“You are worse than Pastor Emilio,” Argentine filmmaker Marcelo Piñeyro heard say on a radio program while traveling in a taxi through Buenos Aires. Not ten days had passed since the premiere of the series ‘El Reino’ but on the street many already knew the protagonist of the story.
It was a year before the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, when the writer Claudia Piñeiro and the Argentine film director defined that they wanted to create a fiction about the influence of religions on politics. But they never imagined that, in such a short time, the series would become the most watched content on Netflix in Argentina.
The premiere opened a debate on the role of evangelical churches in Latin America. But the criticism was not long in coming. Some said that it was a “stereotypical” view of the evangelical world, some sectors of the evangelical churches directly classified it as “a fascist-type behavior” while, for others, it was nothing more than an accurate reflection of reality.
“That day I cried all day. I trembled all day. I died of fear. And then I recovered but every so often I am afraid again,” says the screenwriter about the threats she received on social networks after the Christian Alliance of the Evangelical Churches of the Argentine Republic (Aciera) issued a statement repudiating the series.
There is no doubt that this new Netflix production, with actors such as Diego Peretti, Mercedes Morán and Chino Darín, reopened the debate on the influence of the churches in politics and does so from entertainment.
‘El Reino’ is the most watched content on Netflix in Argentina, did you expect that repercussion?
Marcelo Piñeyro: What happened with ‘The Kingdom’ is unimaginable. Not even in our best screenings did we expect this. Both Claudia in literature and I in film have had very successful projects but they had other times and they reached fewer people. Instead this was very fast. We are surprised by the repercussion and impact it has had on the public debate.
How did you receive the discussion that it generated about the link between the evangelical churches and political power in Argentina?
Claudia Piñeiro: After the tsunami of spectators came the debate. It is interesting when something appears that, from art, produces a discussion. We waited for the debate, we did not think that this was going to pass through Argentine society untouched without anyone discussing it.
And personally, how did you experience it?
CP: After the debate came the attacks. I think you have to be very careful how you break these things down. The statement from the Christian Alliance of the Evangelical Churches of the Argentine Republic (Aciera) was made to manipulate hatred. And in the series we are talking about the post-truth, about the manipulation of people and one of the ways to do it is to attack with a battalion of people.
What do you see it in?
CP: They said that this was not censorship and what they are doing is an indirect censorship that is applied a lot with women in the networks. This is assaulting you in such a way that you no longer want to talk. The attitude is disciplinary. Discipline myself but also the rest. That day I cried all day. I trembled all day. I died of fear. And then I started putting myself back together but every now and then I am afraid again.
Did you think about this series from entertainment or to dispute meaning about the evangelical world?
MP: We are storytellers. The moment we started talking to Claudia about this idea, we saw the brutal manipulation of society through the mechanisms of post-truth and religions. We noticed how religions were once again a tool of politics, that there were areas of the world where religious wars returned that it seemed that humanity had left behind. Also that in the three Americas, these new evangelical churches functioned as the battering ram to achieve a conservative restoration. They are not to be confused with classical Protestantism. These new churches seek to subtract rights from the population with a clear objective that is to consolidate political and economic power. That’s when we said “what would happen if this happened in Argentina”, from there it was to start building fiction.
Do you understand it as a global phenomenon?
MP: Yes, they are phenomena that are in the world. There is a new right that has no limits and that in each territory acquires its own shape. In Europe we also see a brutal conservative restoration at the hands of the far-right forces. Perhaps they do not have the evangelical churches there but they have the most extreme of Catholicism as well as the neo-Nazi movements that have been growing in a beastly way.
Do you think that these phenomena find some kind of limit?
CP: There may be countries, especially in Europe, where they have better institutional counterweights than we have in Latin America. In this region we have very presidential countries, with less weight from parliaments, I think they have the spring of some institutions that work better.
If we think about the growth of evangelical churches in Latin America, we see it especially in the poorest neighborhoods. Why do you think this happens? Do they grow where the state is lacking?
MP: The growth of evangelical churches undoubtedly has to do on the one hand with areas that the State abandons. But also because of its shape. Evangelical churches, being so inorganic, allow there to be churches in each neighborhood. But these churches are not the ones that are the ram of the new right, I think they are religious companies, generally run by families, whose business is religion and which arrogate political capital to themselves.
What do you respond to the criticism that the series does not recognize the work of these churches?
CP: Not only do we not speak ill of the work that evangelical churches do, as well as Catholic ones and surely others that I do not know. We have characters like Tadeo or El Pescado, we talk about the work of these churches in prisons. Those who say that did not see the series.
This series also opened debate within the different branches of the evangelical churches, some opposed the statement. What do you think of that?
CP: We have received several messages from pastors who wrote to us in solidarity, who understood that it was a fiction. But those pastors are not in this Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches. In fact, many of them speak ill of them. There must be something internal that I do not know and I am not even interested in knowing.
What answer do you give to those who say from sociology that it is a very stereotypical version of the evangelical world?
CP: I don’t think what they say is right. There is a literary critic named Daniel Link who says that the literature of the time tells how a society sees itself, not what it is like. We have to make a plausible version of a fictional story that we want to tell. We watched lots of videos and all the shepherds are different. What is clear is that it is a fictional contract. There are shepherds similar to Emilio and others who do not. The question is why I have to take a different one from Emilio if I am interested in this fiction. I have to choose one and count that one. I don’t understand how you can stereotype when you tell just one story.
Why did you choose Argentina as the setting? Do you think that something like this could happen in that country?
CP: We chose Argentina because we think “what if”, it is a uchrony, we do not mention any political party to avoid falling into the crack.
Speaking of crack, before the controversy over religion began there was a strong campaign on the networks for the political affinity of some of the actors saying that they were “Kirchnerists” and they called not to see it. Is it possible to avoid political polarization in Argentina?
MP: That was a few days before the premiere. When the series was released, that was diluted because it was categorical that you had to see it if you were not left out of the public debate. And also because it is entertaining. At all times, what we try to do is not to fall into the crack. We are convinced that any discussion, however interesting it may be, if it falls into the rift trivializes and makes the discussion stupid. The series is a trigger for a debate. Welcome to that debate to the extent that we do not fall into the friend / enemy coordinates and that we keep it on the frontier of rationality.