Note from BW of Brazil: Brazil’s film industry is yet another genre in which if one were to judge from movie casts it would be assumed that Afro-Brazilians make up a very small percentage of the Brazilian population. We have already seen where black women make up only 4.4% of the lead casts in Brazilian films and how Brazil basically ignores its black female film directing talent although prestigious foreign film festivals DO recognize them. But the good news is that in the past decade, we’ve seen a glimmer of hope with the rise of the so-called “Cinema Negro” (Black Cinema) movement which is being led by a talented cast of black female filmmakers.
In a country like Brazil that has long proclaimed itself to be a ‘racial democracy’ it’s quite intriguing to note how common it is to see an American film with primarily black casts, that in a country that is deemed one of the, if not THE most racist in the world. In the US, black film is quite normal but when a black director attempts to make a black film in Brazil, it is automatically labeled “ghetto”but when a black director attempts to make a black film in Brazil, it is automatically labeled “ghetto”. And often times the position of African-Americans in the US film market causes a reflection on the situation of Afro-Brazilians in Brazil’s film industry. And as black representation is so severely lacking in Brazil’s film industry, Afro-Brazilians often turn to the American film industry to see faces that look like theirs and have a similar history, as was the case when 12 Years a Slave debuted in Brazil a few years ago.
In today’s post, Afro-Brazilian filmmakers and actors discuss the difficulty of making it in Brazil’s film industry, from having to take stereotypical or only supporting roles, to not being able to get the necessary funding to produce a ‘black film’.
By Frederico Antonelli
On Friday, October 28th at Cinearte in São Paulo, the debate entitled “A Voz do Negro no Cinema” (The Voice of the Black in the Cinema) took place with the participation of filmmaker Jeferson De, producer and director Juliana Vicente, rapper and actor Thogun, and actress Teka Romualdo, with the mediation of journalist Adriana Couto. The encounter took place after the screening of Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, released as O Nascimento de uma Nação in Brazil.
Before the beginning of the session, a video was shown in which Parker give thanks for the opportunity to show his film at Mostra. The film tells the story of Nat Turner, a former US slave who leads a movement in 1831 for the liberation of African-Americans in Virginia. The title of the film makes a clear reference to the homonymous work directed by D. W. Griffith in 1915, a time when black actors were not cast for films and the use of “black face” was common.
“With each whip that I saw, I thought about the genocide of the young black man that occurs today. When I look at TV and I don’t see myself represented, I feel other lashes,” said Teka Romualdo about the film. “It’s ancestral and current pain. We don’t see it because we don’t want to. When there’s a soundtrack and it’s a Hollywood movie, we allow ourselves to be moved, but it happens all the time around us. Watching a movie like this is a feeling of pain and not of ecstasy, just as it is a process of pain to make the movies that I make,” added Juliana Vicente.
“It’s a provocation to view this movie in this room and I’m glad to see the people who stayed after the session for the debate,” said Thogun, who was a rapper until being invited to do film: “In this market I can only enter as a traficante (drug dealer), dono do morro (kingpin of the favela/slum), rapist, but I have to pay the bills and these roles served me as a gateway.” The actor, who today also works as a casting director, also said that there are characters and scenes in his career that made him uncomfortable at the time of recording and that today he would not do it again.
“My first character was a maid, but that gave me a chance to show my work,” said actress Teka Romualdo. To show her work, however, doesn’t guarantee better roles, as affirmed Juliana Vicente, who is doing a documentary about Ruth de Souza, a 95-year-old black actress: “It’s a beautiful story, but it also has its hardness, because along throughout the 70 years of her career, she never played a leading role, even having participated in 1954 with Audrey Hepburn, at the Leão de Ouro (Golden Lion) at the Venice Film Festival (for the film Sinhá Moça by Tom Payne and Oswaldo Sampaio).
The producer also commented on the absence of a white filmmaker in the debate: “I’m happy that we have this space to debate, but I miss at this table a white director who has made films about blacks. Because ne always create an island for us, and what bothers you is to share the same space, it’s equality.”
The filmmaker Jeferson De pointed out the black presence at the 40th Mostra. “I wanted to highlight a few things like this session and this debate, the session of the Pitanga film (1), with the presence of Antonio Pitanga, perhaps the most important actor in Brazilian cinema, the Leon Cakoff award conceded to him and the incredible testimony he gave at the Memórias do Cinema (Memories of Cinema), which also had the talk of Cristina Amaral, a great editor, and mine, and I have been invited to join the jury this year.”
Making movies in Brazil, however, continues to be an arduous task and full of obstacles for the black director, as Jeferson affirmed: “I wrote the script for (the film) Amuleto (2015) with only black actors, but I didn’t manage to get a (funding) edict. So I re-wrote the feature with only white actors and won an edict on the first try. After the release, the film received a lot of criticism, some about cinematographic issues, but several questioning why it doesn’t have blacks…We get pounded from all sides.”
In the end, Adriana Couto asked: “Is making movies a political act?”. “Always, our questions are urgent and I want my work to be useful,” said Juliana Vicente. “To live is a political act, so it’s important to be present here, in the classroom, in cinema,” added Teka Romualdo.