Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Eight racist stereotypes that Brazilian novelas need to stop using: The continuous invisibility and devaluation of the black population


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Note from BW of Brazil: It’s a topic that’s been discussed in numerous previous posts: the images, representation, and stereotypes of Afro-Brazilians on television. So if it’s been discussed in past posts, why present another piece on the topic? Well, that’s pretty simple. Because these images continue to be shown on the airwaves in productions that have an enormous influence on the minds of millions of viewers. The media the most powerful form of manipulation in our lives. How often have you seen people, both adults and children, imitate the behavior they’ve seen in a particular television program or movie? And what would you suppose would be the effect of one group being consistently shown as rich, powerful, beautiful and intelligent while another is always portrayed as poor, subordinate, ugly, docile and dominated?

In effect, it is a manner of simply re-enforcing the established relationship between white and black in modern day Brazil. I personally don’t believe these positions and roles will change or cease to exist in Brazil’s media. After all, if the objective is to maintain the balance of power, and whites are in a superior position and they intend to maintain that position, and if the media is one way to continue to instill the dynamic of this hierarchy, and whites control the media, what reason would they have to make any alterations in program?

Dominant groups NEVER voluntarily give up their power.

As such, until black Brazilians develop their own media platforms, I find it futile to continue to ask for changes in how they are represented. If black Brazilians want to play the game, they will continue to dance to the tune played by their masters. And playing that game means accepting the roles they are given. Roles that are tried and true stereotypes that continue to be presented in the media. Roles such as the ones pointed out in the article below. 

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Eight Racist Stereotypes Brazilian Novelas Need to Stop Using

By Lara Vascouto

When will we stop seeing black characters only in situations of social, intellectual and cultural inferiority on Brazilian television?

According to the IBGE, 54% of the Brazilian population is black. Curiously, however, only 10% of the characters in larger-range novelas (ie Globo TV novelas – soap operas) are played by black actors.

Pois é, Oprah, tá tudo errado.

Yeah, Oprah, it’s all wrong.

That blacks have always been a minority on Brazilian television, any honest person with a pair of eyes can see. But how deep is this exclusion and lack of representativeness? Recently, the GEMAA – Group of Multidisciplinary Studies of Affirmative Action, of the IESP of UERJ (State University of Rio de Janeiro)- answered exactly this by publishing the Race and Gender research in the novelas of the last 20 years, with an analysis in numbers of the black participation in Globo novelas.

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Translation of box above:

Race and gender of the novelas in the last 20 years – 1995-2014
The present research analyzes race and gender of the central characters of the novelas produced by Globo TV between 1995 and 2014
Central characters, those presented in the principal dramas of 101 novelas of the period according to “Memoria Globo” site were considered.

Under-representation of the blacks – Average of central characters
90% brancos (white) – 10% pretos/pardos (blacks/browns)

Ah, but this is changing! There must be someone saying.  Nowadays there are a lot more black actors working

Could it be? In 2009, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper brought an article talking about an increase in black representation on television. That year, Globo had three black actresses as protagonists in three of their novelas – a true milestone in the history of the network. In time, it is possible to find similar articles that bring other milestones of black representativeness in Brazilian television at different moments of the last fifty years, many with a hopeful tone of “now it’s going!”.

But what a broader analysis like that of GEMAA shows us is that these milestones, though significant, did not significantly influence subsequent productions. Not having promoted lasting changes, therefore, these milestones are actually what we mean by exceptions.

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Average of white characters by year

Show this graph to the colleague who likes to quote three or four novelas with prominent black actors to say that racism does not exist.

The survey also revealed how limited the Globo network remains in its choices. Between 1994 and 2014, only 4% of the protagonists were interpreted by non-white women, with only three actresses taking turns interpreting these characters.

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Only three actresses represent the seven non-white protagonists – From left to right, actresses Taís Araújo, Juliana Paes and Camila Pitanga

And as if that weren’t bad enough, all this gets even worse when we consider what kind of character the black actors and actresses are continuously called upon to play. Just as in the case of the three Globo novelas that brought black protagonists in the same season, cases where a black character is not just a reproduction of racist stereotypes are also exceptions. The majority of times, blacks occupy secondary and tertiary roles and are almost always portrayed in situations of social, intellectual and cultural inferiority.

Just looking informally at the character pages of the current Globo novels, I counted a total of 207 named characters. Among them, only 29 are apparently black. And among these, 16 are identified as domestic servants, slaves, former slaves, prostitutes, boasters or faithful friends of prominent white characters. Now at the end of August will debut the new season of Malhação, which for the first time will bring a black actress as the protagonist. But guess what: the character will be a cleaning lady.

gaby

Gabi Oliveira, from the DePretas YouTube channel, talks about this choice and the stereotypes of the black woman in this great video.

Both the lack of black representation on television and its stereotyped representation contribute to reinforcing racism and inequalities arising from it in Brazilian society, continuously promoting the invisibility and devaluation of the black population.

During a conference of Latinidades – Festival da Mulher Afro-Latino Americana Caribenha (Latinidades – Afro-Latino Caribbean Women’s Festival), which took place in July 2014 in Brasília – American philosopher and activist Angela Davis observed:

“Every time I come to Brazil, I watch TV to see how the country is represented. For Brazilian TV, it would never be possible to imagine that its population is mostly black. (…) I can’t speak with authority in Brazil, but sometimes it’s not necessary to be an expert to realize that something is wrong if the public face of this country, majority black, is white.”

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Similarly, the Mozambican writer Paulina Chiziane criticized the Brazilian novelas during her participation in the 1ª Bienal do Livro e da Leitura (1st Biennial Book and Reading) in Brasilia in 2012.

If the form and frequency of which black people are depicted in soap operas contribute significantly to reinforcing real-life inequalities and violence – remembering that a young black man is killed in the country every 23 minutes – then the opposite is also true. There is no doubt of the potential that this medium has to promote positive changes in society, if there is a disposition and willingness to do so. It is up to us to repudiate stereotypes and demand a proportionate share of black actors to their parcel in the population. And for that, it is fundamental to know the main racist stereotypes that Brazilian television seems unable to overcome. Stereotypes like…

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The Mãe Preta (Black Mother) Who Does Everything for the White Bosses

Based on the American archetype known as Mammy, Mãe Preta is usually a slave, ex-slave or maid (depending on the era portrayed in the novela) who loves the white family that she serves and does everything for. Fat, superstitious and a full-time cook, it’s not uncommon for her to act as a wet nurse/nanny for the children of the family, as well as doing all the housework and acting as counselor for the mistress and her children. Her life is to serve, which she does with pleasure and good mood. Oh – and as whites are very nice, the Mãe Preta is always very dear and considered as a member of the family. And you can’t be racist if you consider your empregada negra (black maid) as part of the family, huh?

No, all wrong.

A Empregada Doméstica

The Maid [Coquettish /Servant/Nosy/Seducer/Submissive]

One of the only roles it usually has left over for black actresses is that of the maid. And there are some classic sub-stereotypes of maids that novelas often use. There is the dedicated and irreverent maid, who lives by making fun and eliciting from the mistress (and the public). There is the submissive and dedicated maid who does everything for her mistress. There is the sensual and fiery maid who lives seducing the boss. And there is also the snoopy and malicious employee, full of obsessions of grandeur and evil intentions.

Although being superficially different, all are in subordinate positions. Their existence revolves around the white characters they serve, and without fail, they are all portrayed in an inferior way – both socially and culturally.

O Fiel Jagunço

The Faithful Jagunco

Like a male version of the maid, we have the Fiel Jagunço (Faithful Jagunco) – a very loyal black servant dedicated to his white boss. It’s more common to appear in novelas that happen in the countryside, but often we see this character also in the urban environment, such as bodyguards, drivers, secretaries and personal helpers. Regardless of the scenario, one thing does not change: it is a character that reproduces without fail the image of the submissive Negro, who only treats his white bosses with love, loyalty, and dedication, and never questions the oppression he suffers. Also, because the power relations between whites and blacks are sweet in the soap operas, this oppression is almost never portrayed as such.

O Escravo

The Slave

In addition to employees, black actors and actresses also often have a guaranteed job in novelas of the slave period, in roles, of course, as slaves. The problem with this type of representation – in addition to reproducing the stereotype of the Negro in a subaltern position – is that in 99% of the cases these novelas show us a coffee-and-milk version of slavery, with a good amount of sugar, to leave the story pretty sweet and palatable.

In the excellent documentary A Negação do Brasil – O Negro nas Telenovelas Brasileiras  (Denying Brazil – The Black in Brazilian Telenovelas), the filmmaker and researcher Joel Zito Araújo reflects that this type of novela brings a reinterpretation of the behavior of the slaves, since they rarely portray black resistance to slavery and present abolition as an act of kindness of whites. And when it is not so, the black characters only appear to suffer, with the whole focus turned to the white characters.

A Negra Fogosa e Sensual

The Fiery and Sensual  Black Woman

The hyper-sexualization of the black woman is also another constant in Brazilian television. Usually, it materializes in ruddy, lusty characters, irresistible and insatiable beings who drive all the men around them crazy. About this stereotype, I’m going to borrow an excerpt from historian Suzane Jardim’s excellent article on racist stereotypes in the American media. She explains:

“(…) in the Victorian era, it had a whole image of the good woman and basically, she was European and Christian – period. Until one day Europeans came in contact with African women and attributed that semi-nudity used in the tropics to promiscuity. If they came across African villages where polygamy was a practice then…vish, obviously black women could only have uncontrollable lust, and on top of that they were pagan, so they must have no morals at all – just like Jezebel.

But of course this was not a problem for European men of the time, right? After all, if you have these girls there, they are not of God and therefore have no morals, they are always almost naked and are insatiably lustful TOTALLY SUPER OKAY to have sex with them without asking, or to put their bodies on exhibition.

Basically, the great impact of this stereotype was that it was responsible for justifying the rape and sexual abuse committed against black women, after all, it would be “impossible to rape such promiscuous women.”  There was an abolitionist (yes, a b o l i t i o n I s t) who said that ‘slave women were grateful for the advances of the Anglo-Saxons ………………..erm, right……….

Even after the abolition, the rape and the abuse did not stop: the fear that black women had of denouncing white men of rape and abuse was justified and the practice remained until today – the fiery black woman who is looking for, knows how it is…. This sexualized image of the black woman devouring men as a counterpoint to the behaved white woman is widely used in the media. … The white woman remains a fine wife while black women have fixed themselves as the best lovers.”

O Malandro

The Malandro (Trickster/Hustler)

The Malandro can manifest himself in both adult black characters and children, usually males. Acting at times as comic relief, this type of character likes to be clever and bend the rules in his favor. He is the face of the “jeitinho brasileiro” (Brazilian way) and not infrequently he lives in favelas or in the periphery.

ONegro Perfeito

The “Perfect Black”

In the article “A Personagem Negra na Telenovela Brasileira: Alguns Momentos” (The Black Character in the Brazilian Soap Opera: Some Moments) (Revista USP, n. 48, 2000-2001), the historian and anthropologist Solange Martins Couceiro de Lima calls attention to a stereotype that became more and more common in novelas from of the 1970s. She says:

“Since the 1970s telenovelas have presented black characters of a certain social projection, represented by good actors, but who do not have, in the plot, their own history, nor family, nor social nucleus: they are loose characters. In this situation a gallery of priests, judges, prosecutors, business owners, etc. The beginning of this research, as already mentioned above, elects the novela Pecado Capital, in which Milton Gonçalves, a consecrated black actor, represents a psychiatrist, with these characteristics mentioned. In the words of the actor, in personal testimony for the research, “the first black character in a suit and tie,” but without his own identity, a situation that remained until the 1990s.

Filmmaker and researcher Joel Zito Araújo also noticed this character in his research, and nicknamed him the “negro perfeito” (perfect black). Why? Because it has no ties with his origin and with other black people, he also distances itself from his blackness and thus becomes much more acceptable in the eyes of the whites.

The Black that only serves to Compose the Character of a White Character

And last but not least, we have that black character (usually in the condition of an employee), who only has a plot function to help show the public the character of some white character. In this case, of the two, one: if white helps, defends, compliments or is kind to the Negro at some point, then we must understand that he is good. If, however, the mere presence of the black character is enough to make the white turn up his nose and act in an ugly manner, then we understand that he is racist and therefore bad. And if by chance he is openly ugly with the black character, you can be sure that a “nice white” will appear to save the homeland and show who the hero of the story is.

A descrição desse cena da novela Liberdade, Liberdade

The description of the above scene from the novela Liberdade, Liberdade (Freedom, Freedom) says: Joaquina watched a slave being tortured and revolted. That is, the scene is about Joaquina, not about the slaves who are being tortured.

Anyway, just like most of the time in which we have black characters in the novelas, it’s the white who really matters in this story. The question is so perfectly posed by activist Stephanie Ribeiro recently: when will everything not be about white people?

SourceNó de Oito

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