Note from BW of Brazil: Sometimes I wonder how it is that things that happen in one country seem to sometimes happen in other countries. For example, anyone who has studied and spoken both English and Portuguese is surely amazed by the many similarities in proverbs and sayings that exist in the two languages. One Brazilian English teacher that I know compiled a list of about 150 such phrases that mean basically the same thing in both languages. Some of the sayings are actually exact translations of said saying in the other language. Pretty incredible.
But speaking of things such as media, it’s really not that difficult to understand how things, images, gestures, etc. can be noted in more than one country. After, media is global and even more so in an internet age in which one can easily find out what’s going in another country by simply doing a Google search or checking out a few videos on YouTube. It’s also not hard to tell how these things happen when we consider that a vast proportion of the global media is actually owned by persons of the same race or group. Makes sense.
For this reason, when I first heard the chatter about a new video by singer Mallu Magalhães, of course I wanted to see what all of the fuss was all about. When I finally got to see it, a few things ran through my mind. The first was the controversy surrounding a music video by a popular white, female singer in the United States, Taylor Swift. Looking at the two videos, I see very white-skinned females surrounded by black dancers who seem to almost come across as props rather than real people. Neither of these women has any cultural connections with black communities in the US or Brazil, so why did the two feel the need to feature so many black people in their videos? I can already hear some of the responses by those who believe that “we are all equal” and that questioning such images would qualify me as some radical racialist who fumes over any such interaction between black and white.
I guess first, I would ask, how does one define ‘radical’? The second thing is that it is not the image of black and white in the same scenes that is the problem with either of these videos. The problem lies in how the white artist is portrayed and how the black people in their videos come across. In the case of Mallu Magalhães’s video, although there are a few scenes in which she is seen in close proximity to her crew of black dancers, more often than not, the separation between her and the dancers comes across as a white mistress showing off “her blacks” as a form of entertainment. Or perhaps the white child who participates in her black friends’ cute little games until she is told by her parents that she is superior to them and that it’s time to leave her little ‘neguinho’ playmates behind while she pursues more serious endeavors in life. Coincidentally, the song is called “Você Não Presta”, loosely meaning “you’re no good”. More specifically the chorus line goes, “I invite everyone to my party, I just don’t invite you because you’re no good.”
In the video, Magalhães could be interpreted as saying, “See how rhythmic those people are?”,’I’m clearly not one of them!” In a Brazil that still today produces novelas (soap operas) based in the slavery era, the association according to the roles played by Magalhães and her dancers are a little close to relationships in the Casa Grande (Big House) for my taste. Then, of course, there is once again the question of cultural appropriation and we have yet another racial controversy from a Brazil where I can guarantee there will be folks dismissing the accusations as just “mimimi” (whining).
Not surprising. Well, I can at least say…I liked the song!
Mallu Magalhães – “Você Não Presta”
“Você Não Presta”: 7 racist stereotypes reinforced by Mallu Magalhães in clip
By João Vieira with Thais Rodrigues
Last Friday (19), Mallu Magalhães used her social networks to promote the video for “Você Não Presta”, the first single from the new album due to be released in 2017.
With a samba rhythm, adding elements of African matrix styles, such as kuduro and afro-house, Mallu parades her “exotic” dance steps alongside mostly black dancers, all shirtless and with “besuntada” (oiled up) skin that seems to be (or should be) sweat.
The “guests” show their talent as dancers, with the clip using them to kind of create an air of a clandestine party in an abandoned building, which Mallu invites everyone but you because you’re no good.
The clip became a target of controversy in social networks, for members of the black community with great relevance in communications questioning how the singer used the “cota de negros” (quota of blacks) in the filming. We also find some elements that need to be discussed.
1 – The oiled up body
Besuntar (oiling up) the bodies of black people is one of the classic and quietly violent practices of slave trading during the period in which it was legalized. At that time, blacks from Africa were greased up with lard to appear more disposed, healthy, thus disguising the physical ill-treatment of their forced voyages on slave ships.
Just like Mallu.
In her clip, the singer shows bright dancers like bakery chickens, exalting in them an air of “savagery” that, according to the artist herself, demonstrates her new attitude as an artist.
2 – The cage
For a reason difficult to understand, at some point in the clip, Mallu Magalhães “cages” her black dancers in a room with bars and a ladder. It’s only them, blacks, without her. Meanwhile, Mallu sings: “I invite everyone to my party, I just don’t invite you because you’re no good.”
Mallu isn’t part of the group at this time. With the scenery, the sung piece is the refrain “I invite everyone to my party, I just don’t invite you because you are not good”.
A shock to the black community that is caged once again, as at various points in history and today – being that they are the color of the majority of male and female inmates in the country.
The unfortunate combination – to put it mildly – has become one of the sections most criticized by the black community, since, in addition to the history of slavery, blacks are caged by the public power still today. According to the National Survey of Penitentiary Information (Infopen), of the 622,202 thousand Brazilian prisoners in 2016, 61.6% are black.
3 – The distancing of Mallu
The language of “Você Não Presta” leaves something clear: Mallu is not part of the group of black dancers that star in the images. She, in fact, becomes their owner. Always out front, the artist has no physical contact with them at any time and only for a few seconds sits next to one of them.
4 – Hypersexualization of the black body
One of the most obvious things in “Você Não Presta” is the difference between Mallu’s look and those of her dancers. Sweaty, the blacks are dressed wildly, without shirts, with a tight top and trousers. Mallu Magalhães, however, wears more closed clothes, showing little of her body and without a drop of sweat.
It would be completely different if she had an equivalent look.
The hypersexualization of the black body is historical, from the fetish myths related to the genitals of the race, which emerged at the time when sexually enslaved blacks were common, up to productions like Sexo e as Negas, directed by Miguel Falabella and exhibited by Globo TV in 2014.
As a middle-class young woman who escapes from her parents’ apartment on the asphalt to enjoy a dance up in the hills (slums), Magalhães risks a few dance steps, but makes it clear that she is not part of that community.
5 – Black as decorative object
The lack of interaction between Mallu and the black dancers causes them to have a decorative function in the clip.
The singer seems to use them to look cool, just like the 2002 Oscar t-shirt she wears on one of the takes. For those who don’t know, this issue became historic at the Academy Awards for rewarding two blacks in the categories of Best Actor and Best Actress: Denzel Washington and Halle Berry (see note one).
What message does she want to pass on with this combination?
6 – This declaration
In the news material sent to the press, Mallu Magalhães says she chose this song as the first single ” “because of a need and desire to break the window, of my work, my career, and my image … put out an energy of attitude, a wave as urban as it is wild.”
The phrase, somewhat unfortunate, allows an interpretation that this “savagery” would be the use of pessoas negras seminuas (half-naked black people) as dancers in an abandoned environment.
The combination of factors makes us wonder: Do blacks represent this savagery?
Now, are not they oiled up to look bolder? Are their bodies not on display on several occasions and, above all, were they not caged in the clip?
7 – Mallu Magalhães, who never gave any support to the confrontation of the black community against racial violence nor given so much visibility to blacks in her videos before, seems to try to embark on the growing presence of racial agendas in the media, with the success of personalities such as Djamila Ribeiro, Nátaly Neri, Taís Araújo and Lázaro Ramos.
The Oscar t-shirt, the “exotic” relationship between a white girl and a group of savage blacks and her posture of always being in front of them, however, creates an air of discomfort and deep embarrassment for those who are part of that race.
- Considering the stereotypes already covered in the article by João Vieira with Thais Rodrigues, it is important to point out that both Washington and Berry won Oscars for playing two stereotypes strongly associated with African-Americans: a thug and a whore. Washington won the Oscar for his role as a corrupt, brutal cop while Berry was shown in a dysfunctional family scenario that featured one of the most explicit sex scenes in American Cinema history. Both had performed in previous films in which their performances were worthy of Oscars.