Note from BW of Brazil: This is a followup story to an original post on the blog back in February about well-known actress Isabel Fillardis’ preparation to portray a little known, but important black opera singer from the 18/19th century period. Like any other areas of Brazilian society, the music industry, especially the classical genre, is a genre in which Afro-Brazilians were seen as being out of “their place”. Another story back in March provided an example that this sort of prejudice still exists in terms of who is and who is not acceptable in the realm of Classical/Opera Music. Actress Isabel Fillardis has largely been away from from the world of acting for the past several years as she tended to her growing family. It’s good to see her return!
Isabel Fillardis interprets singer who challenged prejudice in the 19th century
Actress, who will be the star of the musical Lapinha, says she identifies with the pioneering spirit of the character, says she wants to return to TV and loves the Sexo e as negas TV series
by Cármen Lúcia with André Vagon
Rio – The generous smile of Isabel Fillardis already denounced the arrival of 40 years was tranquil, without any crises. In this case, the new age sparked the desire to take on multiple challenges, especially in her career. One is the character Joaquina Maria Conceição da Lapa, that she plays in the musical show Lapinha, in theaters on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at the Clara Nunes Theater, in Shopping da Gávea. “I took a while dedicating myself to my family and my social projects. But during this period, I was looking for something that would allow me to combine the talents that I believe have: dancing, singing and performing. Today, the black actor is dependent on invitations, and they are restricted. This was agonizing me quite a bit. I just completed 40 years and wanted to feel fulfilled. Lapinha brought this,” Isabel says.
Onstage, the actress interprets the story of the black singer who lived in the early 19th century, and scoffed at the laws of time to frequent theaters and came to paint her faces white to circumvent prejudice. “She was the first black Brazilian woman to excel in the performing arts of Brazil and the world. Because you have to be very brave to face the wrath of prejudice, relying only on your talent,” says the actress, who is believed to have things in common with her character. “Our histories are similar on the question of pioneering. I started working in television in 1993 on the novela Renascer at a time when there were few black actresses in leading roles. And that is very similar to Lapinha because, like her, I too have always had great faith in my talent.”
Isabel is a curious figure. She began her life as a model at the end of the 1980s/beginning of the 1990s – a time in which being model didn’t guarantee lots of money as it does now, but when the whole country was looking for their equivalent of Naomi Campbell or Iman, the extremely rare black women that then dominated the fashion editorials. Then she became an actress, and debuted on TV in Benedito Ruy Barbosa’s Renascer (1993), and didn’t stop performing, also adding film participations.
More metalanguage, impossible: if Isabel had arisen on the runways ten years later, she could have benefited from the borders opened by Shirley Mallmann and Gisele. If she would appeared on television a decade later, she would have taken a little more advantage of the presence of Taís Araújo e Lázaro Ramos in audiovisual media, two actors who collaborate to slowly subvert to the maximum that black actors in Brazil can only play servant roles. Isabel also made what could be considered a blunder for any actress, still more for one of black skin on the rise: interruptions in work to become the mother of three children. In a cruel segment at the time of filtering talent by the color of complexion, taking a break in her career, still young, to devote herself to her family can be as tempestuous as wishing to be opera diva 200 years ago, when it was still believed that the place of blacks was at the stove. The obstinacy of Joaquina for the beautiful song is echoed in Isabel’s journey for her standing story.
It’s quite true that, in the past decade, the media has sought to help bury unreasonable prejudices, and the proof are actors of the caliber of Halle Berry, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman becoming artisans of the film industry and awarded Oscars for “Best Actor in a Leading Role”. In fact, when Isabel was still spending hours on the runways, Washington and Freeman were already competing or being awarded the statuette for “Best Supporting Actor”, but this issue never takes great strides. It’s enough to just check that the most celebrated black actor in Hollywood, Samuel L. Jackson, to date still hasn’t won his deserved trophy.
In Brazil then one doesn’t even speak of, and it’s needless to mention Ruth de Souza, Milton Gonçalves, Ailton Graça and many others to confirm that – besides Lázaro and Taís, both present in the audience of a Lapinha performance at the Teatro Clara Nunes, in Rio, in an invitation only debut, much still needs to change.
In the lyrical world, one doesn’t even speak of. Despite some very few sacred monsters on the world stage (as the American soprano Jessye Norman), today the operatic medium is nothing lavish in providing opportunities to black singers, and, within this stronghold, the blacks themselves of the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro choir got together, in the mid-eighties, to form Ébano – Empresa Brasileira dos Artistas Negros da Ópera (Brazilian Company of Black Opera Artists) – an entity aiming to promote their talents and amass more work, with nostalgic mezzo soprano Conceição Gonçalves in the lead, among others.
After this long prologue that, by itself, contextualizes the importance of the work of Isabel Fillardis, it’s worth reporting that the musical piece is super hot, of unparalleled sincerity as the protagonist and flows like a charm. At ease in the role, it’s worth her capacity of interpretation to impart truth, strength and tenderness to the character, even if not always feeling absolutely secure when it’s time to sing. Besides beautiful moments in which her voice rises, the actress prefers to focus on her comfort zone, acting. But nothing detrimental to the progress of the plot, because she’s bold enough to produce a biographical show about a character who made a living as opera singer, without being from its ancestral branch. Incidentally, this was good deal of grit that lead Isabel ahead and everything indicates that one or other little vocal problem here and there should dissipate when she realize becomes completely comfortable in the double function of acting and singing. Even so, she manages the feat that many actors who sing don’t: she maintains herself in the character when time to intonate the voice, something that is usually very difficult even for some raised in musicals.
Serene, Isabel does not lose her tranquility when it’s time to talk about veiled racism that she’s already experienced throughout her trajectory. “I never let the others bother me. I don’t place this as an obstacle or difficulty. We cannot let this feeling get bitter inside of us, because then you will not get anywhere.” She also makes a point of coming to the defense of Miguel Falabella, who was heavily criticized by the black community because of the series Sexo e as negas: “What I see there is a real black woman being exalted. That one that battles, who loves and enjoys sex, yes. And we have that born sensuality. It’s being placed in a natural way. It’s so rare we have a blonde author of that way portraying our history in such a beautiful way.” (1)
Away from the small screen since 2011, when she participated in the novel Fina Estampa, Isabel is dying to get back to the TV. “I’m don’t have a contract and have no restriction to any broadcaster, I’ll work on Globo (TV), Record (TV), what I want is a space to show my art.”
And if professional life the quest is for achievements, her personal life is a time of giving thanks. A mother for the third time this year, the actress says that the youngest son, Kalel, now 9 months old, is a warrior. “I really wanted this baby, but it was not easy. I laid down for almost a year due to a problem in the womb, and yet he was born at eight months of pregnancy. Today Kalel is gorgeous and doesn’t even look as if he was born premature,” boasts the actress, who is also the mother of Jamal, 10, who suffers from West Syndrome, and Analuz, 13, fruits of her marriage to Julio César Santos.
1. Fillardis made her statement of support for the controversial TV series Sexo e as negas (its final episode aired last night) a few months back before numerous prominent Afro-Brazilians recorded videos in support of the heavily criticized program at the behest of creator Miguel Falabella. For more on that, see yesterday’s report here. While Fillardis seems sincere in her support, one must also wonder, as in other artists’ displays of support, if Fillardis may have been thinking of her own future work as she has made it clear that she would like to return to the spotlight. As she said in her comments above, “Today, the black actor is dependent on invitations, and they are restricted.”