“I hope that the lives of other blacks can change by watching our characters”: Even being on TV, actors speak about the prejudice they’ve experienced

Marcello Melo Jr., Érika Januza, Heslaine Vieira and David Junior: victory in the race (Photo: Bárbara Lopes)
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Marcello Melo Jr., Érika Januza, Heslaine Vieira and David Junior: victory in the race (Photo: Bárbara Lopes)

Note from BW of Brazil: Over the past decade I can say that there have a few positive changes of note in representations of black characters on Brazilian television networks, but by and large, at the same time, the channels continue to cling to tried and try stereotypes about the black Brazilian population. In the article below, four actors currently featured on Globo TV television series got together in an interview recorded before the annual Day of Black Consciousness to speak on incidents of prejudice they’ve experienced even being actors on the nation’s top television network. Speaking candidly, the quartet echoes a lot of the same things that common every day black Brazilians think in terms of their experiences with the race question although their victories reflect an optimistic tone that the actors as a whole have about the future. 

As Negas Do Ziriguidum

On the eve of the Day of Black Consciousness, actors speak about prejudice they’ve experienced in and out of fiction.

By Marcelle Carvalho

As she waited for the door to be opened to find her boyfriend, the young woman was mistaken for the maid in the corridor of the building. At the bus stop, the guy who was waiting for the bus, was searched by the police, but his friend was not even touched. Upon entering the restaurant, in a noble neighborhood of Rio, the girl noticed troubling glances due to her presence. Inside the car with three other people, the guy in the back seat was the only one to have his documents requested by the PM (Military Police), who suspected that he had kidnapped his friend during the ride. These stories are not works of fiction. They marked, respectively, the lives of the actors Erika Januza, Marcello Melo Jr., Heslaine Vieira and David Junior.

The four experienced such situations up close, precisely because of having darker skin. And now, in a way, they are seen in their characters: Raquel, from O outro lado do paraíso; Edgar, from Tempo de amar; Ellen, from Malhação, and Dom, from Pega Pega. Currently, all Globo novelas bring the fight against racism in a prominent place. What makes the group – excited about meeting on the eve of National Day of Zumbi and Black Consciousness – feeling victorious.

We are four on the air, on one of the biggest stations in the world, debating this theme with our characters, this is to be celebrated. We are living in new times,” celebrates David Junior, 31 years old.

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Erika agrees with her colleague:

“Having this subject in each of the schedules, without it being a supporting actor, with a strong message, makes the population really know what happens in the day to day. I’ve already heard people say, ‘Talking about racism again? Every novela has this …’ If there was no racism, you would not have to punctuate it in the plots, right? – says the 32-year-old actress, excited by the character’s turn in the nine o’clock novela, that will battle and become a judge: – “It’s important this moment for people who are in a situation similar to Rachel to believe: “I can!”.

The new times glimpsed by David are also seen by Heslaine, the youngest of the quartet. At the age of 22, the Minas Gerais state from Ipatinga believes that this turn is happening more than one knows.

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Actresses Erika Januza and Heslaine Vieira

 

“We are examples of people who are giving this turnaround, and I hope that the lives of other blacks can change by watching our characters. Everything you see on TV can inspire you. I come from a humble family, the meninas negras (black girls) around me never imagined that one day a young woman from the interior would be on Globo (TV) representing them as well. I think these works are providing us with a very cool space for dialogue with the audience, discussion,” comments the woman behind the Ellen character on Malhação.

Representativeness, by the way, is a point that the four actors, in chorus, said they were needy for: they looked at the TV, very recently, and could not see themselves portrayed. The curious thing is that today, they feel they have become examples to many.

“The reference that we had not only on TV, but in daily life was totally different from what we represent today. When I was a teenager in Nova Iguaçu (state of Rio), success for my friends was the (drug) trafficking boss. He had the best cars, the best clothes, the best girls … Having the opportunity to change this atmosphere, this truth of the suburban people, is too good. To see that on TV that there’s a negão (black) business owner, there’s a pretinha (black girl) lady who will be a judge,” says David.

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Actors David Junior and Marcello Melo

Erika even plays with the actor who plays Dom, saying that when she first saw him in Pega, she was impressed.

“When I saw that his costume was not that of a driver, I thought, ‘Whoa, who is this guy?’ Meeting David, I said, ‘What a scholarship, eh?’ I made a point of speaking because it’s a different place (Dom is a businessman in the 7 o’clock drama), which we, unfortunately, are not accustomed to. You really have to show that black people can get to wherever they  want.”

Portal Africas

‘I spent my life straightening my hair’

Born in Nova Iguaçu and raised in Vidigal (both in Rio), Marcello Melo, 30, says he has already worried about being a model of success for the younger generation. Today, however, he is more relaxed:

“It’s a big responsibility that you cannot escape. We live a unique moment of empowerment, to reach a place where many people wanted to be. Giving people the chance to pursue this in life is what makes me very proud.”

The lack of representativity also affects vanity.

“I thought I was ugly because everyone said my cabelo era ruim (hair was bad). ‘Aren’t you going to fix that hair?’ I heard. So, to identify myself with the standard of beauty, I spent my life straightening my hair. I say that my profession has given me greater consciousness, opened my mind and made me understand that assuming my blackness is a process of internal transformation,” analyzes Erika, who says she still oscillates in self-esteem: “A month ago I was with a girl, when someone said to her: ‘Lourinha e de olho azul (blond girl with blue eyes), you get what you want.” That made me so bad, it was there in my heart, where the root of all my issues is. I don’t accept this anymore. Today, I am my standard. Whoever wants to identify with me, great, let’s go together.”

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Affectionate, Heslaine caresses her, says that she went through the same questions and that her colleague is her reference. Marcello and David joke that when low self-esteem attacks the girls, they should call each other. And as the meeting turned out to be a great psychoanalysis session, the actor from Pega Pega delivered a similar drama.

“I went to private school and I was the black in the classroom. I became the best friend of all the girls I liked, because I knew they only saw me that way. I didn’t have the courage to declare myself,” recalls David, who until the age of 20 shaved his hair that was considered “ruim” (bad): Today, I find myself angry when I am approached on the street (by police), and the kids ask how they can make their hair like mine.”

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The four agree that blacks are more united and looking more. However, it is still utopian to believe in the end of prejudice.

“We are the majority of the population, but Brazil is a very prejudiced country. The moment we live in refers to the song “Beira da piscina”, by rapper Emicida: “Xô give back the pride of the ghetto/And give another meaning to the phrase: ‘tinha que ser preto’ (it had to be a black). We are succeeding, with a lot of race” – the hopeful Marcello Melo wins.

Old stereotypes that go beyond the times

Some clichés still permeate the lives of blacks. Like that black women are boas de cama (good in bed). “It’s not just a man who says that, I’ve heard of a woman, too. ‘What do you all do, huh?’ And there are those who want us for never having been with a black woman. It’s disgusting,” says Erika.

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Heslaine goes beyond:

“And there are the guys that get with you, but they don’t want to make a relationship. A solidão da mulher negra (the loneliness of the black woman) is real.”

Because of having a sister, David enters the discussion: “The guys think they’re a fetish: ‘Preto tem sangue quente’ (blacks have hot blood). But at the time of sharing feelings, they reject them.”

The actor tells that he has also heard the maxim that every black man is bem dotado (well endowed). “This is nonsense. I worry more about the black people who die every day than with a silly thing like that,” he shoots.

Both he and Marcelo have dated white women (see note one) – David, even, has been for 12 years, being six of marriage, with the engineer Camila Coimbra. Both agree that feeling does not pass through melanin: “Empathy, the will to be with someone, is independent of the color of the skin,” says Marcelo.

SourceAs Negas Ziriguidum

Note

  1. One will note that even in a random article, the two black men featured in the article are with or have been with white partners, a basic rule among black Brazilian men of prominence. Interestingly, in touching upon this point, the author chooses to point out the black men with white partners while not mentioning that actress Januza has also dated white men.
About Marques Travae 2882 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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