Actress Erika Januza opens up about cutting her hair short, the end of a recent relationship, swirling and the difficulty of dating as a black woman
By Marques Travae with information courtesy of Extra and UOL
The last time I posted anything about actress Erika Januza, it had to do with the vitriol she received from fans, militants and her followers on social networks over her relationship with Victor Evangelista, a white man. Over the past half decade, the question of why it seems to be so rare to see black Brazilians in not only the artistic world but also persons of prominence in various professions with black partners. Januza and rapper Karol Conka were heavily criticized last year when both went public with the relationships with white men. At the time, Conka briefly addressed the issue and kept it moving while Januza delayed some time before issuing any sort of statement.
In a recent report, the 34-year-old Januza, a native of the state of Minas Gerais who, at the time was on the air in the novela (soap opera) Amor de Mãe, on the Globo TV network, spoke about the loneliness of the black woman, revealed how a haircut was the trigger for her changing her view on the topic of racism and also opened up about her relationship that had recently come to an end.
Her last public boyfriends were white men. Asked what the difficulties of an interracial relationship are, she actress responded, “It starts with the society that looks, judging. I’ve been through situations where they thought I was the escort of a ‘foreigner’.” Judging from Januza’s experiences in the dating world, it continues to be a widely believed stereotype that when a black woman is seen with a white man, she must be providing services in a sex for pay arrangement. Women of visible African descent have long complained about this image of black women in Brazilian society.
In terms of that relationship, Januza faced heavy criticism over that previous relationship with people accusing her of “palmitagem” (when a black person favors dating white persons for serious relationships).
In a previous interview with the Rede TV network, the actress acknowledges that she took a while to address the issue but then wanted to know why it is that when it’s the black man dating a blonde, nobody says anything. She went on to say that people should respect others as human beings and that it’s the society that needs to review its concepts as a whole regardless of skin color.
A pretty standard response, but what I don’t get, as I have mentioned on this topic before is, how is that she can say that “when it’s the black man dating a blonde, nobody says anything” when the whole issue of palmitagem became a controversial topic because black women made it an issue and even coined the term palmitagem to describe the propensity of black men choosing white women for relationships and the term palmiteiro to define black men who engaged in such behavior. Let me be clear here. I am NOT criticizing black women for bringing the topic up because the issue really did need to be discussed, and now, 5-6 years later after they initiated the debate, there have been some very thought-provoking articles coming out on the topic from both genders.
Asked again recently about the question of palmitagem, Januza said: “I believe it’s similar to segregation. Do we want that period back? When I’m interested in someone, skin color is not at play. What we can’t forget is the solidão da mulher negra (loneliness of the black woman). I am not a woman who is wanted when I go out. When we black women say that, nobody believes it. It’s historic and painful.”
Januza’s comments cannot be ignored here as being passed over in the realm of romantic relationships has been a theme repeated by too many other black women to simply assume it is a figment of the imagination. Januza is clearly an attractive woman but in a Brazil loaded with beautiful black women, one can count on a few fingers the number of promiment black couples there are in the country. Some could accuse Januza of making an excuse for swirling, but she isn’t the only black women who says she’s rarely anyone’s first choice in the dating arena.
When asked what is means to be a black woman in Brazil, the actress said:
“To be overlooked in many stages of life, to have misunderstood pains and fight double. But, my, how strong we are. There is no other way. Being a black woman is also being royalty, beautiful and disturbing (people). In the next life, I want to come back as a woman. And black!”
Érika is aware of her role in and outside of fiction. For her character on the Globo TV novela (soap opera) Amor de Mãe, she was the one who suggested cutting her hair short and assuming its natural texture. A major decision when considering memories of her childhood. Thinking back to her school years as a young girl, Januza has memories similar to those other black Brazilian women.
For her, negative memories weren’t connected to her skin color, but to her hair (see note one). Always having been told that her hair was ugly, that she had hard hair, the infamous cabelo de bombril, which is a popular brand of steel pad scouring pad. She describes these comments as the worst things she had ever heard, and as such, she suffered a lot. With such an experience, it is understandable that when she became of age to straighten her hair, it was a thing of finally having some peace in life, like having “a little bit more freedom to live.”
Years later, in her thirties, cutting her hair would represent yet another type of freedom.
“The idea came from a genuine desire to be able to represent more women,” she says. But it wasn’t always that way. “We never talk about racism at home. We understood ourselves as black, period. My first contact with the subject was at the age of 26, when I moved to Rio and suffered when I needed to cut my hair to play a character.”
The reason for the shock?
“I wore a straight hair piece down to my waist. At that moment, I realized that I didn’t know what my own hair was like. It was through the discovery of my image and my real beauty that I started to study about blackness. Looking back, I can identify several moments of prejudice, but it wasn’t part of my reality. Until then, it had never been an issue for me.”
Today, she is part of the recent movement on TV of characters that show the black woman occupying unprecedented spaces of power and prestige, like Marina, the tennis player played by the actress on the 9pm novela. The popular novela was cancelled by Globo TV due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s important to see that Marina’s conflicts are not racial, as generally happens. However, I don’t rule out roles that expose race issues in society. We still need to generate reflection.”
Januza’s connection with the issues of race, natural black hair and the difficulties of black Brazilian women securing long-lasting relationships have led to an overall movement in which black women are seeking more control, a better image and more opportunities in a society that have long been been denied to them.
With these new attitudes that black women are taking, there are those who question the use of the word empowerment, but it is still the one that best explains stories like that of Januza and other black women.
It speaks to her overcoming a fear of cutting her hair and losing, with it, the protection she had created against racism, aesthetic pressure, rejection and so many other unhappy memories that were imposed on her throughout her life. Until, one day, she discovered her beauty amidst the standards and fell in love with what she saw. For Januza, the decision to cut her hair short helped her deal with several other issues.
By adopting the ‘Mariazinha’ (short hair cut for a woman), the Minas Gerais native faced a series of anti-acceptance ghosts and, in addition, found the perfect image to play the character Marina, a determined tennis player who goes after her goals at all cost – to the image and likeness of her interpreter.
Delving into standards of beauty imposed on black women, Januza says she had to overcome the idea that “my hair needs to be straight so that I have peace” and transitioned to “I love myself with cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair)”, but then ended up falling into another trap: that she needed to keep her big hair to remain beautiful. Erika also analyzed the weight of machismo and racism in this type of choice and expanded further on the loneliness of the black woman – or rather, of her loneliness. The subject called solidão da mulher negra has been explored by many Afro-Brazilian women over the past six years or so.
“I thought: ‘My boyfriend will think I’m ugly’; ‘my femininity will no longer exist’; ‘they will think I look like a man’; ‘black women are already passed over, and with short hair, so I’ll be in the corner’’… the actress listed her thoughts before continuing:
“I can speak for myself that the black woman has always been passed over, and she is. I always felt (passed over) and I still do. It’s not because of being an actress that everyone desires (me). I don’t think (so). I really don’t think so. I was always the girl at school who went out with friends, everyone with a boyfriend, and I kept looking. I’ve always been alone. It’s that: staying hidden, you can be (with me), but to go hand in hand on the street and assume you, there are 500 others.”
Here, the actress echoes the sentiments, once again, of numerous black Brazilian women. Following these sorts of memories online for several years, I’ve read perhaps hundreds of recollections of afro-brasileiras who say that men, both white and black, have no problem being in sexual, on/off relationships with black women as long as there is no expectation of commitment. These same men who claimed not being ready for relationships would later turn up hand-in-hand with white women.
Erika got even more personal when discussing the subject of her relationship with her last boyfriend, Victor Evangelista. The one-year and two-month courtship came to an end with distance being the main reason. “Before I wasn’t recording, and now recording, how do you travel? It’s difficult,” said the actress at the Júlio Prestes Station of the São Paulo subway.
Januza says the breakup was a common agreement between them. “Ending is never good, but we were both seeing that it didn’t work anymore. It was a courtship in which we saw each other every 15 days. He lived in the countryside of Pernambuco and me here. But until then we got along very well in that time.”
The actres said that maintaining the friendship after the end of a relationship depends on how the breakup was. “I didn’t become his enemy, but he thought it best that we don’t speak for now.”
The actress had already commented on the jealousy of her now ex and agrees that dating someone in the artistic environment sometimes makes the relationship simpler.
“Yes. When the person is not from the area, they are jealous of the romantic couple, there are these things. My priority now is my career, not that I don’t discard a love, and not that when I’m with someone I won’t take care of all my love, but my priority is my career and not being with someone who is against (it) or that will to imply. Things have to fall into place. I am at this moment, [wanting] things to fall into place. And I’m fine because I’m working. If I weren’t … “, she says.
Erika also says that she has already had an abusive relationship. “Psychologically perhaps, but nothing strong. This thing about being blind in love and stopping from doing things, or doing things you shouldn’t, there are things I wouldn’t do again, like begging to go back,” she said.
“As time goes by you look back and if you begged it’s because you were not even supposed to be [with the person]. If the person is with you, he has to want to be with you. If you begged, it won’t work. I don’t do that today.”
- Here we see yet another demonstration of the idea that, in Brazil, hair texture seems to be more important in judging one’s attractiveness as demonstrated in the phrase, “He’s a little dark but his hair is good“.