Note from BW of Brazil: Well, here we go again! The topic of blackface is one that has been frequently discussed on this blog since almost the very beginning. But what a difference 3-4 years make! When we first posted a piece questioning why white Brazilians are allowed a free pass for using something so offensive as blackface, we were told via e-mail by a leading Afro-Brazilian lawyer that during Carnaval, “these ‘jokes’ and others have been tolerated.” But over the past few years, the popular usage of blackface by white entertainers has become a very heated topic and another symbol of how much Afro-Brazilian activism has made its presence felt in recent years that simply didn’t exist even at the beginning of the 21st century.
In May of 2015, we saw a very public debate about the artistic usage of blackface, white actors’ opinions that its their right and black activists demanding the right to reject that which they consider offensive. Even with so many activists calling for an end of performances in blackface, performers continue to dismiss rejection of such performances as “whining” or the limiting of artistic expression. Well, things have clearly changed! While previously white artists would simply offer some weak “I didn’t mean to offend anyone” or “I didn’t know it was offensive to anyone” response while not truly engaging on what it meant, today’s story shows that blackface will no longer be tolerated without push back! And while I am as disgusted by this latest performance as by others in the past, I applaud this actor’s apparent sincerity after he initially just tried to downplay the situation as others had done previously.
Actor Paulo Gustavo apologizes after controversy for the use of blackface in a caricatured character
Courtesy of Todos Negros do Mundo
Recently the actor Paulo Gustavo, the main actor in comedy shows like 220 volts and Vai Que Cola, got into a mess on social networks because of one of his characters, Ivonete.
After many of his followers complained, the actor tried to defend himself by using the following text in a reply post:
“On this day we learned that 50 people were cowardly murdered in Orlando only because of their sexual conditions. That same day we should all be in mourning, rethinking our hatred, our prejudices and our limits of understanding, some people came to attack me for representing a black woman. I’ve never been attacked for representing a macho playboy, even being gay. Also they did not mind that I played a nerd, an ugly woman, a vagabond, mother of a family or an angel…they never attacked me for representing the Senhora dos absurdos – a woman who is proud to be ridiculously white, rich and straight. But Ivonete – that is proud to be Brazilian, even being critical of Brazil, that is poor but does not feel morally inferior to anyone, who likes to be a woman and above all has self-esteem, self love and pride of being what she is – earned me unfair criticism. I’ve met many Ivonetes in my life and I’m proud of these women. Unlike other characters that I use to ridicule the type they represent, Ivonete exists to ridicule those who ridicule, because I want to laugh at people who don’t like the Ivonetes. Because I love Ivonete. She is black, she was born black and I have the same respect for her that I have with all people.”
Clearly, as the defense was extremely shallow and misguided, brought another barrage of criticism. Gustavo, made it clear that all he knows about the suffering of black people and the difficulties of being a black woman in Brazil is zero. He thinks black women are summarized in barraqueiras (trouble-makers), samba dancers and from the periphery (poor communities). I.e. extremely stereotypical. The curious thing is that all the people when they remember to “honor” blacks, end up strengthening the rancid racist, showing black people just the way that blacks can’t bear to be seen. Slaves, hoodlums, maids, drunkards, poor, hyper sexualized and a number of other things. The funny thing is to see a lot of white people, who don’t have the slightest idea of what being black is or suffer racism, want to take sides and argue that it is the old “mimimi” (whining) on the part of the person who complains. Others say that the world is more irritating because they cannot be racist in peace today.
Paulo Gustavo is an intelligent man, it’s not by chance the success of his characters and programs in which he participates. Because of this, he published another text, this time a little more lucid. Read the text below.
“In recent days I have read, heard, thought and understood that there is a long discussion about the use of “blackface” much older and bigger than me, my career, my character and 220 volts, so I decided to redo Ivonete without her looking like a laughable caricature of black women. She is not. Ivonete is smart, critical, conscious and questioning. She is a Brazilian who goes through all the absurd difficulties we all experience such as lack of efficient transportation, poor health system, violence, etc, etc, etc…She get revolted, complains, demands, suffers, but does not lose the rebolado (hip shaking), she keeps her head held high, strong, a warrior and especially happy. But blackface historically refers to experiences that are painful for many people, and even if not the intention, I apologize if I offended or hurt someone. I can paint my skin, I can pretend to represent, try to give voice to this woman, but I will never really know what it’s like to be a black woman. In the texts, the joy of the character did not make of her an alienated one, yet I understood that the animated black is a stereotype that black movements combat with reason because in real life it’s often not funny. Although many know and adore Ivonetes, being black in Brazil is difficult, yes. As a woman is also difficult; like being gay is also difficult. Both in my art and in my personal life I have done what I can to try to make the world a better place. I married Thales, I assumed this publicly, changed my certificate. I understand that we have a great process of consciousness raising about racism, sexism and homophobia in Brazil and it has been going through painful steps. I don’t want in any way to be an agent of that pain, condone prejudice and maintain the status quo of a society that needs to improve. We all need to talk and think more about it. I’ve done it. I and Ivonete.”
Paulo reworked the character and, we admit it, it was much better. We at TNM would like to give a tip to the great actor, Paulo Gustavo, and serve to others who wish to “honor” black people; next time, we will like much more of the homage when we see ourselves properly and respectfully represented. They can start putting more black actresses on and in decently manners, programs that create, not like the actress Cacau Protásio in Vai Que Cola. Put black people on to play roles that are not linked to a “profile”. Create roles for black people such as doctors, lawyers, good guys, good girls, generally protagonists. Thus, we will believe that, in fact, it’s putting on an homage to all that we have already suffered and have done for this country.