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Fernando Ramos da Silva (29 November 1967 - 25 August 1987) was a Brazilian actor who became renowned for his role as "Pixote," the eleven-year-old title character in Hector Babenco's 1981 film Pixote: A Lei do Mais Fraco, a documentary-style account of the street children of Brazil. Da Silva became a controversial figure after the film's release and found it hard to separate himself from his depiction as the street assailant Pixote.
On 25 August 1987, da Silva was fatally wounded in an alleged shootout with police. Police reports claim that da Silva was resisting arrest, but there are conflicting reports from eyewitnesses who claim da Silva was unarmed.
Born on 29 November 1967 in São Paulo, da Silva was the sixth of ten children. When he was eight years old his father, João Alves, died, leaving him with his single mother, Josefa Carvalho da Silva, and the rest of his siblings. They lived a poor city called Diadema on the outskirts of São Paulo.
As the opening of Pixote states, his upbringing was similar to that of the role he would become famous for playing. His mother received a pension of less than $10 a month. The family sold lottery tickets to generate a livable income.
After attending grade school briefly, he soon joined a theater group and began acting in plays at the age of eight.
The biggest break of his young life came when da Silva was picked out of 1,300 applicants by Hector Babenco to play the role of Pixote.
Pixote was released in 1981 and would become Babenco's first internationally successful film.
The film follows four young boys through their hellish stay in a dictatorial reformatory and their subsequent breakout. After escaping, they return to their lives as children of the street, pickpockets, prostitutes, drug dealers, and, eventually, murderers.
Controversial aspects of the film include the brutal depiction of sex involving children, scenes of children committing acts of murder and drug trafficking, and Lilica, a 17-year-old major character who sells her body to older men.
Pixote became a huge international success, even earning a nomination for best Foreign-language film at the Golden Globes, although it achieved moderate success in Brazil. An estimated 2.5 million viewers in 20 countries saw the movie.
Roger Ebert described the film in the Chicago Sun-Times as "a rough, unblinking look at lives no human being should be required to lead. And the eyes of Fernando Ramos da Silva, [Babenco's] doomed young actor, regard us from the screen not in hurt, not in accusation, not in regret - but simply in acceptance of a desolate daily reality."
The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wrote, "[Pixote's] performances are almost too good to be true, but Mr. Da Silva and Miss Pera are splendid. Pixote is not for the weak of stomach. A lot of the details are tough to take, but it is neither exploitative nor pretentious. Mr. Babenco shows us rock-bottom, and because he is an artist, he makes us believe it as well all of the possibilities that have been lost."
Da Silva's newfound success landed him a one-year contract on TV Globo in a prime-time soap opera. However, he was soon fired for being perceived as lazy, although his inability to read lines due to his illiteracy may have contributed to that perception.
After being fired from the soap opera, da Silva appeared in a small role in Gabriela, a movie by Bruno Barreto. He subsequently went to acting school where he dropped out after just two days.
Da Silva struggled to recapture his fame and eventually returned to the street life he had come from. In 1984 he was arrested on robbery charges in Diadema, one of several charges that would become a frequent occurrence for the former child star.
Da Silva married Maria Aparecida Venancia da Silva in 1985, with whom he had one daughter, Jacqueline.
On 25 August 1987, da Silva was shot seven times by three policemen who claim he had been resisting arrest. However, relatively few people in Brazil believed the official report. While the police report stated that da Silva had been shot while resisting arrest, a forensic examination showed that he had been shot while lying on the ground.
Both his wife and mother called the shooting "a police execution."