Note from BW of Brazil: Over the course of the years of this blog’s existence, we’ve periodically discussed the influence of novelas (soap operas) in Brazilian culture and the place of black women in them. There is simply no way to ignore the influence of these often scandal-filled series. And Brazilians LOVE them some novelas! As Dom Phillips wrote in a 2012 post, “IF you want to try and understand a country or a culture, you could do worse than start with its soap operas. In no country is this more true than Brazil.” According to the same author, “The soap opera is a devastatingly important part of Brazilian culture.” In studies, researchers found a strong connection between these novelas and the social behavior of everyday Brazilians and have been shown to help “shape women’s views on marriage, family.”
Globo TV remains hands down the most dominant television network in Brazil and ranks fourth in world commercial networks behind the big three in the United States. Globo-produced novelas usually focus on a very specific parcel of the population in its depictions of dramatic, sex-filled soaps: “attractive, white, healthy, urban, middle and upper middle class and consumerist.” And as 54% of Brazil’s population defines itself as non-white, it’s easy to see why this blog occasionally lends an eye and ear to how black women appear in these novelas and how often they appear. It was the recent focus of yet another study of how often and the roles that Afro-Brazilian women play in such an important product of Brazilian television.
Of every six opening sequences of soap operas with white women, only one has black women
Research was done based on 59 novelas aired by Globo TV between 2000 and 2010
By Daniel Giovanaz
The researcher Fernanda Bueno studied novela (soap opera) openings broadcast by Rede Globo (TV network) over a period of ten years and came to a surprising result: mulheres negras (black women) are absent from 50 of the 59 vignettes analyzed – representing a sixth of the space dedicated to mulheres brancas (white women). The result is incompatible with the figures of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which shows discrimination in the choice of actresses and characters. According to the latest census, about 54% of the Brazilian population is black.
The study was presented in 2016 as the conclusion work of the Social Communication course of the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), and is available online. In addition to “invisibility,” Fernanda questioned the hyper-sexualization and subordination of black women in novelas.
Check below the best moments of the interview of the researcher for Brasil de Fato Paraná:
What motivated you to choose novelas as an object to study the representativeness of black women on TV?
The telenovela comes as an alternative to unite the theme that I wanted to study – blackness and gender – with communication. At first, my object would be the relation of young girls to hair, and media references as direct influences on these practices – straightening or enhancement of curls. However, it would be an object closer to sociology, and the methodologies available in my area and the time I had to complete a course (one year to a year and a half) would not work. Therefore, I decided to invest in the concern about the existence or not of these media references, really to be able to understand this dialogue with the reception of the girls/young people in the future. Thinking also that television is one of the largest media in the country, having credibility and reach, because there are still many places where the internet doesn’t go to, but TV yes.
Was there a fact or some novela specifically that opened your eyes to the low presence of black women?
One issue that bothered me was the automatic association of black girls with characters and actresses – always the same – regardless of their appearance. Really because my life and experiences are also my basis for reflection. When I entered college, my nickname was Globeleza. Then, at the end of the first year, I met a group of Public Relations students from the state of São Paulo, where there was also another black girl with that nickname. This was one of the first times it hit me to stop and think: wait a minute, if I don’t look like her, and not like Globeleza, then why do we both have that nickname? From then on, I began to observe more closely who and what were the possible references to make this comparison, and this was also an incentive to desire to discover, from the novelas, that black women inhabited the imaginary of people.
Did any results of the research surprise you?
Of the three categories analyzed – hyper-sexualization, invisibility, and subordination – hyper-sexualization were what I believed to be the most recurrent. There was also the suspicion that few black women would appear, but the result also surprised me. For in ten years, in the 59 novelas shown in the hours between 6pm and 9pm, only nine novelas had black female figures. Being that one of them is a novela de época, and for that reason there is a more delicate problematization, considering the time to which it makes a reference is a slave period and everything. Anyway, this representation of only 10% in a snippet of the openings in the period of 10 years, was something unexpected. And that within this small representation, black women appear more in subordinate positions than hyper-sexualized ones.
How do you view the problem of the “formation of the identity of the black woman from the referential of the white woman” cited in your work?
I begin the response with a provocation. If we did a quick interview asking some people to describe a successful woman, regardless of her intellectual or physical attributes, what would be the color of that woman’s skin for most of these people?
The formation of the identity of the black woman starting from the white woman happens at all times and in little moments that we don’t even notice. In fact, if that same question were in the “Carnival” context, what would this woman’s skin color be?
In fact, it is a rationalization of the process (which we are still living) of dissociating the actions of the black woman from the actions made and recognized of the white woman. From the moment we come to value the black woman for her own qualities and characteristics, then we will be giving her a degree of dignity and respect for her achievements.
The black woman bothers people because she is a woman and because she is black. For wanting to remain in a place of discourse or having a visibility that is constantly and doubly denied her, because of machismo and racism and in another instance of classism as well.
Can you give some example of how this appears in the novelas you analyzed?
The first example-situation that came to my mind about the research, was the opening of Tempos Modernos (Modern Times) (2010), which in addition to Da Cor do Pecado (Of the Color of Sin) (which ends up being the one that most inhabits the social imaginary due to showing a bust of a black woman under the sunlight) is one of the most uncomfortable openings for me. The vignette begins with a black woman with long cabelos crespos (kinky/curly hair), lying on a double bed, wearing a nightgown and pulling a white man to lie down with her. In the following images, a white woman comes home from work dressed in formal clothes (pantsuit) and says hi to the children who were with her husband. In other words, even if in reverse order, it ends up conferring different places and roles for these two women. The branca (white woman) is still seen as responsible, organized and intellectual, and the black as “naughty”, unoccupied, and occupying a private space where she depends on the intentions of the man. As much as it is not shown in the black-white order, they are images sufficient enough to install this idea and reproduce those values and expectations.
The Globo Network, increasingly, offers in its programming ‘pills’ of feminism, generally superficial debates about gender and prejudice. How do you understand the impact this has on the general public, considering that the same broadcaster has a history of discrimination, as your research has shown?
I think that this can and should be valued as a sign that there is a concern of the broadcaster to change the values transmitted to the “traditional Brazilian family”. I still see it as a demonstration of interest in displaying a more comprehensive and representative content, really because it’s time, right?! It’s a conquest and recognition of the work of social movements – black and feminist – in order to have this occupation of the media space.
You have you analyzed soap opera openings until the year 2010. In your impression, have there been advances or retreats since then?
No doubt there have been advances. If we think that the first black woman appears only in an opening dated 2003 (within the corpus of research, which begins in 2000), and that of the five novelas exhibited in the year 2006 we have three of them presenting black women in the opening, it is a considerable breakthrough. Even though the performance is still in a subordinate role, they are present in some way. It is less sexualized than I thought, which is already a great advance and contributes to our references being amplified and in a way to think about the social ascent of these women. Although it is part of the conclusion of the analysis made in the work, this ascent linked to interracial relationships is a way of thinking beforehand of a way to also present characters that contradict this logic and are black feminine characters that subvert the relations of oppression.
Another sign of progress in this period is that the first novelas with a black protagonist – from 7pm (Da Cor do Pecado) and 9pm (Viver a Vida – Living the Life) – coincidentally bring the same actress in the main role: Taís Araújo.
An interesting fact discovered in this analysis was that most of the novelas that presented black women in the opening were in Rio de Janeiro, a city that was one of the main poles of slavery in Brazil. This submissive representation of black people is most likely a remnant of this culture that disparages dark-skinned individuals. Unfortunately, this is part of Brazilian history and has influenced our relationship with veiled racism to this day, since the myth of racial democracy – where the three races live in harmony – is also the result of this strategy of silencing the demands of the black population which continues to suffer from discrimination.