Brazil | Marta’s story deserves to be told, but who deserves to tell it?

A package of articles published Oct 5 on Brazilian Web portal Terra details the unique pressures facing Diego Graciano in promoting his biography of sensational 22-year-old Marta Vieira da Silva (see earlier articles, Sept 15 and 12 Sept 07).

The strains started accumulating during his Dec 04 research trip to Marta’s hometown, Dois Riachos, when natives incorporated Graciano into festivities surrounding the customary bingo games in the central square. Having returned from Sweden where she plays professionally for Umeå IK, Marta spoke tearfully to her home supporters. Graciano, to his surprise, was asked to follow. Before Marta, “her eyes full of water,” and many of her relations, he promised to complete the project—the first biography of a female soccer player in Brazil and likely in Latin America (Bruno Ceccon, “Biografia de Marta vira motivo de polêmica com escritor”).

He made good on the pledge. Graciano conducted 70 interviews and amassed 250 images from Marta’s life, including one-of-a-kind pictures from her tenure with an otherwise all-male youth side, Everton, and a photostat of her registration card for futebol de salão. He tells the Terra writer that he has spent nearly $7,000 on the project. He self-published 250 copies of the book, Você é mulher, Marta! (You Are a Woman, Marta!), in the summer and sent them to Brazilian journalists and other contacts in football.

Castro’s Garrincha biography was
banned soon after its publication in
1995, but was back in bookstores the
following year.

The goal of taking Marta’s story to the masses has foundered in a local publishing landscape that shies from printing biographies of living celebrities without explicit authorization. Legal imbroglios surrounding publication of Roberto Carlos em Detalhes (Roberto Carlos in Detail) by Paulo Cesar de Araújo—a book about the singer, not the former defender for Real Madrid—and a Garrincha biography by Ruy Castro are cited as precedent. Yet Graciano has produced a document, which Marta is said to have signed 1 Mar 05, in which she promises to tell her story to him “on an exclusive basis.” In the text, she approves “work, research, studies, contacts and compilation of data and documents with a view to writing and publishing a book that constitutes the biography of the undersigned, writing and publication that is … now … authorized.”

Such evidence as well as the evident participation of Marta and her family in producing Graciano’s book have proven insufficient for publishers Casa da Palavra and Editora Objetiva. Both showed interest in the book but backed off over copyright concerns. An Editora Objetiva representative says the publishing house received no reply from Marta’s agent, Fabiano Farah, and had “a series of questions of copyright” (Bruno Ceccon, “Editoras confirmam interesse por biografia de Marta”).

Marta, through a spokesman, tells Terra that she is unaware of the letter in which she authorized Graciano’s research. Farah, similarly, dismisses any agreement. He tells the Terra writer that a biography would be inappropriate given Marta’s age and that “she has at least 10 more years in her career. Imagine how many chapters more this book could have.” Raising the concern that may be closer to the heart of the matter, he adds that “it’s her right to earn profits in any business opportunity that arises. Why forfeit them?” If Graciano pushes for publication, Farah threatens legal action. It is unclear if the limited self-publication program constitutes a problem for Farah.

Sadly, following the heady early days of intimacy and disclosures, direct contact between Graciano and Marta has all but ceased. Castro, author of the Garrincha biography that was tied up in courts for 11 years, tells Terra that he would not risk a biography of a living person. In fact, he says he would wait 10 years after the subject had died to avoid “idealization or distortion” (Bruno Ceccon, “Ruy Castro desaconselha biografia de ‘vivos’ ”). “[Marta] has the big problem of being alive,” Castro says. “For this reason, my subjects were Nelson Rodrigues, Garrincha and Carmen Miranda—all dead. And, even then, I had problems.”

Graciano has received support from Bebeto and Jorginho, founders of the grassroots football group Instituto Bola Pra Frente, and Minister of Sports Orlando Silva. One must empathize with Graciano, who has produced a heartfelt work with resonance for Brazilian women and unheralded women athletes around the world. Given the profusion of “authorized” footballer biographies and ghostwritten confessionals—consider the £5 million advance paid in 2006 to Wayne Rooney, who was 20 at the time, for a five-book deal—we think that Graciano’s work represents a refreshing iteration, peppered not with trivia or tales of self-indulgence but testimonials to passion and transformation. Marta, with her talent and resistance to gender typing, has moved beyond mere celebrity to become a Brazilian cultural resource like educator Paulo Freire or musician Caetano Veloso. Her story deserves to be told now, not when she is gone.

In the United States, Graciano could claim First Amendment protection in a regime that, according to the Publishing Law Center, permits unauthorized biographies “providing that the biography is accurate and does not invade the subject’s right of privacy, misappropriate his/her right of publicity, infringe copyright protected material of the subject, engage in unfair competition or violate a breach of confidence with the subject” (Lloyd L. Rich, “Publication of an Unauthorized Biography,” 2002). In Marta’s case, the real issue is probably financial. As the Publishing Law Center article states, authorized biographies customarily attract less interest if another biography already exists.

Legislators in Brazil have been moved to revise laws that have helped erect such barriers to the free flow of information. Antônio Palocci, a member of the Chamber of Deputies from São Paulo, suggests a new paragraph in federal statutes that would allow “free dissemination of biographical information about public persons or about those who have participated in activities of communal interest.” Attorney Deborah Sztajnberg, who represented Carlos biographer Paulo Cesar, has assisted in drafting the new language. “At present,” she says, “nobody else is going to write anything else about Brazil, much less biographies.” She still battles to return the Carlos book to shops.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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