Note from BW of Brazil: The intolerance against natural, kinky/curly black hair in Brazilian society has been a very popular topic on this blog and for good reason. In past stories, employment interns have been harrassed, black women have been fired, and brillo pads have been used to imitate the texture of black hair. Musicians have been sued or fined for derogatory lyrics pertaining to black hair and hospitals have provoked controversy for giving advice of how to straighten the hair of black hair to make them “more beautiful”. These are but a few of the stories presented here over the past few years which has led to a natural black hair movement where more and more black women are rallying against society’s prejudice and expressing pride in their hair. Needless to say, hair tecture continues to be a huge issue in Brazil! This latest controversy is yet another example of this.
Here’s the story. A popular novela (soap opera) (Amor à vida) that has already been featured here for other controversies (see here and here), recently added a black child actor to the cast of the show who plays the adopted son of a white, gay couple. The controversy this time surrounds the novela’s writer cutting the hair of the black actor/character due to criticism of the character’s appearance. Check the story below and BW of Brazil will chime in later with comments. The first few paragraphs below give a brief introduction of the character’s debut on the show. As mentioned above, the boy is adopted by a gay couple. Here is how the Tele Dossiê blog described the situation of the gay couple Eron and Niko and the woman involved in the situation.
From the beginning of the plot, both men dream of having a child, and incessantly sought a supportive uterus to accomplish this dream…And they did! In their lives comes Amarilys (played by Danielle Winits), a friend of Niko, and offers herself to help the couple, but her personality and interests change over time until…She betrays her friend Niko, and gets pregnant by Eron, the child is born and a needy, jealous, passionate and treacherous woman, brings questions into focus, something that was not previously evident.
Amor à vida: Eron and Niko adopt a black boy and Amarilys reacts with prejudice
by Carla Bittencourt
And the confusion involving Amarilys (played by Danielle Winits), Eron (Marcello Antony) and Niko (Thiago Fragoso) is far from over. When the time comes to adopt a child, the gay couple chooses a black boy and this handsome, charming little boy will win them both over. The arrival of Jayminho will worsen the climate in the family home. 8-year old model Kaiky Gonzaga makes his novela debut novel in the character of Jayminho, a resident of a shelter that will be adopted by Niko and Eron. It is with this new character that the novela’s writer Walcyr Carrasco want to show Amarilys’s prejudice, which is implicated all the time in regards to the boy. She will not even let Jayminho get too close to Fabrício, which will cause more confusion between her and Niko.
In one of the novela’s scenes, Amarilys quips: “We can’t forget that he came from a shelter.” Eron’s companion is shocked. “And because of this he should be treated like a marginal,” he asks. “That’s not what I said,” the blonde defends. “I think that you’re being prejudiced Amarilys,” says Niko. “The fact is that he had a different education. I worry about the baby, I don’t like to see the two together,” confesses the doctor.
Note from BW of Brazil: Here is a press release announcing the show’s writer deciding to change the black character’s look by cutting his hair
Writer changes visual of Jayminho in Amor à vida
by Regina Rito
Jayminho (Kaiky Gonzaga), the adopted son of Niko (played by actor Thiago Fragoso) and Eron (Marcello Antony), will change his look in the novela (soap opera) Amor à Vida, on the 8th. Niko will take the boy to buy clothes at the mall and then cut his hair. Walcyr Carrasco, the writer of the 9 pm novela on the Globo TV network put an addendum in the chapter, saying: “Attention friends of characterization and costumes. These scenes are intended to change Jayminho’s composition. I have heard from a lot of people very heavy criticism and rejection, especially about his hair. Any questions call me. I want a well-accepted character.”
Note from BW of Brazil: After making the announcement of the character’s hair being cut, here is how the show’s writer’s reaction was reported.
Walcyr Carrasco defends himself from the accusation of prejudice after controversy with Niko’s son’s hair
courtesy of Globo Extra
It only took Carrasco’s announcement that he would change Jayminho’s look character that would make him the target of accusations, in social networks, of being prejudiced.
“Fighting against prejudice is showing that a white character can adopt a black boy and be happy. Every boy, when adopted, changes his look. He gets new clothes, too,” wrote the show’s writer on Twitter, to which he also added: “Adopted boy gets new clothes, toys, etc. etc. The important thing is to show a black boy adopted by a white man.”
Facing more and more criticism, Walcyr Carrasco fumed:
“Well, if you aren’t happy with what I’m doing against prejudice, I’ll remove the novela character and end the controversy. I put the black boy adopted by a white man to fight against prejudice. I wrote Xica da Silva, remember? You guys complain about everything. Friends, I’m sorry, but I’m the one who writes the novela. I have to do it as I see best, including the message against prejudice.”
Note from BW of Brazil: This incident is so revealing of how white Brazilian elites deal, or rather, don’t know how to deal with Brazil’s deeply ingrained ideology of white supremacy. As the many previous articles linked to at the beginning of this article attest to, black hair continues to be a stigma and a sign of inferiority that is outside of the established beauty standard for millions of people. It seemed that everytime this writer opened his mouth he put his foot deeper into it! Let’s review.
1) First of all, when it debuted, this particular novela immediately became the target of protest when its cast of characters was released. Out of 56 characters on the show, not a single black character/actor was to be featured on the show.
2) The writer of the program, Walcyr Carrasco, believes he is addressing the problem of racism in society by placing a black character, the adopted son of a white gay couple on the program. So here, we have two demographics of society that are rejected by mainstream society. Two questions here: A) As black children continue to face problems being adopted in Brazil, did he even consider simply writing a black family into the show’s storyline? B) Why must the black child come from a shelter? This could have been avoided by simply writing a black family into the plot.
3) Carrasco believes he is fighting prejudice in society but the moment the actor’s/character’s hair becomes the topic of criticism (as natural black hair continues to be considered “cabelo ruim (bad hair)” he immediately buckles under pressure and announces that the character will get a haircut. How is this fighting prejudice? If anything, it is accepting prejudice and bowing to established standards. In a country where millions of black children are ridiculed because of their hair, does his decision teach one to stand strong in the face of oppression of simply adapt? The answer is quite appears to be obvious.
4) After receiving criticism of the child’s hair, Carrasco proclaims he will cut the boy’s hair because he wants a “well-accepted character”. In other words, a black actor/character cannot be accepted with this type of hair which points to society’s rejection of the black aesthetic and elites’ acceptance of the this rejection. Here, Carrasco, as the show’s writer, has the power to face society’s prejudice but chooses to uphold the standard of rejection.
5) According to Carrasco, “the important thing is to show a black boy adopted by a white man”. Really? So this is the most important facet of introducing the poor, black boy to the program? In reality, Carrasco means of introducing the poor, black character to the cast is simply a reflection of a long standard of racial relations in Brazilian society. Back in 1955, writing about relations between blacks and whites in São Paulo, sociologist Roger Bastide wrote that “there was the necessity of the interference and protection of an influential, white godfather/mentor for the negro to obtain a good job” and to overcome society’s barriers (1). Thus, in reality, Carrasco both re-enforces a long time standard of relations as well as his acceptance of this standard in portraying a black character in this way.
6) Not happy with the criticism he has received about his decision, Carrasco responds, “if you aren’t happy with what I’m doing against prejudice, I’ll remove the novela character and end the controversy.” Typical. He doesn’t know how to deal with the backlash because he didn’t see how his actions could be interpreted as being based in prejudice in the first place. Reflective of a person who has probably never had to deal with the question of race. What can we expect? No black actors and no black writers will often lead to these types of situations.
7) Then Carrasco, still fuming, says that he wrote Xica da Silva, a novela based on a black female slave who became rich due to her relationship with a rich white man. In a Brazilian media that even in the last few decades has continued to create novelas based in or near the slave era (see here or here for example) and still shows black characters in positions of inferiority, is that really something to brag about? It’s as if he’s saying, “I put you people on TV as slaves! What are you complaining about?” And to top all of this off, that’s exactly what he said when defending himself against accusations: :”You guys complain about everything.”
This whole situation calls to mind another essay about the racial situation in Brazil. This blog referred to the famous 1955 Guerreiro Ramos essay “The Social Pathology of the ‘white’ Brazilian” a little over a week ago in another post. Ramos write about the pathological attitude of white Brazilians who see blacks as a problem because Brazil, in reality, should be white. As Carrasco proved over and over in his actions and comments, he simply doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the race issue. But then, considering the near invisibility of Afro-Brazilians in the media, he surely isn’t the only one.
1) Cited from Bastide, Roger. “Introdução”; “Manifestações do preconceito de cor”: “Efeito do preconceito de cor”. In Bastide, Roger; Fernandes Florestan. Relações raciais entre negro e brancos em São Paulo. São Paulo, Editora Anhembi, 1955.