FOR weeks Rio officials told Michael Jackson to "beat it," but on Sunday the pop star kept his promise: "I'll be there."
Mr. Jackson arrived with director Spike Lee to film several scenes for his new music video clip in the hilltop shantytown called Dona Marta.
Entitled "They Don't Care About Us," the five-minute video will depict the lives of the poor in the world's largest cities and official indifference to their plight. Lyrics will include such lines as "Am I invisible because you ignore me?"
While Dona Marta residents were ecstatic - they entertained the mega-star with samba music and promised to open a Michael Jackson museum to commemorate the visit - leading Rio officials were irate.
In the weeks prior to his visit, they lashed out at Jackson for his plan to film in one of the city's poorest slums, rather than in one of Rio's many postcard tableaus of golden beaches, gyrating samba dancers, lagoons, and stark mountains.
Ronaldo Cezar Coelho, the state secretary for commerce and industry, said the video would denigrate Rio's image and hurt the city's chances to host the Olympic Games in 2004. State Gov. Marcello Alencar even got personal. "He [Jackson] almost went to jail, and now he wants to become the hero of the poor," he told reporters.
Then Jorge Benja, a local attorney known for his nationalist sentiments - he once tried to prevent Madonna from performing in Rio, after she danced suggestively with the Brazilian flag during a Sao Paulo concert - persuaded a judge to issue a 20-day injunction against the filming.
That legal maneuver infuriated Mr. Lee, who called Rio officials "ridiculous" and "pathetic" and accused them of making Brazil look like a "banana republic." "What do these Rio authorities think? That poverty in Brazil is a secret?" he asked.
A Rio appeals court judge agreed. Last week, he struck down the prior ruling, arguing that "poverty in such communities is public knowledge."
Undoubtedly, Rio officials prefer to hide the fact that they have failed to deal with the city's poverty and have lost control of the slums - called favelas - to drug traffickers.
It's no surprise to most Cariocas - as Rio residents are known - that a Brazilian film company hired by Jackson negotiated price and film locations not with Rio Mayor Cesar Maia, but with Marcio Amaro de Oliveira, Dona Marta's reputed drug kingpin.
Currently, about 2 million people - one-third of metropolitan Rio's population - reside in the city's 548 registered favelas. Hundreds dot the rocky hilltops, defying the law of gravity. Dona Marta's 12,000 favelados have a spectacular view of Guanabara Bay, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Ipanema beach, and Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado peak. But they don't have running water, sewage, or garbage collection.
Here, as in many favelas, schools and health clinics are run-down and without basic supplies.
Many residents said they hoped the visit of an international star would improve their lot.
"It's marvelous that Jackson's coming," said Edilson Barbosa dos Santos, a handyman. "I hope he can help us."
Indeed, some people think he already has. His production crew has given an undisclosed amount to the residents' association and has renovated several homes and a closed health clinic for their use during the day-long filming. City garbage trucks have appeared to haul away piles of trash, and a broken pump that supplies the hill with water has been suddenly repaired.
"That's unheard-of," said Jose Luiz de Oliveira, head of the Dona Marta residents' association. "Like the title of a [recent] Spike Lee movie, they finally did the right thing."