In the spring of 2010 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, three black Brazilian actresses came together to discuss the presence of black Brazilian women in Brazilian Cinema and black Brazilians in Brazilian society. The three actresses are Léa Garcia, Iléa Ferraz and Shirley Cruz. The discussion was moderated by Vik Birkbeck, a British director/producer who has lived in Brazil for a number of years.
Garcia is a veteran actress that appeared in the legendary 1959 film Orfeu Negro, a film that introduced Brazilian Carnaval, black Brazilians and Brazil in general to millions of people around the world for the first time. Garcia was trained in the famed Teatro Experimental Negro (Black Experimental Theatre), a black theater group that brought black characters and themes to the Brazilian stage begininng in the 1940s. The group was created by the late, great Afro-Brazilian civil rights leader, Abdias do Nascimento, with whom Garcia was briefly married. Garcia laments that there is a lack of continuity in the work of Afro-Brazilian artists and believes that there has been little advance in the world of Brazilian dramaturgy for Afro-Brazilians. Garcia, along with Ruth de Souza, have perhaps the longest running careers of all black Brazilian actresses, with careers going back to the 1940s and 50s.
Iléa Ferraz has appeared in a number of soap operas and miniseries since beginning her career in 1985 and has also worked in French theatre. In the monologue that she directed entitled Cheiro da Feijoada (Smell of Feijoada), she portrayed seven characters. Ferraz was also nominated in 2003 for the Prêmio Shell de Teatro, a prestigious award given in the area of Brazilian theatre for her work in Nunca Pensei Que ia Ver Esse Dia (I Never Thought That I Would See This Day). Making an analysis of Brazilian society, Ferraz perceives the existence of a certain type of training in that the absence of black Brazilians in so many areas of life has been normalized in such a manner that it is not even perceived amongst the general population.
Shirley Cruz has also appeared in a number of films, theatre productions as well as television since 1999. Quase Dois Irmãos (2003), Maré, nossa história de amor (2006) and the HBO mini-series Filhos do Carnaval (2005) are only a few of the more than 30 filmes, television productions and theatre pieces that she has appeared in. She is also a journalist for the SBT television network. Cruz pointed out the fact that, even today, black actors have very few roles of distinction in films and soap operas. She notes that black women often portray the domestic servant whose life and existence is never developed in the plot or the nurse that passes quickly through a scene and doesn’t have any type of history.