Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

When black elites sell out black activism: Female college professor fired over her protest of controversial TV series


Faculdade Zumbi - Vicente - Ellen de Lima Souza

Note from BW of Brazil: The controversial television series Sexo e as negas comes to a close as its final episode airs tomorrow night. The debate over the writing, quality and depiction of black women on this program has raged since it was first announced last spring and only heated up with its subsequent debut and 12-week run. The series has been featured on this blog in various posts due to the importance of an open dialogue about a program that prominently features Afro-Brazilian women who have been continuously portrayed as maids and sexy ‘mulatas’ throughout the history of Brazilian television.

Actresses and creator of 'Sexo e as negas'

Actresses and creator of ‘Sexo e as negas’

As we near the end of the coverage of the program, past and recent events have revealed to us a number of important clues into the precarious situation of Brazil’s black rights organizations, the power structure, the dynamics of black elites vs. black activists as well as a re-visiting of black women activists’ claims of sexism within the ranks of black rights organizations. Between this post today and further posts in coming days, there is a lot to cover on these issues, so let’s get to it…

Several weeks ago, tension over the controversial series boiled over as a female professor at Brazil’s only black college was fired for her involvement in protests against the program. Here’s a quick breakdown of what happened…

Sexo e as Negas case – After letter of repudiation, coordinator is fired from college

October 14, 2014

Two days after publishing a text repudiating an invitation by the directors of the college to Miguel Falabella for a debate, Ellen de Souza Lima was removed from her position and barred from completing her classes of the semester in the course of Pedagogy

By Jarid Arraes

Originally posted at Revista Fórum

Professor Ellen de Souza Lima, left, was removed from position at the Zumbi dos Palmares College directed by José Vicente

Professor Ellen de Souza Lima, left, was removed from position at the Zumbi dos Palmares College directed by José Vicente

The controversy of the new series of Miguel Falabella, Sexo e as negas, and the subsequent invitation to the director to participate in a debate on the program hosted by Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (Zumbi dos Palmares College – Unipalmares or FAZP) in São Paulo, there has been a new controversial outcome: two days after launching on her personal Facebook profile a letter of rejection to an invitation by the rector, professor and coordinator of the pedagogy course in college, Ellen de Souza Lima, was removed from her position and barred from completing her classes for the semester.

In an interview with the Afropress website justifying the removal of the coordinator, the dean José Vicente said that the criticism of the Globo TV series would be by “fundamentalists”. Ellen de Souza Lima says the pedagogy course consists mostly of black women that felt just their right to express dissatisfaction with the Falabella invitation. In addition, Souza questions the fact that no black activist and researcher in the area were called to participate in the discussion.

Souza says that the note of rejection, also signed by the coordination and teaching and student bodies of the college, was read during an assembly at the institution and explains that it sought to address the issue with the dean. “I pointed out that the entrance of Miguel Falabella in a space like FAZP was inconsistent with the values ​​of the institution, especially in a moment in which the program shows black women solely as sexual objects.” However, the rector José Vicente rebuked the claim that led to the coordinator asking for removal from the position, but soliciting that she could complete all the remaining classes in term time – a request that was not met by the rector.

Black women from all over Brazil took to the streets to protests the Globo series. Photo from rally in Salvador, Bahia

Black women from all over Brazil took to the streets to protests the Globo series. Photo from rally in Salvador, Bahia

“I find it strange the fact of seeing a black man shouting demands for space to ensure the right to free speech and defense of the producer of a series underpinned with sexist and racist ideology in a black space like Zumbi dos Palmares College and this same black manager, hearing the manifestations of black women belonging to their space, partners in his project partner, treats our demands in a trivialized, uncharacteristic manner, and still understand the manifestations of these partners being worthy of punishment, as he himself declared,” Souza explains. “So, I wonder: how can a letter of repudiation be fundamentalist? They want to treat us as objects and make use of our bodies to legitimize something that harms us and we vehemently disagree and they expect us to do so in silence?” she asks.

Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares in São Paulo

Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares in São Paulo

The professor assesses the impact against the show as strong and positive, but asks that the protests do not stop and still asks for more union of black activists – also aiming to insert FAZP Pedagogy students in spaces where they can develop methodologies for egalitarian education. “I think in this moment it is important to show to those who have not yet understood that this repudiation against the show Sexo e as Negas is not that of Ellen the professor or the Pedagogy group, but is a national movement contrary to a sexist, racist and classist ideology that sustains said series,” she concludes.

Note from BW of Brazil: Shortly after Professor Souza was fired from her position at Zumbi dos Palmares College, the rector of the college was interviewed by Afropress, a well-known website that discusses racial issues in Brazil, to get his side of the story. Here is that interview in its entirety. 

For the dean of Brazil’s only black college, resistance to the Globo miniseries is fundamentalism

From the Editor of Afropress

Originally published at Afropress

The controversy surrounding the miniseries Sexo e as negas, directed by actor Miguel Falabella and presented on Tuesdays on Globo TV, still occupies space on social networks and has already caused at least one fall at the Faculdade dos Zumbi of Palmares (College): professor Ellen de Souza Lima, coordinator of the School of Pedagogy and responsible for launching a manifesto protesting against the the invitation to the director to discuss the topic in Sampa Flink, was removed by the director of the college.

In an exclusive interview with Afropress, the dean José Vicente, confirmed the removal of the course coordinator, and blamed the climate on “exaggerated emotionalism” that is permeating the public debate about the miniseries. “There was really an erroneous misreading and does not even consider the right to free expression of thought, the right, inclusive of at least arguing. We at no time invited Falabella to receive a trophy (at the Troféu Raça Negra awards), or even to attend the awards,” he said, stating that the director, at the initiative of production of Flink (1), was invited to a table of debates, however, he did not confirm his presence.

“Our desire is for him to come sit at the table and say what the fundamentals are, why he thinks it’s right, why he can’t do it differently, if he is aware that by doing so, he produces these effects. Really because this is what Flink is for, it’s to debate the different occurrences,” said the dean.

Vincente said he was concerned about the climate of intolerance that has marked these discussions and other issues by segments of the Movimento Negro (black movement). “What I have observed is that there is a radicalization of the debate and posture and a radicalization in which they are trying to appropriate the foundations of this Movimento Negro, of this black activism, the objectives of the struggle for purposes that are not consistent with what was constructed, with what it has addressed and what it needs to achieve. The purposes to where you want to take this discussion, this action is totally dissonant than traditionally has been the struggle of the black theme, which is a struggle for space, for respectability, for recognition, empowerment and appreciation of blacks, but starting with the assumption that the good Brazil is the Brazil that is good for blacks and whites,” he added.

See, in full, the interview of the dean José Vicente, to Afropress editor, journalist Dojival Vieira.

Afropress – How are you following the debate around the Globo miniseries Sexo e as negas? We have information that there have been people from the Pedagogy department resigning or being fired, due to a protest against the invitation to director Miguel Falabella. How are you seeing this?

José Vincent – I’m seeing it all, at least here on my side, like a very exaggerated emotionalism, whose exacerbation is, including, allowing one to take positions upon misreadings.

The emotionalism strengthened by this extraordinary dimension that it took. It was known that it should have consequences, but it was amazing the thunderous, viral repercussion and as a consequence of this a series of precepts of consensus, prudence and even responsibility trampled it, we’ll say it like this.

Our reading is this. What was a result of emotionalism, of this sensibilization of the theme as latency in this moment so it ended up trampling over, including, important fundamentals. There was even an erroneous misreading and does not even consider the right to free expression of thought, the right, inclusive of you at the least arguing.

We in no time invited Falabella to receive a trophy, or even to attend the awards. The thing happened in such a cartoonish way, that in the end it obliges us to get more upset.

In fact there is a production of the Flink Sampa team that is producing the content. Then they’re all day looking for some content that may stick or that is interesting. As we’re doing the centennial celebration of Carolina [de Jesus], we’re trying to discuss various aspects of the trajectory of Carolina and the black woman that in the group allows us to bring a general balance, to know where we’re going and how we can get there.

And the fact of the matter fits directly into a perspective of discussing precisely these stereotypes, caricatures etc. and such. And so without knowledge (and also not needing knowledge), the girl who was producing content sent an email asking if he couldn’t attend a debate, he and the entire cast at Flink Sampa.

And as he had been with us on two occasions in the Troféu, I think he got it wrong, or at the time of expressing himself ended up including a mixture of the things and got the impression that he was invited to participate in the Troféu awards. Then he says “look, I was invited to the Troféu Raça Negra, to debate the miniseries, the work etc. and such.” But logically Troféu doesn’t debate anything, he was invited to debate at Flink Sampa. I think he didn’t relate it to Flink Sampa, or the first thing that came to him was the Troféu Raça Negra and he ended up saying that he would participate in the Troféu Raça Negra and debating the miniseries. On top of that it seems that there was the understanding that he’d be invited to receive the Troféu Raça Negra award. Hence the most varied protests came about due to this misunderstanding.

Afropress – But don’t you think that his joining the debate in Flink Sampa is still very relevant?

JV – Our wish is that he would sit at the table and say what the fundamentals are, why he thinks it’s right, why he can’t do it differently, if he is aware that by doing so, it produces these effects. Really, this is what Flink is for, it’s for discussing the most different occurrences. We are even taking on the case of racism in futebol, racism in the labor market, ultimately. As always in Flink, one discusses all the important dimensions of this topic. And that was one dimension, black female, market, blacks in the media, in short, it was very important, very timely, and because of this the invitation for him to come join the discussion was made.

And so the invitation ended up being presented and understood from the thinking that he was being asked to receive an award, and it was not owed, was not deserved and soon the institution needed to be questioned, and coming from the idea that he could not even be invited to discuss the miniseries because of considering what he represents, what he could represent, then not even the discussion would be a due and reasonable act of opportunity.

So it became this he-said-she-said in social media and in the end, resulted in an internal problem because our coordinator of Pedagogy, in an unjustified and totally unprofessional manner met with students and faculty members making ​​a whole argument because in her view it was improper, illegal, inappropriate and questionable, and along with these people, eventually produced a manifest about it.

So this then generated a hassle, discomfort, because in the end of the story, the resentment of the freedom of expression being a basic foundation, this was an issue that should be debated internally, that in the position of trust that she found herself (was coordinator of course), she was in a position that was out of place, since the critical debate of ideas is the meaning and the foundation of the academy. Otherwise it makes no sense to participate in the academy if it was single-minded thought. In the case of coordination is a very delicate position. As a result there was discomfort and also attacks out of time, out of place and even unjust and we also had an internal drive, especially in the course of Pedagogy, which then culminated with the resignation of our coordinator, taking into account that logically, we were facing a different position – the institution could not maintain an attitude like that, for who was there in the lead of representing the institution and the institution’s values ​​and fundamentals. So she ended up being removed and we will keep moving forward.

Afropress – To what do you attribute this volume, it seems that this debate has acquired a very large dimension on social networks, what do you attribute this to?

JV – That’s true, man. First, because I am the most inappropriate man to answer that because I don’t watch TV. When things are on TV I’m working. I don’t even know what the hell this blessed miniseries Sexo e as negas is. I haven’t followed it, I haven’t watched it, I don’t watch it, much less this miniseries. The second is that I also just learned, amazing, I was taken by surprise because we only knew of this after the repercussion, because a few emails started coming to me, I didn’t know of such a production of the program … See, Flink must submit at least this year some 100 activities, there’s music, dance, debate,  it has everything. So in no time I became aware of what had been done, this invitation, when I found out I only heard of the repercussion. And then I didn’t follow it, I didn’t know of this business of Sexo e as negas, I only became aware afterwards.

But it seems to me that the Aranha case [Santos’s black goalkeeper who was a target of racism on the part of Grêmio fans], the background in the US, the Ferguson case [the black revolt in the American city of Ferguson] case, which happened in the last three months on this theme, I ended up moving toward a positioning of this nature, and things just took an inordinate proportion because the impression now is that he was being freed, that he was being then endorsed, what he was doing was correct, once they had been invited by a thematic institution that has a certain expression and referencing. So, I have the impression that this ended up affecting things further and then what appeared to be a normal and traditional positioning as they were previously went overboard.

It was a very difficult situation, but anyway it was a proposition that was a head above. We have a service record on this issue, it was an unprovoked, inelegant, uneducated aggression [by the course coordinator]. At the end of the whole work it’s a treatment, one is throwing out the bath water with the baby and everything.

Afropress – Don’t you think there is in certain sectors of the Movimento Negro (black movement), a posture that is resistant to discussion of the differences? That to me sounds like very single minded defense, doesn’t it seem to you?

JV – I am very concerned about these and other events, and they, in essence, at the end, they are appearing to send a signal that the debate is restricted. That can only be discussed if you, a priori, were to agree with the thought of the Movimento Negro or a certain representation of the black movement. I think it is also very dangerous and counter-productive, because construction will always have to be construction with the other. According to the interdiction of the debate, having diverse thoughts can lead us, ultimately, to a fanaticism to extremism.

Pretty soon it will determine how you behave, what you can think, what way you can think. And if you act differently, at the limit you can be at risk of suffering a stoning. I find it very dangerous, disturbing and I think we all need to review these positions, these referrals, because it seems to lead us to a confrontation. I don’t think it’s the best way to deliver the solutions that our theme needs.

Afropress – This doesn’t seem to be new, right dean, but it seems that it’s growing, this position of intolerance of difference that in reality is contradictory to what we stand for. We are victims of intolerance of difference and besides we are plural. We do not think the same thing and it would be odd that we would defend this single thought. So I’m always very careful when I hear in meetings, demonstrations, lectures and seminars such things as someone saying “the Movimento Negro decided this,” the “Movimento Negro decided that.” First: what Movimento Negro? What Movimento Negro is this? Doesn’t it appear to you that this thing is growing, because it’s not new?

JV – The reasoning is that these overtures, all these developments, all these achievements and qualifications of the debate of the people, would lead us to an action of more strategy, more ability, more intelligence and strategic points of view so that we now consolidate these achievements and we continue building conditions and reaching others. What I have observed is that there is a radicalization of the debate and posture and radicalization in which, as we said, are trying to appropriate the foundations of this Movimento Negro, of this black activism, of the objectives of this struggle for purposes that are not in agreement with what was constructed, with what was discoursed and what one needs to reach.

The purposes for which you want to take this discussion, this action, are totally dissonant from what traditionally has been the struggle of the black theme, which is a struggle for space, for respectability, for recognition, appreciation and empowerment for blacks but coming from the presumption of that the Brazil good for blacks is the Brazil that is good for blacks and good for whites.

And that the key element to be fought, to be attacked is intolerance, racism and discrimination against anyone, black or white. And the case here is positioning itself that racism and discrimination is only of the other, our worth, ours is referenced, approved and authorized. I am very worried, it was not for this that we did ​​the revolution. We want a Brazil in which people can have the right to discuss ideas, have contrary ideas and that people can make choices. Those girls have the individual, personal right to choose to work at Globo, on that series, where they wish.

Afropress – Now there was then a patrol that would say what black people can or cannot do on TV? What absurdity is this? This is more like North Korea, don’t you think?

JV – It’s the Taliban, an Islamic State of such…

Afropress – At the moment in which there is a norm in which blacks should behave, or they can assume these or those roles… because it is the following: the screaming is against Miguel, but also it reaches the black women that are part of this series, because they are also demonized by this campaign, don’t you think?

JV – Of course, what is this? A black or white actress…We will want that again, Sérgio Cardoso paint his face black to be play a black role [the actor painted himself for the novela A Cabana do Pai Tomás, in the 60s]. This is all that’s missing now. This discussion deserves a series of observations. If you turn on the TV and change the channel to a 7 or 9pm novela, there are Taís Araújo and Lázaro Ramos in the lead roles. And if you change the channel to the novela of whatever channel, you will see that all the white women and men are rubbing up against each other in lingerie in bed at 6 or 7 in the afternoon, or Vale a Pena ver de Novo at 2 pm. So I don’t know if it there’s a place, whether it’s fitting for a thought of that nature. Black women cannot. Is what they do immoral, illegal or fattening?

Afropress – It seems a fundamentalist thing, even the theme of sexuality…

JV – Only it cannot be black women, all the others can. You can’t understand this fight against sexism on only one side.

Afropress – Can you identify where this comes from?

JV – No. I need not dwell on these currents, these generating sources. We need time to look into this. What caught my attention is that I didn’t see much about it, but I saw very few black people positioning themselves. And I’m not even saying that they were not in defense of Miguel Falabella. It seems a bit of a pact of silence.

Afropress – We opened the debate, including with Professor Júlio Tavares of the Universidade Federal Fluminense. We had several articles about it, but it happens that these articles don’t reflect the radicalization then, with this attitude of this professor launching a manifesto against it, and subsequently being let go.

JV – I think we all have this trajectory in this struggle. These achievements, in which none of them are consolidated, are the responsibility of us all. And we all have to be called to responsibility. Responsibility means to continue leading this theme in a way that we continue to build without becoming, ourselves, our own capitães do mato (captains of the woods, or loosely meaning “house negroes”), the ones that will interdict the debate and further define what people can do or say.

Afropress – Would you make the invitation to Miguel Falabella to discuss the issue again?

JV – We will make an International Seminar to discuss discrimination, racism, and discuss various forms of bigotry. We are an institution that produces critical debate, we are lovers of free expression of thought. Logically, if the Sexo e as negas team wants to debate, of course that will be received with due respect and they will be allowed to put their case forward and we will respect that and also put ours (forward).

Afropress – He has not confirmed, but will the actresses come?

JV – I don’t know. I don’t know with all of these events that they weren’t scared, that they weren’t worried. But in every way if they can’t come now, it will remain open. It’s a sin what is being done to these girls, they didn’t even say what they think. It’s a sin. All our spaces will be open to them if they ever want to talk about it. We will discuss racism in futebol, police actions, this would be one among the eighty activities that will be developed.

Afropress – Do you plan to talk to Falabella?

JV – He is a person worthy of my respect, I have admiration for all his work. Falabella has already had been in Troféu, the Troféu has already been given to Chica Xavier [actress]. The Troféu Raça Negra is a space where we receive all. Be it in Flink, be it in Troféu or in another space, if Falabella wants to talk to me, I’ll have all the respect to sitting chatting, listening to make my considerations if necessary, if it were possible without any problem.

Note from BW of Brazil: Soon after the Vicente interview, one of the most prominent black women’s activist groups that led the charge in repudiation of the TV series posted their own response to not only the professor’s firing, but also the position of Vicente as well as that of Afropress  about the situation. Here is the response of the Blogueiras Negras group. 

Note of repudiation of the positioning of Zumbi dos Palmares college on Sexo e as negas

blogueiras negras

By Blogueiras Negras – October 15, 2014

Originally posted at the Blogueiras Negras blog

We Blogueiras Negras (Black Women Bloggers) vehemently reject the stance of institutional and ideological silencing of the Zumbi dos Palmares College regarding their attitudes towards all black women, inside and outside of the institution, that spoke out against the show Sexo e as Negas. We therefore declare our unqualified support for Ellen de Lima Souza, a black woman and course coordinator of Pedagogy of the institution, dismissed for expressing her point of contrast to the presence of (show creator) Miguel Falabella at the college, always remembering that it is not a personal issue, but the struggle for a representation of the black woman that is not stereotypical, sexist, racist; ultimately only human.

In a recent interview with the Afropress website (Originally published on its website, now offline due to computer hacking), the director of Zumbi dos Palmares College José Vicente says the spiteful way that the criticism of black women to the Falabella series it is simply “exaggerated emotionalism”, advocating that our observations and demands were based on an “erroneous misreading and that didn’t even consider that the right to free expression of thought, the law, inclusive of you at least arguing.”

Arguing that the criticism of black women has to do with pure emotion is the defense that we are not capable of constructing an insightful, astute and practical evaluation of a reality that speaks straightforwardly only to ourselves and not to black men. And the name of this is sexism. We have voice and arguments, we demand to be respected, welcomed and not brutally silenced as has been the historical practice of some sectors of the Movimento Negro (black movement), that prefers that we remain quiet.

In no time, did we black women that positioned ourselves against the show, inside and outside of the Zumbi dos Palmares institution, trample any “precepts of consensus, prudence or responsibility.” We will continue, through our ability to speak coherently for ourselves, denouncing the secular racism and sexism that the fall upon our bodies and lives. When a black man refuses to understand our struggle, belittles our speech and disrespects our place to speak, it only manifests his allegiance to a system of things where the woman is nothing more than an object.

The note in repudiating the presence of Miguel Falabella at the college never had “improper, illegal or questionable” character. Regardless of having been constructed when one suggested the possibility that the author be awarded by the institution or just participating in a discussion, it characterized only the collective right to free expression of ideas on the part of black women that the college intends to empower. One must understand that silencing the criticism of Sexo e as negas is also sexism, is also or racism or its reproduction.

The free exercise of ideas generates power, never discomfort, unless those bothered condone the racism and sexism that has been directed at us. We understand that the positioning of Zumbi dos Palmares College should of listening and welcoming all students and professors who signed the note, mostly black women. How the college, before such a serious fact of blatant ideological persecution, can simply “touch the lives” and “move on” when one of the most costly precepts  of the academy is severely disrespected? When the black woman continues to be violated inside and outside of the television?

How to make reference to “critical debate of ideas is the meaning and the foundation of the academy,” if those who disagree are silenced and persecuted because of their ideological opinions? If this law is defended only for the aggressor and its allies and not for the black woman, isn’t she once again the victim of symbolic violence? For the premise that motivated the construction of the Zumbi dos Palmares College to be fulfilled, it is necessary that the struggle of black women is considered nothing less than legitimate within the institution. Otherwise, we only have a litany of intentions that will never have as its purpose an equal society.

We, Blogueiras Negras, will insist and blacken. Considering that our reaction to sexism and racism that concerns us, once again and everything that was said in the note of repudiation is an “unprovoked aggression, tacky and disrespectful” speaks of a false symmetry that is not consistent with an academic institution, particularly in the context of a college that is motivated to empower the black population. We are only acting in self defense. And we will act as often as necessary, when it comes to violence from whoever it comes from.

In function of this, we also express our condemnation of the irresponsible way with which the newsroom of Afropress conducted the interview with director José Vicente, because it showed its agreement with the idea that criticism of the TV show Sexo e as negas was motivated by disrespect for differences and the unique thought. We are only exercising our right to debate, have a voice and not silencing ourselves. Understanding that this right speaks to “fanaticism”, “radicalism” is of an atrocious inhumanity, comparable to that which we have seen on the show.

Activists calls for the boycott of the program remained consistent throughtout the show's three month run

Activists calls for the boycott of the program remained consistent throughtout the show’s three month run

By chance is it through the silencing of black women that we will achieve an equal society? It speaks to a serious offense to suggest that we black women are capitãs do mato (captains of the woods), it is a serious disrespect to the struggle that it claims to defend. We are exercising our speech, through which we demand respect, which is diametrically opposed to the “intolerance of difference.” It should not be confused in any way to the reaction of who will pick up with the action of the one who strikes. Whoever does it in the first place asks which side is which of the debate to stand beside the aggressor. No black man tells us how we should militate in support of our interests. The one who knows where and how Sexo e as negas hurts is the black woman.

What some call “traditional Movimento Negro” always ignored our demands. However, we were never silent and didn’t accept staying behind the scenes so that all the black men have the lead role in combating racism that affects us in a flagrant and unique way as women. Or for this same black man to believe his sexism is justified. The struggle of the black woman is guided by the defense of equality. Accusing us of reverse intolerance and racism not only shows a profound ignorance of what racism is, but also of the sexism of which we are victims, sexism that also comes from black men.

At no time did we have as an objective to target black women who are working on the show. We are disputing meanings and the right for a dignified representation. We never said that the problem is sex, but it is hyper-sexualization, objectification, stereotyping, the reduction of social meaning, a whole range of symbolic violence that goes beyond the presence of black actors who, once again, we are not attacking. Our objective is that they are themselves on television and in the media, but not in any way. Without quality, the representation of black people only serves racism.

If Zumbi college really is an “institution that produces critical debate” and a lover of “free expression of thought,” it should consider the immediate return of Ellen de Souza Lima to the staff of the institution as well as the making of a debate in which all those who drafted and signed the note in repudiating the presence of Miguel Falabella at the college be heard and not silenced. Without this, it would be even more evident of what side the institution is on in the debate and what principles it defends.

Note from BW of Brazil: Having followed the situation and debate about this series from day one, this blog would like to express its disappointment in the actions of the leader of Brazil’s first and only black college. It’s unnecessary to say that we are not all inclined to agree on all issues, but there are some fundamental principles of the Afro-Brazilian struggle that were severely trampled upon by the institution that one would think would stand in solidarity with the female parcel of the population that has been most disrespected throughout Brazil’s history.

Over the years, there have been many rumblings from black women’s organizations that accuse various factions of Movimento Negro leadership of harboring sexist attitudes and I must admit that this is exact sentiment that came to mind as I read the Vicente interview. Like previous comments made by Afro-Brazilian actors in support of the program, it seems that the head of the college placed himself at the services of the white power structure by attempting to silence legitimate black feminine activism and aligning himself with the show’s creators even when the network itself has voiced its disappointment with the production. One has to wonder, if black female activists cannot depend on a black institution, leadership and male support on such a basic issue, is there any possibility of of black unity when the latter is so quick to turn his/its back on half of its population? 

Analyzing the interview, I have my own questions and comments…I highlight in bold the piece to be addressed from the Vicente interview followed by the blog’s comments/questions. 

“climate of intolerance”

A climate of intolerance? Interesting choice of words. White Brazilians have ALWAYS called the shots in Brazil. From the usage of black bodies for labor and sexual exploitation and mass murder that started on 16th century slaves ships and continues today in cities throughout Brazil as we see in the state-sponsored mass murders of black people at the hands of death squads and Military Police. In government, economics, sports, etc. whites continue to rule and descendants of Africans in Brazil have very little if any access to any power. In the media, white Brazilians continue to control how Afro-Brazilians are presented in the mass media which continues to maintain the “place” that this community has in the mind of Brazilian society. One of the reasons for the rise of black women’s branches of the Movimento Negro, at least from I understood, was to combat these negative images of which media critic Joel Zito Araújo masterfully exposed in his 2000 groundbreaking work on images of Afro-Brazilians in the media, A Negação do Brasil – O negro na telenovela brasileira (Denying Brazil: the Black/Negro in the Brazilian Soap Opera). With this in mind, I’m curious to know how black women can be accused of being “intolerant” if they reject the “places” where they have always been restricted to (the bedroom and the kitchen). That is unless one believes they should simply remain silent and stay there.

“radicalization”

Again, raising one’s voice in opposition to something that is found to be unacceptable is not radicalization; it is activism. I guess here this depends on how one defines “radical”. And in the context of social movements where there have been uprisings, violence, murder, fires, etc. the women who reject the series haven’t actually done anything “radical”.

“struggle for space, for respectability, for recognition, empowerment and appreciation of blacks”

Indeed, these are some of the things black and women’s groups stand for. But we must understand that not all “space” allows “respectability” and the two terms don’t always necessarily come together. There is nothing “empowering” about this program. No black woman (or man for that matter) contributed to the creative process, the characters weren’t in fact the protagonists and the narration was done by the white (male) director. This doesn’t even consider the questionable scenes in which sex supposedly resolved a conflict based in racism between two black characters and the women needing a white woman (or was it ‘savior’ (2) to defend them against racism. In closing, the often graphic sex scenes of the program seem to promote the director’s true “appreciation” of black skin. Not surprising considering the place of negra/mulata women in Brazilian history.

“exaggerated emotionalism”

Shameful choice of words. Many of the black women criticizing this program have college educations. Some have Master’s degrees, some are professors, but apparently in the dean’s mind, these black women cannot analytically articulate their concepts of this program because their thoughts are purely based on “emotions” rather than cognitive thinking skills. Not a good look from a black man who one would think would be a black woman’s natural ally. This is of course not to say that black people cannot disagree, but to reduce criticism to simple “emotionalism” is sexist in nature. As Vicente even revealed that he hadn’t even watched the program I ponder how he could even debate this topic without having seen the topic that is at the center of the debate. One other thought. Dennis Oliveira is a professor over the Brazil’s top university, the University of São Paulo, and he also soundly criticized the program. Should his criticism also be labeled “exaggerated emotionalism”?

“the right to free expression of thought”

Again, interesting choice of words. Is this to say that the author of the novela should have “the right to free expression of thought”? but the women should’t? Really?

“a perspective of discussing precisely these stereotypes, caricatures”

How can there be an open discussion when there is an immediate attempt to stifle voices of dissent?

“resentment of the freedom of expression being a basic foundation”

It seems to me that by attempting to silence dissent, the dean here is doing exactly what he seemingly purports to stand for.

“I don’t even know what the hell this blessed miniseries Sexo e as negas is”

Incredible! He chooses to censor and then fire a voice of dissent over a genuine issue that speaks to a stereotype that has plagued black women for five centuries and he hasn’t even seen the program?!? My question would be, had he seen a few episodes and agreed that the program was filled with stereotypes at worst or was simply badly written at best, would he have voiced his rejection/concern or would he have still cloaked his rebuttal in the principal of “freedom of expression”? Also, had professor Souza come to him before helping to draft the letter of repudiation, would he have still fired her, requested that she not participate in the manifestation or at least analyzed the complaint?

“lead to fanaticism to extremism”

“Fanaticism” and “extremism”? Again, how is repudiation of images based on historically-established representation considered fanaticism or extremism? Globo TV is the most powerful network in Brazil and Latin America and the spread of such images no doubt play a role in stereotypes long attributed to black women. If it were he that repudiated something I would be curious to know how he would go about expressing his displeasure. Again, considering armed movements in history in which people openly speak of the need to kill the opposition, how does he judge this to be extremism?

“foundations of this Movimento Negro”

Are the “foundations of this Movimento Negro” based on black female oppression? This tone of this interview seems to support the idea that black women remain in the kitchen and remain silent in sort of the same way they are often presented on television.

“the key element to be fought, to be attacked is intolerance”

Again, intolerance. It seems that the dean prefers to fight for the right of the (white) director/TV network to present black characters in any way they see fit with no challenge whatsoever. If that’s the case, why even have social activism, organizations or pretend that you stand for empowerment? After all, if we should just tolerate everything, what’s the point of struggle?

“Those girls have the individual, personal right to choose to work at Globo, on that series, where they wish”

No argument here. The women of Blogueiras Negras adequately pointed out that the attacks were never on the actresses of the program so this comment wasn’t even necessary. I personally never saw any attacks on the actresses online. All of the attacks I saw were always focused on the creator (Falabella) and the network (Globo).

Vieira: “This is more like North Korea, don’t you think?”

Baseless and completely unnecessary. Does Vieira also feel the same way about the voices that spoke out against the brutal 21 years of Military Dictatorship? I’m curious…should those voices of protest also have been considered simply “emotional”?

“The Taliban”

Ditto! Shameful to even make such a comparison!

Vieira: “but also it reaches the black women that are part of this series, because they are also demonized by this campaign, don’t you think?”

Disappointing here. It seems that Vieira (the interviewer) completely throws away impartiality here as a journalist to voice his agreement with the dean’s stance.

“white women and men are rubbing up against each other in lingerie in bed”

This comment deserves an entirely different conversation as it delves into questions of sexuality in the media and acceptability. I will simply state here that we all know (or maybe we don’t) that skin color can often provoke totally different attitudes toward given situations even they are identical. There has been a long debate in the US on the differences of perceptions of black women’s sexuality in comparison to white women and the debate also applies to Brazil, as one author pointed out in her text. Let us not forget the complete difference in SBT anchor Rachel Sheherazade’s opinion toward a black teen accused of crime in comparison to trouble teen pop idol Justin Beiber. I would think that anyone familiar with race in society and media would be familiar with how blacks and whites are imagined and depicted in different manners. Or have we forgotten the saying: “A white man running is an athlete; a black man running is a thief?” Or have we forgotten how differently beggars and drug addicts are treated when the skin is white or it is black? Disappointing that someone would need to explain this to an educated black man who, one would assume, represents black interests.

Vieira: “fundamentalist thing, even the theme of sexuality”

Fascinating the use of the term “fundamentalist” here. According to the definition I found on Google, fundamentalism refers to “strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline.” In this case, as Brazil’s media has clearly set a long-term precedent in how it chooses to depict black women as mostly maids or sexualized ‘mulatas’, the show Sexo e as negas could be accused of fundamentalism here as it clearly continues this imagery. The women who reject the show, on the other hand, seek a representation beyond the long-established stereotype. So really, who is it that should be accused of “fundamentalism”?

“we all have to be called to responsibility”

Totally agree here! And I would think this would also apply to Brazil and Latin America’s only primarily black university.

“without becoming, ourselves, our own capitães do mato”

Wow! Capitães do mato??? Just to refresh for those who are not familiar with this term. Capitão do mato (in the singular) was the title given to the black man whose main task was to hunt down, capture and return fugitive slaves to captivity in Brazil’s slavery era. Brazilians use the term to define blacks who collude to disrupt the success of other blacks, similar to the manner in which African-Americans refer to the “crabs in the barrel” mentality, “Uncle Tom” or “house negro”. We should be careful in how this term is used. If we are saying that Sexo e as negas attempts to keep black women in their “place” and there are those who reject their rejection of this “place”, it would appear that those who seek to continue the system intact are in fact the real “capitães do mato”. In other words, “massa, the slaves is tryin’ get away again!”

 “It’s a sin what is being done to these girls”

Again, disapproval of the program is not at all an attack on the actresses’ right to work. Perhaps the rector should do some research on the long-running 1970s African-American sitcom Good Times. Although the show remained a favorite among black audiences, two of the program’s prominent, well-seasoned actors, Esther Rolle and John Amos, grew weary of co-star Jimmie Walker’s “JJ” character, that they believed to be a pathetic role model for black teens.

Please stay tuned to the follow up to this piece as we dissect meanings of the series that far outweigh its run on television. 

Source: Afropress, Revista Fórum, Blogueiras Negras

Notes

1. A fair presenting various displays of black culture, music, dance and literature that takes place in São Paulo. Site

2. A similar use of the “white savior figure” was employed in another recent Globo TV production. See the report here.

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This entry was posted on December 16, 2014 by in Globo TV and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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