On the right, gospel singer Jotta A.
(Originally posted on December 26, 2012; updated on July 11, 2013)
On the heels of our recent post on a white female character of a TV show artificially darkening her skin and donning an afro wig to realize a fantasy of having sex with a black man and examples of the usage of blackface in the history of Brazilian TV, comes another story that shows the surprising, sometimes shocking, lengths Brazilian producers will go to exclude Afro-Brazilians.
Back in January this site reported on the Brazilian edition of The Color Purple (A Cor Púrpura) musical that was to feature an all Afro-Brazilian cast and debut in March of this year. Still don’t know what ever happened with that production although producers of the show hinted at the difficulty of attaining the production budget because there was concern that the public would not support an all-black production. Would this be a case of investors hiding behind the public’s racism or an excuse of the investors themselves not wanting to fund an all-black production?
We also know that Brazilian TV has a problem with featuring young black Brazilians in their productions. In a current kids TV show, Carrossel, there’s only one black kid out of the sixteen youngsters on the program. A few months ago, we featured a short film about the aspirations of a black girl who wanted to join a popular dance troupe on Brazil’s most popular kid’s TV show. There was only one problem: she was black and all the girls in the group were white. In 1992, a woman named Maria Alice Alves was fired from her job at the SBT TV network after she allowed two black children to take part in the popular show Dó Ré Mi com a Vovó Mafalda. According to Alves, program director Wanderley Villa Nova asked her: “Was it you that chose those two negrinhos (little black kids)?” Others also noticed badly-camouflaged racist practices that barred black children early on in the selection process for the show. Of course Nova denied the charges, but an employee at SBT was quoted as saying: “If we put those kids on heads are gonna roll because Wanderley doesn’t like blacks.”
Now we have a new controversy about the Brazilian production of The Lion King (O Rei Leão). Here’s how the Folha de S.Paulo (newspaper) website reported on it.
by Mônica Bergamo
The production of the Disney musical O Rei Leão (The Lion King) sought black or brown children to play the protagonists Simba and Nala in the Brazilian edition, which debuts in March. But most of the child actors in the final phase of auditions are white. Two finalists declared to the Folha news column that they are using tanning spray to darken their skin to suit the production. The T4F company, which is assembling the show, says it didn’t recommend the procedure to applicants. In American and English versions of the show, the protagonists are black.
So, once again, Brazilian producers are darkening white performers to represent black performers. Not surprising. Besides a history of actual blackface performances on Brazilian television, it is also well-known that the 1975 television novela Gabriela featured well-known actress Sônia Braga in the lead role, a character described as being a mulata, with the skin color of cinnamon. For the part, Braga, having much fairer skin, was darkened with tanning oil. Producers reportedly passed on 120 mulata and morena (brown or light-brown skinned) women that auditioned for the part before deciding on Braga. Apparently, none of them fit the bill for the part which is indeed possible.
Sônia Braga as Gabriela in 1975 and in a recent photo
According to Stephanie Dennison (2002), in Brazilian cinema, the morena type of Brazilian woman, considered the prototype Brazilian woman (in this case, a woman with dark hair who is accepted as white though not being “white white”) often represents the mulata or black woman. Braga, in spite of not being black or mulata has served to represent this identity in Brazilian films. In Braga’s own words: “I am a typical Brazilian woman. I have a typical Brazilian butt, a typical Brazilian color, even a little African and a typical Brazilian style.” While Gabriela may be a classic in the history of Brazilian cinema, the casting of Braga as a mulata caused a bit of controversy in black Brazilian artistic circles.
According to Amauri Mendes Pereira, the creation of the Instituto de Pesquisa das Culturas Negras (IPCN or Research Institute of Black Cultures) in 1975 was motivated by the casting of Braga in the television series. Pereira remembers it this way:
“On a Saturday afternoon there was Milton Gonçalves, Jorge Coutinho, Léa Garcia and Vera Manhães, who is Camila Pitanga’s mother. And in our realm there was a murmur because Vera Manhães was discriminated against. She went to do (writer) Jorge Amado’s Gabriela. Gabriela was negra (black). She was an actress that, at the time, was very respected. Everything was all set for her to play the role on Globo (TV). Then, they called Sônia Braga, that had to take quantities of sunbaths to darken her skin a little to go on as a black woman in the novela. This was a scandal at the time, in black circles. There weren’t many repercussions in the media, but for us it was absurd.”
And what’s the excuse for The Lion King production? Black or brown kids were actually requested for the roles. Is it possible that they simply could not find talented Afro-Brazilian kids? That would be hard to believe especially when there are kids like Jotta A out there. As we reported in our Brazilian The Color Purple report, 13-year old Jotta A (José Antônio Viana de Hollanda), who has been called the “Brazilian Michael Jackson”, blew away the TCP selection team with his vocal talent. Having been featured on Brazilian TV talent reality shows and released a platinum-selling CD, this Gospel dynamite would seem to be a perfect fit for a part in The Lion King. Oh I forgot, he’s black (or brown if you’re talking Brazilian standards).
I guess that’s just how things go in a “racial democracy”. So if we make a future report on the debut of the Brazilian edition of The Lion King featuring artificially bronzed (or would be “blackened”) white kids in parts intended for black kids, don’t be surprised.
For now, check out the videos below of young Jotta A and let me know what you think of his rendition of “We Are the World” and another song.
Jotta A – We Are The World – December 12, 2011
Jotta A – Quem Sou Eu? – Programa Raul Gil – October 27, 2012
Source: Folha de S .Paulo, Mundo Novelas, Veja magazine (May 13, 1992), Pereira, de Amilcar Araujo. O mundo negro: Relações raciais e a constituição do Movimento Negro contemporâneo no Brasil. Pallas 2013. Fabris, Elí Terezinha Henn. “Histórias que os Filmes Brasileiros Não Contam: o aparente silêncio da raça/etnia negra na docência”. In: I Seminário Brasileiro de Estudos Culturais em Educação: poder, identidade e diferença, 2004, Canoas/RS. CD-ROM do I Seminário Brasileiro de Estudos Culturais em Educação: poder, identidade e diferença. Canoas/RS: Editora da ULBRA, 2004. v. 1. p. 1-10.