Most great directors have their quirky trademarks, but few are as esoteric as “A Luta Continua,” the Portuguese-language political slogan that appears at the very end of the credits of four movies directed by the late Jonathan Demme: Something Wild, Married To The Mob, Silence Of The Lambs, and Philadelphia. To the few who sit all the way through the credits, the phrase probably looks like little more than behind-the-scenes gobbledygook, right up there with the International Alliance Of Theatrical Stage Employees labor union logo, the legal disclaimers, and the MPAA registration. And even that tiny minority of viewers that recognizes the reference would be baffled, because “A Luta Continua” (“The Struggle Continues”) was the slogan of the independence movement in Mozambique. What’s it doing in the end credits of a bunch of American movies? And what’s that little figure next to it?
Demme was well-known for his political activism. He was involved with a variety of progressive groups (including Artists United Against Apartheid), made two documentaries about political turmoil in Haiti (Haiti Dreams Of Democracy and The Agronomist), and often picked subjects for his fiction films that reflected his own social values. The phrase “A Luta Continua,” which was the motto of the Mozambique Liberation Front (also known as FRELIMO, and currently the dominant political party in Mozambique), spread outside of the Portuguese-speaking world through music, most notably as the title of a song performed by Miriam Makeba. Demme himself was introduced to it by reggae singer Big Youth, whose music Demme used on the soundtracks for Something Wild (the first film with the “A Luta Continua” credit) and his remake of The Manchurian Candidate. The slogan has long since taken on a life of its own throughout Africa, most recently serving as a slogan for LGBTQ activists in Uganda and for student demonstrations in Nigeria and South Africa.
The reason it could appear in the end titles of Hollywood studio releases was because, officially speaking, it was part of the logo for Demme’s personal production company, Clinica Estetico. In the years that “A Luta Continua” appeared at the end of Demme’s films, FRELIMO was still engaged in a lengthy civil war against the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), a right-wing movement backed at first by the defunct white supremacist Republic Of Rhodesia and then by the apartheid government of South Africa. FRELIMO and RENAMO finally signed a peace accord on October 2, 1992, two weeks before Demme began shooting Philadelphia, making it the last film to bear the slogan. As for the little man: According to a 1988 profile in The Washington Post, Demme nicknamed him “Jorobado,” Spanish for hunchback. Although the figure is almost identical to a card design sometimes found in the Mexican game of lotería, Demme claimed to have gotten it off a medicine bottle in Spain. He just liked it.