Note from BW of Brazil: Stories such as the one featured below make me really wonder if people are in fact this ignorant, or they in fact don’t understand why people frequently make accusations of racism or they actually know EXACTLY what they’re doing and don’t give an eff. Given the history of such blatantly racist and/or sexist portrayals of black women in Brazil’s mainstream media, which do you choose to believe? After following this for a number of years and continuously asking these same questions, I am increasingly no longer buying the idea that people that make creative decisions of what will and what won’t make the cut in terms of media productions don’t know what will be considered offensive to certain segments of society. Given the fact that bw have made so much noise in recent years not only over the necessity of more representation but also the type of representation they are given, the only way producers of audio-video content haven’t heard of such demands is if they’ve willingly kept their collective heads in the sands, especially with so many women black women addressing and debating these issues on platforms such as YouTube. In fact, YouTube is where the latest controversy has emerged.
The YouTube channel Porto dos Fundos is the sixth biggest Brazilian You Tube channel with over 15 million subscribers, which means there are millions of people accessing their videos every week. So then, when we consider how Brazil’s media traditionally have traditionally restricted black women to support roles in which they are maids, cleaning women or some sort of role connected to the hyper-sexual stereotype, what are we to take from a skit Porto dos Fundos recently posted on their channel? As I watched the video entitled “Amarelo”, meaning ‘yellow’, I waited to see what was so offensive that caused at least two writers to take to the ‘net to express their disgust with the clip. I remember seeing the titles of pieces written by these writers, but I hadn’t read either piece. I wanted to see the video for myself first.
So, first of all, I have to inform that as I had never heard of or seen any videos on the Porto dos Fundos channel, I discovered that its cast, as far as I could see, consisted of all white men and women. Thus, to start, featuring a black woman in one of their skits was already news. So, from what I saw in the first 30 seconds of the video, a black actress was portraying the orixá (orisha/African deity) known as Iemanjá, the “Rainha do Mar” or ‘queen of the sea’ in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. Being an African deity, she was originally portrayed as a dark-skinned woman with large breasts but in typical Brazilian fashion, she is now often portrayed a white woman. So, to start, at least Porto dos Fundos got her racial characteristics right. So what gives?
In the clip, Iemanjá is having a discussion with a man and a woman, both white, about meanings of colors. On New Year’s Eve, people often like to wear the color white, a symbol of peace and also a color associated with the Candomblé religion. As the woman says she wore yellow to bring in the New Year, Iemanjá presents her with a suitcase containing R$700,000 because the color is associated with money. This idea is based the 1942 Master Book of Candle-Burning. The man standing with the woman would like for Iemanjá to also share money with him, but, alas, he wore blue to bring in the New Year. According to the same book, blue is a color of peace and harmony.
Then, along comes another male, also white. After a quick greeting, Iemanjá asks the man if he had worn red to bring in the New Year. The man confirms that he did. As red is the color of affection and passion, Iemanjá grabs the man by the man and tells him to go with her. Why? Well, since he was wearing red to bring in the New Year, she offered to perform oral sex on him. Running off with Iemanjá, the man waves to the other couple. And that’s how the skit ended (see the video here). So, the only black woman in the skit and one of the few black actors or actresses on the entire channel and not is Iemanjá depicted as bringing good fortune to white people, but also offering her sexual services. Thus, the association of black woman with her sexuality continues as we’ve seen time and time again in Brazilian culture, lest we forget the Devassa beer ad, the infamous Sexo e as Negas TV series, the comments of a Rio de Janeiro mayor, white Brazilian authors or indeed countless other examples. On top of that, we see a figure from the Afro-Brazilian religion of the Candomblé being reduced to basically a street prostitute, as if the religion hasn’t been thoroughly demonized, attacked and stereotyped enough already.
Others saw this skit in similar terms. Below, Stephanie Ribeiro and Amanda Sthephanie weigh in the topic.
Porta dos Fundos and its recreational racism
By Stephanie Ribeiro
Recreational racism, according to an interview given to Carta Capital by Adilson Moreira, a Ph.D. professor at Harvard University in Anti-Discriminatory Law and author of “What is Recreational Racism?” Is:
“(…) a cultural policy that uses humor to express hostility towards racial minorities. Racist humor operates as a cultural mechanism that propagates racism, but at the same time allows pessoas brancas (white people) to maintain a positive image of themselves. They can then propagate the idea that racism has no social relevance. We must not forget that humor is a form of discourse that expresses social values present in a given society.”
For me, recreational racism applies totally to the new video of the channel Porta dos Fundos, in which Iemanjá, represented by a black actress, offers to do oral sex on a man. In doing so, the writers of the Port of Fundos, a group, in its majority, composed of white men who are raised as representatives of the Brazilian progressive camp, have no doubt offended pessoas negras e não-negras pertencentes às religiões de matrizes africanas (black and non-black people belonging to the religions of African matrices). And apparently it does not matter to them, nor does their audience argue that the show also mocks Catholic saints.
You see, there are differences in a socially imposed religion and its symbols, known to most Brazilians. Religious practices that suffer from religious racism are persecuted, treated as profane and unknown to most Brazilians, who do not have the tools to understand what an orixá represents and reproduces practices (especially at the end of the year) linked to religions of African matrices, tend to condemn and demonize our practices and culture. It is necessary to explain point by point how it is not plausible to compare religions that culturally and socially occupy spaces so different, because when it comes to racial issues, false symmetry is recurrent in discourses that aim to justify acts.
So the video itself is disrespectful. Several black people linked to the religions of African matrices are uncomfortable and offended. As much as an orixá cannot be understood as a chaste and divine saint, putting Iemanjá offering a “boquete” (blow job) is totally different from what is preached in terreiros (temples of worship), in the teachings and in the practices historically maintained in those spaces by those who are of the candomblé or umbanda. Even considering that orixás have non-prudish behavior, and broad behaviors that are not understood in the binary view of good and evil. So it’s not only disrespectful as it is totally ignorant.
The bigger problem is that the Porta dos Fundos has chosen an atriz negra (black actress). I’m not going to put her name here, because I consider the exposure unnecessary and none of it is about her, but about a channel maintained by men and whites. But it is important to understand that an atriz negra being used in this context reinforces an already criticized practice of the channel: the tokenization of pessoas negras (black people). The actress was chosen to be there, not out of respect for the identity of the orixás but for the use of her racial identity as a form of shielding criticism. A theme that has already been addressed by the channel, the use of the “único negro” (the only black) around, so that whites don’t feel racist.
The video titled “Amiguinho” (little friend) has already been criticized for this practice of tokenization, and to understand more about the topic there is this article: “Onde você esconde seu racismo?” (Where do you hide your racism?) Porta dos Fundos and our token of each day,” by the black feminist and architect Joice Berth. Adding to this fact the token bias, which seems to be present in the current video, when black actors are called for punctual appearances and aren’r made part of the regular cast, nor do they ascend mediatically like the white men who went from Porta dos Fundos to novelas (soap operas) or become broadcasters on large TV channels.
In addition, the use of sexuality associated with a black woman closes this cycle with a golden key, the channel that does not have a wide participation of blacks as actors, even less as writers, uses a black woman associated with a sexual conduct. Is this the humor of the 21st century? I don’t believe that black women cannot be associated with sex, we like, we do and we feel sexual pleasure, but recurrently when it comes to white people, especially homens brancos (white men), black women have their sexuality and bodies being understood as their only “utility” to society. Structurally we are associated with sex in a way that takes away our humanity and imposes a one-sided understanding of “sex” as our only place. For black people this racist view is dehumanizing and is reinforced in a series of media representations made by black actors.
I finish saying that my biggest problem with this video is that black actresses don’t appear in other productions. We black activists have been talking about the importance of black people in front of the camera, but also in backstage. However, in the current political situation in that country, some people will understand that in the name of defending a “progressive” channel it is necessary to minimize criticism, since there is a “greater evil.” I, in particular, think that this “greater evil”, “doesn’t beat the partner in the struggle”… racist and colonial practices of the white “progressive” elite will be softened, as if they hadn’t been enough for years.
Porta dos Fundos and the sexualization of a black Iemanjá
By Amanda Sthephanie
Porta dos Fundos is known for the humor promoted from the more progressive view held by a white, standard and upper middle class cast. Although it has sometimes reflected pertinent reflections on political, historical and social moments, the group has always been criticized for the absence of black actors and actresses in the widely publicized videos on the social networks. Perhaps that’s why the comedians have inserted a black Iemanjá in one of the last published episodes.
At first, it seemed to be representative: the orixás (orishas/African deities) worshiped in African-born religions are usually represented by white bodies, and so a black Iemanjá would be synonymous with caring for identity issues, in addition to valuing diversity, after all. An honest mistake.
In an attempt to explain how it would be if the color of the clothes used in the New Year directly and quickly influenced the life of the wearer, they quoted yellow as money and blue as peace, in a script that was even respectful. Perhaps the attempt is not just to remember how followers of Umbanda and followers of Candomblé are worshiped at this stage of the year, how to skip waves and how to use meaningful colors, to refer to the fact that the rest of the time these same religions are treated as profane – this when they’re not satanized.
They left, however, the disrespect for the end. Of course, behind all symbology, there was banalization and objectification, both of the beliefs, and of the mulher negra (black woman). In the last minutes, one of the characters appears and Iemanjá recognizes that he wore red in the passing into the new year. And, since red would have a romantic or amorous connotation, she proposes to do oral sex on the man.
This is how the video of the Porta dos Fundos ends which finally seemed to include a black cast member. Perhaps, Iemanjá this time was black to facilitate the process of sexualization and objectification to which black women are submitted daily: if the representation of the orixá was white, maybe there wouldn’t so many comments in the Youtube video reminding that “they were wearing red”, making reference to the end of the episode.
It seems always necessary to warn the white progressive camp that it is not enough to criticize the racism of others. It is necessary to identify your own racism. Even if other humorous videos involved religion, they would not put Jesus or a Catholic saint proposing oral sex. The big question is not approaching orixás in humor: this is possible and many filhos de santo (holy children) or black humorists can make us laugh without disrespect. The problem is sexualizing an orixá. At the same time, sexualizing a black woman. And, above all, say you are a militant.