Once again, the Brazilian media has been accused of promoting demeaning images of its black population. The online social network, Correio Nagô, that presents itself as the online voice of Brazil’s black population reported the incident like this:
On June 9th, 2012, the program Zorra Total of the Globo TV network, managed to assault the entire black population. In a scene from the show, the actor Rodrigo Sant’Anna, wearing blackface and makeup, portrays a black woman, Adelaide, who is a beggar on the subway.
If it was offensive enough to associate black woman to poverty, the actor makes a joke about black hair, referring to one of the characters that had “good hair”, different from the character herself and her daughter that had a “problem of hard (bad) hair.”
The actor Rodrigo Sant’Anna who portrays Adelaide
When I first saw the skit from the show it somewhat reminded me of the horrific image of the character known as “Negro Mama” that was popular on a Peruvian television show. Both characters are portrayed with exaggerated physical characteristics stereotypically associated with blacks and both come across as being stupid. They are also both reminiscent of America’s historical legacy of white performers painting their faces with ghoulish black makeup to imitate, make fun of, humiliate and dehumanize persons of African descent. Although performance in blackface may be commonly associated with the United States, this phenomenon can be found in several countries around the world. In the 1940s, Brazil’s most prominent civil rights leader, the late Abdias do Nascimento was inspired to create the Teatro Experimental Negro (Black Experimental Theatre) after having seen a play in Peru featuring a white Argentine actor wearing blackface to portray a black character. Although Nascimento may have seen this play in Peru, Brazil has its own twisted history of white actors wearing blackface also. For examples see here and here.
“When I’ve posed the question of the use of blackface on Brazilian television to black Brazilians, I have yet to hear anyone who vehemently rejects the image. The use of blackface is still quite common on Brazilian television even today.”
When I consulted a prominent Afro-Brazilian lawyer who fights racial discrimination in Brazil about the images of blackface used by a popular Carnaval group, he wrote the following:
“No tempo de Carnaval, tem sido tolerado essas e outras ‘brincadeiras’
(In Carnaval time, these ‘jokes’ and others have been tolerated).”
Of course I cannot judge the image of blackface from the American context when it happens in Brazil but I’m still curious to know what you all think of this popular Carnaval group in the city of Angra dos Reis, located in the state of Rio de Janeiro. I mean, it’s all in fun, right?
Well, it seems that members of the Correio Nagô online community didn’t see the slightest bit of humor in actor Rodrigo Sant’Anna’s portrayal of the character known as Adelaide in the Zorra Total skit. Below are just a few of the comments I translated from members who shared their opinions on the character. The comments are quite thought-provoking as they touch upon topics such as the racial identity/consciousness of the actor, the influence of the mass media on the Brazilian population as a whole and specifically the Afro-Brazilian population, stereotypes and the law.
Here, one of the clips of the routine that is the center of the controversy:
Comment by Rolf de S…
Where is SEPPIR* and the secretariat that watched all of this and didn’t protest? After all, what is the role of this federal institution?
Comment by Ceiça T.
“Hard” is passively accepting this offense… to have to live with these people that reproduce this kind of behavior! (What) is bad is prejudice!
Comment by Rafael V.
What irritates me is that some people laugh and think it’s very funny! If everybody could see these programs critically and protested I think that kind of attitude would decrease. They say they are showing the reality, as if only black people were beggars, as if they alone were worthy of pity … I am very sad to realize that my country is backward, is prejudiced, ignorant and stupid when it comes to ethnic-cultural issues!
Comment by Gicélia C.
I don’t like this character. As a black woman, I feel offended by the reinforcement of this stereotype. But today I don’t see only Globo with this posture. All the stations in the south of the country bring in its programming racist content.
Comment by Nivaldo P.
Gicélia, I agree with you and I say that as long as we have no real power in this society we will be treated like this, because whoever has the means to interfere in the process to avoid such behavior of this nature I don’t know if it is a lack of consciousness or that money speaks louder. We must have people committed to clean up these stereotypes of Brazilian life, but I think you must have money and awareness of this issue and concern to do the right thing like Spike Lee said, as long as we have no power and the media in our hands we remain in the white world going through this, however it’s not enough to have the media in our hands, we must be committed to the cause.
Comment by Adelson S.
One of the most infamous characteristics of the “Brazilian racial democracy” is the defense of the uniqueness of the miscegenated (mixed) ‘Brazilian race’. Every time Brazilian institutional racism see itself in check they come out with this argument, which unfortunately is not remembered by the police when they approach a citizen of the people on behalf of public safety: Or do I need to refer explicitly to the different treatment given by the Brazilian police to citizens of color? In Brazil explicit and contemptuous racism against the descendants of slaves comes into play in substitute to the deficit of creativity of a society where low self-esteem refers to mimicking its dream of status: the white European that colonized it. As long as the citizens’ vote continues to serve as an election tool of elite opportunists and ignoramuses are far from the technical objectives of battles with the goals of asserting a national identity that encompasses the historic contribution of its respective ethnicities in real measures of their acts, Brazil will continue to be plagued by spurious parties in which the Treasury will continue paying for the orgies of the court at all levels and the media in all its ramifications will continue in the role of the consolidation of the stereotypes that frame the system. السلام عليكم (Peace be with you).
Comment by Nivaldo P.
Hi Rokza….you’re absolutely right because this world is a crazy one. Really inhumane. But I want to tell you that the Afonso Arinos Law doesn’t exist anymore. It was a step that didn’t help very much the illness of racism in Brazil….Today, the law that deals with this question or criminalizes racist attitutudes is the 7.716 Law of January 5, 1989 also known as the Lei (Law) Caó because it was a member of the Movimento Negro that fought (for it) in the Constituent Assembly and it became a law. The man responsible for the law is the ex-deputy Carlos Alberto de Oliveira Caó (1). The number of the law was changed to 9.459 on May 13, 1997, saying in the first article: It will be punished, by way of the law, crimes resulting from discrimination or prejudice of race, color, ethnicity, religion or national origin and Rokza S. it serves also for any discrimination against Jewish people, so you also can make use of this law if you were discriminated against.
An embrace (for you).
Comment by Malcolm K.
What’s worse is that thousands of blacks watch! I’m sorry to say but: only people who are complete imbeciles watch Globo! Or better: only people who are complete imbeciles watch television!
TV is indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy … all the beauty of life is reduced to a common rubble of banality! War, murder, famine, epidemics, destruction … all of this to television is just banal events to increase their own profit!
The TV is virulent craziness, and everything it touches “die”!
I am 31 years old and for over 10 (years) I don’t watch TV anymore! I’m no longer one of its living dead! There are other more intelligent and constructive things for our minds when we are home, such as: good movies, music, books, etc.. .. “
Comment from Wenceslas S.
What scares me most is not that “gift” of television, and other similar pictures that offend the black population, as well as other minorities. I’m surprised with is the realization that it is precisely the population that is marginalized and ridiculed in these programs that grows its audience. Go figure!
Comment by Nivaldo P.
Dear Edna F., I asked if Roberto (sic) Santana knew if he was black; if he knew or if he is unconscious of being black or (if) he only thinks about the money
Comment by Edna F.
Good morning! Nivaldo P! I agree with you when you said that the actor Roberto (sic) Santana is black. But does he know this, that he is black. Does he have this consciousness. You can be sure that he doesn’t. (If so) would he commit this offense, using our ethnicity, our race to denigrate us. What a ridiculous role. Who does he think he is. Now if your daughter has problems with hair take her to an environment of black people, because I bet the mother is white and his father doesn’t know what it is to be a conscious negro. Or take her to the psychiatrist.
* – Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial/Ministry for the Promotion of Racial Equality
1. For more on this law and its effectiveness or lack thereof, see the story of Simone Diniz