Classic Brazilian cartoon ‘Monica’s Gang’ will be released as film on June 27th; but why was a child with straight hair chosen to portray a character with kinky hair?

capa (F)

Note from BW of Brazil: Before I get into today’s topic, I want to just mention how the idea of covering it came about. To be completely honest, I don’t have much time these days to actively participate in consumption of media or even social networks. Call it day-to-day life, call it responsibilities, whatever. I just don’t have much time for to indulge in things besides my daily routine. But yesterday, I had a chance to check out a conversation in one of the WhatsApp groups of which I am a member. When I happen to check in on the group yesterday morning, I saw a conversation line thread in which the topic was the popular Brazilian children’s cartoon Turma da Mônica, which has been translated in English as Monica’s Gang.

As the conversation continued, people started posting photos of the characters in cartoon as well as real life children that were associated with the characters in some way. As I hadn’t read the conversation from start to finish, I assumed that the real children whose photos they were posting next to the characters were a few of the voice or overdub actors that are so common in Brazil’s media. As I’ve discussed in a few past articles, Brazil is in some ways an American colony in terms of its media.

To get an idea, recent data reveal that 89.4% of the Brazilian public watched foreign films in 2012, with ALL of the all-time highest grossing foreign films coming from the United States. Of the top 13 highest-grossing films of all-time in Brazil, only two are Brazilian, Tropa de Elite 2, which ranks number one, and Dois Filhos de Francisco, which comes in at number 10. Another revealing fact that demonstrates American dominance is that in 2013, foreign films in Brazil grossed 1.4 billion Brazilian reais while Brazilian film productions only took in 157.2 million (Souza Neto).

Brazil’s television industry, though not as dominated as the film market, also presents an endless stream of TV shows, series and movies coming from the United States. As only between 1-5% of Brazil’s 210 million citizens speak between basic and fluent English, these television programs and films need overdubbing in Portuguese. And these overdub actors are in high demand. 

To have an idea, consider this. In research for his 2011 thesis, “A tradução de referências culturais na dublagem de ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ (The translation of cultural references in the dubbing of “Everybody Hates Chris), Gregório Magno Viana Oliveira found that there were no less than 42 American TV series being shown on Brazilian airwaves with 34 being broadcast on SBT-TV, 6 on the Rede Record network and 2 on the Rede Globo television network (Oliveira).

As I continued reading the group conversation in “fly on the wall” manner, I came to a comment in which one of the group members commented on how she expected that the actor doing the voice of the Turma character known as Cascão would have had kinkier hair. As I was still thinking that they were discussing overdub actors, I chimed in to inform the group that most overdub voice actors in Brazil were white, and as such, what the kid who voiced Cascão looked like shouldn’t be anything surprising.

TMOC
The popular series Everybody Hates Chris (Todo Mundo Odeia o Chris) was a huge success in Brazil

This whiteness of the overdub industry has come up in various discussions in recent years, being discussed in the disappointment of discovering how few black actors were hired to do the vocals of the huge Black Panther film (Pantera Negra in Brazil) and previously having seen the all-white overdub cast of the popular TV series Everybody Hates Chris (known as Todo Mundo Odeia o Chris in Brazil). One joke even asked how the Chris character Rochelle would react if she knew that the actress voicing her in Brazil was white.

After I wrote a few comments, I had to exit the dialogue to get myself and the kids ready to go to auntie’s house for lunch. At that point, I sort of archived the dialogue in my mind for re-visiting later. By mid-afternoon, I decided to do a little research on this Turma da Mônica discussion. What I discovered is that I had misinterpreted what I read. It wasn’t about voice actors in the cartoon as I’d thought, but in fact child actors that would be bringing Turma da Mônica characters to life in an upcoming film.

After seeing the pre-release photos of the film, the comment about expecting the Cascão character to have kinkier hair made more sense. In the comic series, as well as the TV cartoon, the Cascão character, though having light skin, has hair that I considered a short, kinky bush, thus, in my eyes, denoting a black character. I also saw the Cascão character’s mother and father as looking decidedly black.

cascão mãe pai
Cascão character with mother and father

Although I’ve written about Turma in only one past article, I was well-aware of the debate over whether Cascão was black or white. The question came up again earlier this year when the Turma’s creator announced the addition of the first clearly black family to appear in the series. So, the first clearly black family appears in a comic series that has existed since 1959? 60 years? For decades, Afro-Brazilian activists have denounced the fact that black characters in Rede Globo TV’s ever popular novelas (soap operas) rarely have families in the storyline, so as we can see, this invisibility or low visibility of black families starts indoctrinating children from a very early age, as literally millions of Brazilians grow up watching and reading the adventures of Turma da Mônica

But let me get back to the issue of Cascão. I admit that, as an adult, Turma da Mônica was never anything that I was really interested in. But these things change when one has kids. Since the birth of my three children, my time with them is often dominated with this or that cartoon that I had previously never heard of. Since the kids were old enough to start enjoying cartoons, I’ve had to become familiar with cartoons such as The Backyardigans, Luna, Miss Moon and, with the addition of Netflix (Kids), a huge selection of kids’ cartoons that didn’t exist when I was kid.

cascão socks
Socks featuring the ‘Turma’ Cascão character

Recently, my kids have discovered the adventures of O Gatola da Cartola, which was The Cat in the Hat when I was growing up. Then there’s Bubble Guppies, Charlie and Lola, Max and Ruby, PJ Masks and many more. This list seems to grow every week as the kids become aware of other cartoons to add to their list of favorites. The kids are also fans of Turma da Mônica and the boys even have socks with the Cascão character featured on them. In a country like Brazil, this issue of identification is even more urgent than in the US. I often wonder if and when they’ll overdub cartoons such as Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids or the Proud Family, both of which have characters that look more like my kids.

With the first looks at what the characters of the Turma film looked like, the controversy over Cascão came to the fore once again. One headline covering the issue read “Público exige Cascão negro no filme da Turma da Mônica e autor toma decisão” (Public demands black Cascão in Turma da Mônica film and author makes decision). According to the Turma creator, Maurício de Sousa, the Cascão character was never drawn as black. And if that is the case, that means that only a few of the many characters featured in Turma are  in fact black.

I also find it intriguing that de Sousa says that the Cascão character was never drawn as black. If we define the character by skin color, it can be agreed that he is the same color as the vast majority of the other characters. But as we are dealing with Brazil, this doesn’t necessarily mean the characters are white white, but rather a “Brazilian white“; a sort of light skin color that is not as white as Caucasian standards in the US or Europe, but white in the Brazilian/Latin American context.

Because of this “off white” skin tone of so many “white” Brazilians, and the degree of black/white/Indian miscegenation that is such a part of the nation’s history, it’s quite normal to see a sort of beige coloring among Brazilians, some of whom are considered white while others are considered negro (black) or mestiço/pardo (mixed). When we consider the fact that, in Brazil, as it is sometimes difficult to distiguish who is considered white or non-white, hair texture is one of the main characteristics that can define a person as one, the other or somewhere in between. This is where the issue of Cascão’s classification can come into question, at least in the minds of those who followed the cartoon’s characters for any period of time in their lives.

When drawing features of their characters, artists are often very detail-oriented in how their characters look. As such, when we look at these characters, we can often tell the differences between male and female characters, as well as those that have certain features associated with black people, white people or Asians. 

In the details of the art we can also distinguish the differences between drawings of hair textures in which the character’s hair has a stringier appearance and the character whose hair has a bushier appearance. So, when we see characters such as Huey of the Boondocks or Schroeder of the Peanuts Gang, we generally know which is supposed to be black and which is supposed to be white. And in all honestly, whenever I would see Cascão, his mother or his father, I just assumed that they were black characters.

Judging from the photos what do you think?

While you consider the question, below I present different views on the topic of Cascão, other Turma characters, as well as views on how we can gauge the Turma characters and whether they present a more racially neutral world or a world that maintains the hegemonic practice of white supremacy.

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The black according to Maurício de Souza

By Rebeca Oliveira Duarte

As a child, I liked Turma da Mônica (Monica’s Gang). With mental cleansing, however, I became aware of the implicit things there: to create war between boys and girls, to encourage violence, bullying, naturalizing deceit, to betray and lie, and, as generally happens, racism.

First, ausência negra (black absence) is blatant. Of the main group, the character with características negras (black characteristics) is Cascão, because of his cabelo pixaim (nappy hair) with which he is characterized. He is the dirty one in the story (Cascuda, his girlfriend, is a sarará, the two are negro-mestiços – mixed blacks), the one who’s a little silly that follows (another character) Cebolinha in his always frustrating traps for Mônica.

jeremias
Jeremias

Then, intending to use politically correct language, he extended the gang to diversified characters. Jeremias appeared as the único preto (only black), next to a Japanese, a girl in a wheelchair, a blind man … and there he was, apparently aware of the already much-vaunted diversity. But only two negro-mestiços and one black, except by mistake, among dozens of white characters. Thus, I never included Turma da Mônica among the cartoons or magazines for my daughter, who inevitably ended up accessing it through an indirect source.

What should I do?

6

It was then that my activism passed through a moment of non-attention and, bam!, I voluntarily exposed my daughter to the sowing of racism in her tender little mind. This last Sunday, I went to the bookstore with my son, my companion, and his son, where I told him to choose a book he wanted to buy. She chose O Gênio e as Rosas e outros contos (The Genius and the Roses and Other Stories) from Editora Globo (publisher), a partnership of Paulo Coelho, author of the stories, and Maurício de Souza and Maurício de Souza Produções Ltda., Published in 2010. I twisted my nose, I thought… I leafed through the stories and liked the ones I read, always bringing good, human spiritual messages. So, I decided not to be radical and bought the book.

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The good, blond angel

But behold, reading the tale by tale, I come across something terrifying. A story about Mal e o Guerreiro de Luz (Evil and the Warrior of Light). No, the problem is not in talking about Evil, after all the story wants to talk about the victory of that Warrior of Light, represented by the negro de pele clara (light-skinned black), Cascão. The problem is this:

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Evil represented by a black character

The evil is presented by an image that represents a homem negro (black man), with pele escura e nariz largo (dark skin and a wide nose). Now, you say, isn’t it a bit of an exaggeration to think that this would be deliberate? Well then perceive the representation of the Bem (Good) in this same book, by the character of the Anjinho (little Angel) of Turma da Mônica:

The angel, the Good, is white, blond and blue-eyed. All right, this is nothing new in Maurício de Souza. The black movement has long denounced this discriminatory representation in the  Turma da Mônica comics. But, let’s agree, after so much has been said, already entering the second decade of the 21st century… and still making this extreme racist representation of evil being a black person and good being a white person?

I closed the book lamenting my distraction. Better to run the risk of exaggeration than to incur the error of feeding racist ideology in the mind of a child. Imagine what is engraved in the eyes of any child who looks at a black image represented as evil and a white image represented as good. What does this sow in the soft, infantile heart?

O Jeremias é o peixe fora d'água ali à esquerda. Sabe qual é, o único pintado com uma cor de pele diferente.
The black character, Jeremiah, is the fish out of water there on the left. You know which one he is, the only one painted with a different skin color.

The color of Turma da Mônica

By Alex Castro

Think of Turma da Mônica. What color are they?

Easy, right, they are “normal”, of the “normal” color.

How do we know this?

Simple: if they were black, they would be drawn like Jeremiah; Asians, such as Hiro, Indians, Papa-Capim.

Besides the Black, the Indian, and the Nissei (Japanese), we also have a mute, a blind person, a person in a wheelchair and even a dead person. All with their difference well marked and very explicit.

A turma toda - ou melhor, só os personagens importantes
Turma da Mônica

But if there is a black character, an Indian, a Nissei, etc., where is the personagem branco (white character)? Where is the character that would have its whiteness so accentuated and explicit as in the “Indianness” of Papa-Capim or the blackness of Jeremias?

There is none. Of course not. Because whiteness, being the norm, is never a group of determining characteristics, but a conspicuous ABSENCE of these characteristics.

Branco é o normal (White is the normal). Whites are all those not altered by any markers of difference. Whites are all those who, not being “the other”, are, not coincidentally, the main characters: Monica, Cebolinha, Cascão, Magali, Chico Bento, Tina, Rollo and several supporting members, from Franjinha to Xaveco.

That is, despite the fact that there is a large cast of minorities, their status as eternal supporting members only accentuate the hard-core normativity.

Essa ilustração, única que encontrei com todas as minorias, não é de nenhuma revista de banca, mas de um número especial encomendado pela Unicef.
This illustration, the only one I have found with minorities, is not from any magazine stand, but from a special issue commissioned by Unicef.

(Calm down, reader friend. I know I’m messing with the icons of your childhood. But just as I have not accused you and The Simpsons’ creator of racism, I am not accusing poor Maurício de Souza. The idea here is only to try to find out where it comes from and how our world view is constructed. And, willingly or not, the worldview of almost every Brazilian under fifty was constructed, in part, by Turma da Mônica.)

So, far from accusing Maurício de Souza of racism, one can see a conscious and consistent effort, over the last decades, to represent several different types of Brazilian. Today, practically any child of Brazil has the “his/her” Turma da Mônica character with whom to identify.

But it is this very differentiation between the other-characters and the normative characters that emphasizes and further reinforces the idea that there IS a norm. Yes, there are blacks and Indians among us, Japanese and people in wheelchairs, look at them here, but, taking away these exceptions, o normal é ser branco (the norm is to be white).

Cebolinha is salmon colored and Bart Simpson, yellow, but it would be impossible for us not to see them always as white.

now addressing this problematic concept of “normality” head-on. After all, what is the “normal”? Has this always existed? Who created it? Can it be disinvented?

Let’s continue the conversation in two weeks…

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“Right? Wrong? Is Cascão black?” – Controversy: Should the Cascão character be portrayed by a black actor or white actor in the film?

Is the Cascão black? | Turma da Mônica: Laços

By Jorge Freire

The live action footage of Turma da Mônica: Laços has started! I confess that I am anxious to see the group that followed me through childhood and is now part of my children’s lives on the screen.

Along with the news of the beginning of the filming, two images were released and are simply sensational! Cascão, Cebolinha, Mônica and Magali are perfect. No matter how adaptive – and I hope you understand what that means – I can see the essence of each character in the pictures.

However, something curious occurs every time that I post some image of the actors. People always appear questioning Cascão’s ethnicity. For many, ele era negro (he was black).

In 2014, a 5th year student of the Escola Municipal Professora Irene da Silva Oliveira, in Nova Iguaçu, Rio de Janeiro, when receiving his bi-monthly test, which was illustrated with a drawing of Turma da Mônica, decided to paint all the characters with brown colored pencils. The young “Padawan”, Cleidison, did this because he wanted more characters equal to his color.

Cleidison Turma da Monica
Cleidison painted the ‘Turma da Monica’ characters brown

Notice that he even painted Cascão.

Maurício de Souza himself spoke about this case and reaffirmed that he has created characters of color from the beginning of his career. He gave the example of Jeremias, created in the 60’s. In the image below we can see the color difference between Cascão and Jeremias.

Jeremias-e-o-Cascão
Jeremias and Cascão

It’s clear that Cascão is not black, right? Now I ask: why did people associate Cascão as black? Is it because he doesn’t take a shower or because of his cabelo crespo (curly/kinky) hair? Or is it because he cheers for (São Paulo futebol team) Corinthians, as I’ve been told.

This case is very important for us to analyze how fundamental representation is in pop culture. Only then will the stereotypes of the last century end. Many still associate blacks as favela inhabitants, dirty and with cabelo crespo. And it’s not too much of a fault for them to think so because they were raised in a racist environment.

We need to destroy those stereotypes and get rid of racist jokes. You’ve have heard a person, when asked about the racism process of a certain candidate for the presidency of Brazil, that it was only a joke and that whoever has never made a racist joke should throw the first stone. Fair enough…

Racism is cultural and is filled with stereotypes. We parents have a duty to change this so that the next generation can understand that there is only one race: the human race.

turma-da-monica-1

Turma da Mônica: The deception

By Stephanie Ribeiro

Mauricio de Souza

I always read Turma da Mônica. I was a fan of these comic books, until this month when a ten-year-old boy became a subject on the net after he painted the characters black to feel represented.

After that I read a story by Mauricio de Souza justifying in other words, that somos todos iguais (we are all equal): “For me there is no white race, black, yellow (Asian)… For me there is the human race.” Starting from this premise I raised some very ironic topics:

We are all equal, but only Mônica is persecuted for being fat.

To this day I’m trying to understand what the purpose of making a girl persecuted in the entire comic book series because of being fat and receiving the worst nicknames and treatments from her “friends” is. Was it an attempt to raise awareness? Look, I don’t believe it. I don’t think bullying is shown in order to end it. Even more so then, the character is treated as being at fault. The problem is not eating, since Magali eats and is lean, but Mônica is fat, to the point of suffering in the hands of boys and girls as well.

We are all aqual, but I only have Jeremias as a black character in the gang.

neymar - ronaldinho
Futebol superstars Neymar and Ronaldinho and as their characters appear in the ‘Turma’ cartoon

Intriguing that in the search, other black characters appear. In this case, all are futebol players, like Ronaldinho and Neymar, but of the same itself, only Jeremias. See, to have a white character, she only needs to speak elated, eat too much, be toothy, etc. For there to be a black, he needs to be the best player in the world. In a country where more than 50% of the population is black, why do we only have one black boy in the permanent gang?

And by the way, why don’t we have a black girl? And why aren’t any of the permanent characters black? Anyway, if the 10-year-old boy did not feel represented with the image in his test, he also would not feel like reading the comics and many other stories that, at most, put a black man in and think that they are a symbol of representation, but he’s not.

We are all the equal, but the dirty boy is the one with cabelo crespo.

Just to reinforce the above topic, I cannot deny that the fact that Cascão has cabelo crespo, which is associated with blacks, is dirty, doesn’t want to bathe, and in the first comic books, poor. If this is not racism, I don’t know what it is anymore.

Note from BW of Brazil: So, if you’re keeping score here, two writers saw Cascão as white, while one saw him as clearly black and another points to attributes that can subliminally “blacken” the character because he has characteristics that are physically associated with black people (kinky/curly hair) as well as a negative stereotype (dirty) that Brazilian society often pins on black people. Interestingly, the author of the third piece, Jorge Freire, seemed to be arguing that because a black student colored all of the Turma’s characters, including Cascão, this is some sort of proof that Cascão could only be white.

Of course this argument can be a matter of opinion, depending on the racial characteristics of the person in question, but Freire seems to support the idea that only dark-skinned people should be considered black, an idea that many in Brazilian society would agree with. The flip side of this is that there are many negros de pele clara (light-skinned blacks) in Brazil who understand that, even having lighter skin, the dominant society still treats them as black. As the idea that only people with very dark skin are black has long been part of the Brazilian understanding of race, it’s understandable why Freire would make such a suggestion. But the fact that we’re even having this discussion shows that, for many, the Cascão character is not white. Freire himself alluded to this in his piece.

Also, similar to his pointing out how the student painted all of the characters brown, he also seemed to suggest, that simply because there is a difference of skin color because the Jeremias and Cascão characters, this is also “proof” that Cascão couldn’t possibly black. But differences of skin color among members of the black race is a topic that many Afro-Brazilians have discussed in their coverage of the issue of colorism. This issue also came up in a controversy involving the choice of the light-skinned singer Fabiana Cozza portraying a dark-skinned samba legend, the late, great Dona Ivone Lara in a musical. For most people, the issue wasn’t that Fabiana wasn’t black, they just felt she was too light to portray a much darker-skinned Dona Ivone.

singers
Singers Ana Cacimba, Luciana Mello, Iza and Xênia França

As a final rebuttal to Freire’s suggestion, consider this. If singers such as Ana Cacimba, Luciana Mello, Iza and Xênia França were to become characters on Turma, we could also add brown coloring to the images of Cacimba and Mello, as they are both lighter than the brown-skinned Iza and França, but I don’t think anyone would argue that they are not black simply because they have lighter skin tones.

Unlike in past decades, nowadays, many more black Brazilians are advocating the end of the usage of racial terminology signalling ambiguity or distancing from blackness such as “moreno” or “mulato” and choosing to describe persons of visible African descent, regardless skin tone, negros. We’ve also seen examples of this in recent years in efforts to “blacken” the image and memory of one of Brazil’s greatest writers, Machado de Assis. The messages here are simple. Simply because all Brazilians don’t have the same skin tone as the “king” of futebol, Pelé, or President Bolsonaro’s favorite house negro, Hélio Lopes, this doesn’t mean they aren’t black. For many fans of the Turma da Mônica series, this also applies to the Cascão character. 

What do you think?

I will be posting  a follow up report on this topic very soon as the date of the film’s release is set for tomorrow, June 27th. 

Source: Souza Neto, Domingos Soares de. “Asymmetrical relations in audiovisual translation in Brazil: a corpus-based investigation of fixed expressions” 2015. 163 pgs. Master’s Dissertation – Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Center of Communication and Expression, Graduate Program in English: Linguistic and Literary Studies, Florianópolis, 2015. Oliveira, Gregório Magno Viana. “A tradução de referências culturais na dublagem de Everybody hates Chris para o português brasileiro.” 2017. 294pgs. – Master’s Dissertation – Universidade Federal do Ceará, Postgraduate Program in Translation Studies, Fortaleza (CE), 2017. Imprensa FeministaEncrespo e Não Aliso, Nerd Pai, Papo de Homem

 

About Marques Travae 3221 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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