Coletivo Preto, Black Collective, a theater group composed of four black actors, is bringing a fresh perspective of black art to stages in Rio de Janeiro
By Marques Travae
If you’ve followed reports on this blog for amount of time, you know that Afro-Brazilians are vastly under-represented in very Eurocentric mainstream Brazilian media. It’s hard enough to see more than a few black actors and actresses on any one television or film production, as singer/actress Negra Li recently discovered, but beyond that, it is rare to get a feel of what the black experience is based on what we see in this media. But two outlets with great potential for filling this void in black representation is the theater and the online video sharing platform, You Tube.
Afro-Brazilian presence in these two mediums has been consistently growing in a way that maybe doesn’t completely fill the gap of under-representation in the media, but they do offer a glimpse into a world and experience that Brazil likes to pretend doesn’t exist.
Another theater group that seeks to further explore the possibility of black protagonism is Coletivo Preto, meaning Black Collective. Consisting of three actors and one actress, the group’s works bring a new perspective and positive images to black characters that are a clear departure from the stereotypical images of black men and women that so thoroughly part of the Brazilian imagination.
The actors, Drayson Menezzes, Orlando Caldeira, Licínio Januário and Sol Menezzes recently developed the Escrita Preta project that features dramatic readings, black playwrights, black directors and of course, black actors. Escrita Preta, meaning ‘black writing’, debuts on Wednesday, August 9th, at the Teatro Gonzaguinha in downtown Rio de Janeiro. The project came about out of the four actors’ agreement that there needed to be a space for these narratives in the world of the arts.
As Brazilian culture and media has always been about ignoring and eventually erasing the experience and very existence of the descendants of 4-5 million enslaved Africans, teatro negro, black theater, can be seen as a form of black resistance and the Coletivo Preto brings this air of defiance in their work.
“We have developed spaces for dialogues between black artists from different platforms, such as script, production, acting, to tell our own stories,” says actor and author Licínio Januário.
This writer has been wanting to present this group since first hearing about the collective sometime last year as they have been creating a buzz with their works for some time. The piece entitled “Será que vai chover?”, meaning ‘Is it gonna rain?” garnered not only critical success, it was also a success at the box office as was the show “Lívia”.
“Será que vai chover” brings the story of a clash of three individuals with three different perspectives on current social issues that lead to friendship but also a love triangle between two men and the woman. The plot focuses on characters played by actress Eli Ferreira and actors Licínio Januário and Matheus Corcione, who respectively play an actress, a tour guide and a social activist.
Actor Licínio Januário explains: “We have been trying to give the representation that television and film do not give us, with everyday stories that are usually represented by so-called whites. […] In this show we work an inversion of roles, we are four blacks in the scene and one white, which would normally be the opposite.”
As can be expected of three different perspectives, the three end up on a collision course of opposing ideologies that lead to rocky, topsy-turvy exchanges and clashes that force each to reflect on their personal views toward issues that affect all.
Even being a very busy and engaged group, they actors clearly understand that changing the dynamic of the potential for black actors goes far beyond their own success, as the collective has also organized a project entitled “Mapeando os Nossos”, meaning ‘mapping ours’. The aim of “mapeando” is to extend support to up and coming black actors with audiovisual material, coaching, guidance and video book. If that wasn’t enough, the group also plans to offer free three-month workshops.
Needless to say, if you’re gonna be in Rio in early August, the Coletivo Preto will certainly be worth a few hours of your time.