Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

From the ‘mammy’ to the Carnaval ‘mulata’, black women’s representation on Brazil’s airwaves remains very limited


Actress Jacira Sampaio as Tia Nastácia (left) and former Globeleza dancer Valéria Valenssa

Actress Jacira Sampaio as Tia Nastácia (left) and former Globeleza dancer Valéria Valenssa

Note from BW of Brazil: It’s really not hard to tell. If you happen to watch Brazilian TV for any amount and you pay attention, you will note the overwhelming of presence of white Brazilians. It’s something even the worldwide media has noted as the plot thickens in the 2014 World Cup live from Brazil. But it’s not just the obvious absence of black faces, it’s also the one-dimensional characters that they are given in a manner that seems to intentionally re-enforce society’s ascribed “place” for certain groups.

Veteran actress Ruth de Souza portrays the domestic Lurdes in the 1974-75 series 'O Rebu'

Veteran actress Ruth de Souza portrays the domestic Lurdes in the 1974-75 series ‘O Rebu’

Not only is it common that black characters are presented in roles subservient to whites, but the regular representation of Afro-Brazilian women in domestic or sexualized roles continue a long-time Brazilian saying that groups women according to color: “White women for marriage, mulata woman for fornication and black women for work.” In other words, in Brazilian society, women of African ancestry belong in the kitchen or in the bedroom; historically, going back to the colonial era, only the white woman was deemed appropriate for the sanctity and honor of marriage. Still today, Afro-Brazilian women struggle for a more dignified portrayal of themselves in the mass media; and the voices seem to get a little louder everyday.

From Aunt Nastácia to Globeleza

By Isabela Sena

Previously posted at Blogueiras Negras 

1923 Armando Vianna painting "Limpando metais" (cleaning the metals), 1927 "mulata" painting by Emiliano Cavalcanti

1923 Armando Vianna painting “Limpando metais” (cleaning the metals), 1927 “mulata” painting by Emiliano Cavalcanti

As a feminist, I confess, my tendency has been increasingly to turn away from the television. In recent years, the amount of time I dedicate to public television has decreased considerably, at times I stopped completely. This is because, as I become more aware of the social position that is destined to me (and I resist it), the more discourses broadcast by the TV bother me or, to be honest, get on my nerves. From the degrading roles assigned to women in advertising campaigns to the complete invisibility of the black women in television drama, television programming is more a space for confirmation and naturalization of oppression.

Black women are often invisible on Brazilian TV or always portrayed according to  deeply-ingrained stereotypes

Black women are often invisible on Brazilian TV or always portrayed according to deeply-ingrained stereotypes. Image taken from the video “Black women: For a more dignified representation

However the TV continues to be the main means of mass communication in Brazil. For much of the population network TV is the biggest source of information and leisure, occupying a key role in the development and perception of itself and the world. With this in mind, consider the television and – the media in general – a very important space and should be challenged by social movements.

Actresses Roberta Rodrigues, Cacau Protásio, Cris Vianna, Zezeh Barbosa and Priscila Marinho are just a few of the black actresses portraying maids in novelas or short films in the past decade

Actresses Roberta Rodrigues, Cacau Protásio, Cris Vianna, Zezeh Barbosa and Priscila Marinho are just a few of the black actresses portraying maids in novelas or short films in the past decade

In Brazil the TV is structured from oligopolies of national networks that are affiliated with local television stations, these networks follow a commercial logic that, often times, is used to justify the reproduction of oppressive discourses in their programming – the old excuse of “we are showing what the people want to see.” Moreover, the financial capital of the stations come from advertising and advertisers, and, from that, their discourse is linked to two “fronts”: the approval of the viewer (that generates IBOPE TV ratings, drawing more advertisers) and capitalist logic itself present in advertising, generating a systematic production of programs that follow the status quo and refuse to promote a social and political discussion.

Actress Jacira Sampaio as  Tia Nastácia and actress Zilka Salaberry in the children's TV program 'O Sítio do Pica-Pau Amarelo'

Actress Jacira Sampaio as Tia Nastácia and actress Zilka Salaberry in the children’s TV program ‘O Sítio do Pica-Pau Amarelo’

It is within this capitalist dynamic in itself exclusionary, that television seeks to represent Brazil for Brazilians. A Brazil that still follows the patriarchal, slave imagery, where women are still seen as a property (and, at the height of capitalist spectacle society – a product). For black women the picture is even worse, on TV we return to our historical roles of domestic and sexual objects. On one hand we are totally made ​​invisible by a white aesthetic standard, on the other we are highly sexualized, making us into products of consumption and importation. From Tia (Aunt) Nastácia to Globeleza, we are bombarded with discourses that tell us to be silent, hot, submissive, sensual, goods, and finally, to keep us in the spaces destined to us since colonization.

Last year, several women competed to become Globo TV's new 'Globeleza' girl, the representative of Brazil's Carnaval season

Last year, several women competed to become Globo TV’s new ‘Globeleza’ girl, the representative of Brazil’s Carnaval season

Fighting for a real representation on TV goes through, also, a battle so that our demands are discussed on national networks. It’s not enough to attribute important and strong roles for black women (although this is extremely important), it is necessary that the productions allocate a space to discuss the social status of these women. If we take the history of novelas (soap operas), for example, we find successful women characters – although it is rare for a black actress cast in these roles – however, there is almost never a debate about what is to be a woman in Brazil. Representation also means having our stories, struggles and demands portrayed in the media.

Actress Dhu Moraes also portrayed Tia Nastácia

Actress Dhu Moraes also portrayed Tia Nastácia

There is an inherent limitation on TV in relation to in-depth discussions. By its immediate and superficial nature, it seems impossible that political and social discussions are deepened in its programming. In this regard, I highlight the 6 o’clock novela Lado a Lado, a production that, while maintaining the essential structures of a television drama, managed to bring the television universe super relevant issues such as feminine sexual autonomy, friendship between women, the fetishization of the black woman and the position of the black population in post-abolition society. Unfortunately, it was a production of little reach due to the (broadcast) time, the public and the discussion itself that was proposed.

Nayara Justino won the televised contest and became the new 'Globeleza' dancer

Nayara Justino won the televised contest and became the new ‘Globeleza’ dancer

In my view, the demand for television of quality implies questioning its commercial dynamics. Question why an oligopoly can define how and what are the discourses that the Brazilian population will consume and to whom do these discourses serve, because this logic is one of the main obstacles to alternative production. It is also important to think that the media responds to social pressures, so we do have to remain attentive to absurdities broadcast every day, we have to make noise, protest against and show that this antiseptic, white, male, Christian and consumer portrait, does not meet our demands of entertainment and information.

Globeleza dancers - Valéria Valenssa (1991-2004), Giane Carvalho (2005), Aline Prado (2006-2013) and Nayara Justino (2014)

Globeleza dancers – Valéria Valenssa (1991-2004), Giane Carvalho (2005), Aline Prado (2006-2013) and Nayara Justino (2014)

As I’ve already said, it’s necessary to occupy this space, not even being by force, pushing down our throats. Real representation in the media is one of the many rights that we still have to earn as full Brazilian citizens and, in my view, an important tool in the empowerment of black women across the country.

Source: Blogueiras Negras

3 comments on “From the ‘mammy’ to the Carnaval ‘mulata’, black women’s representation on Brazil’s airwaves remains very limited

  1. Pingback: Designer Brand Farm Features Black Models in New Collection ‘black Retrô'; but Why Must Black Models Only Be Featured in ‘special’ or ‘ethnic’ Presentations? is This Supposed to Be Diversity? - EXPOSING BLACK TRUTH : EXPOSING BLACK TRUTH

  2. Pingback: Inside Brazil’s Samba carnival school of black women dancers | udumakalu

  3. Pingback: Carnaval Brazil: Image of black woman is racist, pure sexual | udumakalu

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This entry was posted on July 4, 2014 by in Globeleza, Globo TV, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .
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