Jo Clifford

The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven – Censorship in Brazil

Here Natalia Mallo, the director and translator of O Evangelho Segundo Jesus, Raihna do Ceu – The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven outlines the attempts to silence the play and threats those behind it in Brazil have faced, and what it means for trans rights and the freedom of art throughout the country.

October 30, 2019

To mark the 10th anniversary of Jo Clifford’s landmark performance, The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven, Jo is hosting a dedicated series at The Tron Theatre in Glasgow telling the play’s remarkable journey – from the groundbreaking original production, to the Scottish premiere of the Brazilian production and a new work-in-progress reading.

Queen Jesus opened in Brazil on the 26th August 2016. Since then the play has been banned ten times, and suffered attempts to ban it dozens of times more. Here is a statement written by the play’s director and translator, Natalia Mallo outlining the attempts to silence the play and threats those behind it in Brazil have faced, and what it means for trans rights and the freedom of art throughout the country.


I dreamt I was in front of an audience trying to tune my guitar. I couldn’t get it tuned (this is a recurring nightmare) and someone said: “Take the chance to talk about censorship”.

This is more or less what I said:

There are different kinds of censorship. The first is the type suffered by that person, that body, who has no civil rights and who is denied everything. Such people have no opportunities to ever be on a stage.

The next is the censorship we have experienced during the atrocities of the military censorship. Then there’s today’s censorship which stretches back a long way.

Then I told the saga we have lived through with the play “The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven”, trying to be succinct and tell it though a timeline that began in 2016.

While I was speaking, people began to leave the theatre, one by one, making indignant gestures of solidarity, until the theatre was completely empty before the end of the story.

At the time of the first attacks on the play, I received so many messages of support and solidarity from many different groups.

But while this was happening, the question was always there: “What can we do to stop this happening?”. The support was important, and people would say, “count on me to help”, “I really hope you succeed”, and “You mustn’t be silenced”.

“What can we do to stop this happening?”

And we were thinking: this is what is happening to the play, it is mainly the travesti body that is being silenced and censored, but this is also happening to the whole of Brazil, and to art that is being created here. There was a really strong movement of solidarity, especially on social networks and with some powerful public statements. But they were all defensive, and there was no sense of “we” or of “us”.

And what now?

In 2016, when the play opened in Londrina, a city councillor (who later was put on trial for corruption and for buying votes) started a movement to boycott the play, while evangelical churches put pressure on the festival to cancel it.

After that we had a season in São Paulo in Sesc Pinheiros and performances in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The one-woman play, which stars a trans Jesus, has prompted protests and joy in Brazil (The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven)
Renata Carvalho onstage, performing in O Evangelho Segundo Jesus, Raihna do Ceu – The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven.

Meanwhile, after being nominated for the Ze Renato Theatre Award, we performed in refuges, prisons, diversity centres, independent theatre spaces and out on the street.

In São José dos Campos, political and religious groups put pressure on Sesc to cancel the performance.

In Taubaté there were six letters of protest sent to Sesc calling for the show to be cancelled, death threats, the presence of military police in the auditorium, public protests, confrontations at the leaving the theatre, all orchestrated by a city councillor who, allegedly controls prostitution and human trafficking in the city.

At the same time I received an anonymous video that had been made by a “good christian” when a man was weeping with hatred and rage as he demanded that Renata be tortured and killed and that I be shot.

At the same time all four tyres on my car had been slashed when I was about to go out with my daughter.

And then there was Jundiaí where we received our first injunction, cancelling the performance. It was rescinded months later, but the performance never happened.

In Belo Horizonte, Funarte was prosecuted for including the play in a festival that was on in the city. The prosecution was turned down in a historic judgement defending the fact that Brazil is a secular state which constitutionally guarantees freedom of expression. But there were protests and picketing at the theatre entrance.

In Porto Alegre they prosecuted the theatre festival on two occasions. They were both turned down, and a historic judgement called out transphobia and fundamentalism by name.

In Brasilia, tickets were bought and then publicly burnt at the theatre entrance. Renata was attacked on stage and for the first time the attacker identified himself as a follower of Bolsonaro.

In Salvador, in the Fiac, a deputy organised a boycott, calling for a “holy war”, and prosecuted the Gregorio de Matos Foundation. The injunction was granted and the performance had to be moved to another theatre at the last minute.

In Rio de Janeiro, mayor Crivella cancelled a whole festival to censor the play. There were death threats and protests at the entrance of the Progresso Foundation, where the play ended up being performed.

Jair Bolsonaro, who was a deputy then, tweeted that Brazil had to unite to put an end to the play. His tweet was retweeted 6 million times.

In Garanhuns, we suffered the worst combination of everything that had already occurred. It all happened in a drama that involved the mayor, the governor, the secretary of culture, deputies, priests, and the “good people” of the city. Invitations to perform, the withdrawal of invitations, collusion, slander, death threats, injunctions and police violence. A shameful circus of horrors.

Jair Bolsonaro, who was a deputy then, tweeted that Brazil had to unite to put an end to the play. His tweet was retweeted 6 million times.

At the beginning of this year, the January Festival of Important Plays withdrew the invitation to us, after being threatened with the loss of public subsidies.

Then we stopped. The invitations almost all dried up, and we stopped being willing to expose ourselves to this violence.

If you have stayed with me to the end of this, I repeat my question:

This is what is happening in Brazil now.

And now what?