Meyer and Bob Wilson used capoeira.
  • The Neo-Geo game Rage of the Dragons features a Brazilian girl named Pupa, who practices capoeira regional.
  • In the massively multiplayer RPG World of Warcraft, troll males perform capoeira moves as a non-combatitive dance emote.
  • In addition to characters, several capoeira kicks have appeared in several wrestling games, including the WWE Smackdown! series.
  • In the competitive dancing game Bust a Groove for the PlayStation, a pair of aliens named ‘Capoeira’ are featured as a boss, incorporating the dance into their routine.
  • In the video game The King of Fighters XI, a Japanese female fighter named Momoko uses capoeira combine with Psychic Powers. This is uncharacteristic because the Psycho Soldier team all practice Chinese Martial Arts.
  • In the video game Legacy of Kain: Defiance, the male vampire hunters use capoeira for their fighting style.
  • The Japanese name of the Pokémon Hitmontop is カポエラー (Kapoera), which fits perfectly its fighting style and moves.
  • In 1999’s The Matrix, the character Morpheus can be seen using capoeira moves, shortly after telling Neo to “stop trying to hit me, and hit me” during the Dojo training fight scene.
  • In the wrestling game WWE SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain, in the Create-A-Superstar mode there are numerous capoeira attacks, taunts, and a capoeira fighting stance.