Note from BW of Brazil: It’s been a long, hard struggle and initiatives such as this will surely aid the cause! It’s no secret that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of talented, aspiring Afro-Brazilian filmmakers that lack the opportunity, space and investment to attain recognition. For the past few years, the rise of Cinema Negro (black cinema) has been a topic near and dear to me as I enthusiastically follow the latests developments in the world of black Brazilian filmmakers.
The stats on representation are appalling. Afro-Brazilian actresses make up only 4.4% of the main casts of Brazilian films. Of the greatest box office hits between 2002 and 2012, only 2% were directed by Afro-Brazilians and of these NONE were black women. The counter this invisibility, as in other areas such as entrepreneurship, black theater and black literature, Afro-Brazilians are now coming together to get their filmmaking endeavors out to a public that identifies with their work. Below, check out the story behind the Afroflix project.
Trailer of Batalhas, an original Afroflix production
Afroflix: free platform gives visibility to productions of black people
By Ana Elisa Santana and Leonardo Rodrigues
The film Rio da Fé, which redeems the traditional popular feast of the Divino in Rondônia, is the favorite production of the Rio de Janeiro filmmaker Yasmin Thayná on the Afroflix platform, created by her in May of this year. “But we call it ‘a’ Afroflix, okay? In the feminine,’ the young woman insists on emphasizing.
The short documentary by Andréia Machado, never released on the commercial circuit, is one of about 100 productions from ten Brazilian states made available for free via streaming through the site.
In a debate after the debut of the film K’BELA* in Salvador, Bahia, a girl said she “never expected to hear the sound of hair being combed in the movies.” That reflection, coupled with the questioning of other conversation round tables, made director and screenwriter Yasmin Thayna realize that it was necessary to create more than the narratives of her film. With that, the Afroflix platform was born.
“Our goal is to generate more visibility for these filmmakers, because somehow we are silenced, hidden in Brazil, so Afroflix creates this reference so that we know that there are a lot of black filmmakers, women. People needed to create this platform to know they exist,” explains Yasmin.
Within 10 days after the release, the Afroflix Facebook page had already won more than 8,000 followers. The site is independent – it does not receive any kind of financial support – it currently has 100 titles and will soon receive more content. There are eight categories, including fiction films, documentaries, series, video clips and even vlogs. Many viewers have sent, from the homes, pictures of of the times they are using the platform from their homes:
Research carried out by the Multidisciplinary Affirmative Action Studies Group (Gemaa), of the State University of Rio de Janeiro, reveals low participation of women and blacks in the roles of acting, directing and screenwriting of Brazilian cinema productions that had the greatest box office hit between 2002 and 2012: 84% of the directors were white men, 13% white women, only 2% were black men and there were no black women among those surveyed.
“If we have a population that is a maioria negra (black majority) and we don’t see it in the cinema, considering that Brazilian cinema is financed with public money, it means that there is something wrong,” says Yasmin.
According to her, some public policies and edicts launched in recent years have contributed to new black filmmakers gaining ground. “There are a lot of people wanting to register histories that are orally spoken, for example, to register traditional culture, religion, these things, but there are also people wanting to make science fiction, it’s a very multiple field,” she says.
According to the filmmaker, Afroflix seeks to be a reference so that society can see these productions. “Social networks are very important (for distribution) but we have to manage this production because we’re all the time producing information, meaning, image, and sometimes these things get lost in the logic of the timeline,” she explains.
How to participate
The requirement to register a production in the Afroflix catalog follows two lines of criteria. In the first, it is evaluated if the product has at least one black person among the functions of the technical or artistic team; and in the second, more technical features of the film are valued, such as script, language, experimentation and creativity. “It’s okay if the film doesn’t talk about the ethnic-racial issue. It could be any audiovisual content, but the pessoa negra (black person) needs to be among the creators,” Thayná explains.
The films are sent to an evaluation committee of the website composed of Yasmin and five other Afro-descendant women, who check compliance with the requirements. Because it only redirects movies from other platforms, such as YouTube and Vimeo, Afroflix, it doesn’t pay the filmmakers.
Yasmin, who is 23 and a media student, says the idea came after producing her short film K-bela, released last year. The autobiographical story inspired by the day she assumed her blackness by ceasing to straighten her hair yielded a wealth of research material, which somehow needed to be publicized.
“I decided to create a blog to organize and redirect everything I was inspired by and that was already on the internet. I called a programmer and designer to create the website and I came up with the name. Only in the first two days, Afroflix recorded about 60 thousand hits, mostly from peripheries and black people.
Filmmakers can subscribe their productions onto the platform, just as viewers can make recommendations, through links, movies that they consider interesting for Afroflix. Yasmin points out that the site only gathers the contents, but the lodging continues being by the producers; that is, access is redirected, giving visibility to artists and filmmakers.
More than gathering content of cinema brasileiro (Brazilian cinema) produced by black people, the platform will also be a space to present novelties of the scene. On June 14, the movie Batalhas (meaning ‘battles’), which is the first “original Afroflix” film, will be released, which makes Yasmin proud.
In the Afrolix queue there are about 500 productions just waiting for endorsement. The second set of films is expected to hit the platform soon, with directors from other states. “There has been an incredible Brazilian production for a long time, made by people of diverse origins and conceptions, just like what we had in our K-bela. People want to know who makes this kind of cinema,” says Yasmin.
On the platform, there are films about the backstage of the first funk show at the Municipal Theater of Rio (Batalhas), directed by Yasmin herself), about the Congo tradition in Espírito Santo (Congo – A Voz do Tambor – meaning Congo – The Voice of the Tambor, by Guilherme Lassance), as well as the intense interracial love affair between two young women from São Paulo (SÓN, by Juan Contador). Stories that have common insight about individuals and their cultures.
In addition to serving as an alternative distribution channel, the platform is also intended to bridge the gap between independent actors and directors in the country. “If we look at Brazil, we will see how black and talented we are, whether we like it or not, our cultural scene is black and made by blacks, what is lacking is opportunity, distribution, and positive narrative about these people.”
A long ways
For filmmakers who participate in Afroflix, only the fact that the platform exists, giving voice to minorities, is in itself a salutary act of resistance. If it is rare to see a black director or actor in a prominent role in national films, initiatives such as this one and the Centro Afro Carioca de Cinema, which promotes the culture of Afro artists, are equally on point.
“In a country where cinema negro (black cinema) is not considered at the time of public policy for the audiovisual, where our existence and resistance is ruled by us only, black filmmakers, Afroflix is an oasis,” says Bahian filmmaker Viviane Ferreira, director of O Dia de Jerusa (Jerusa’s Day).
But there’s still a long ways to go. “For me, the platform will only really be important when it becomes professional and becomes a tool like Netflix, where customers pay monthly fees and the films shown are protected with duly paid licenses,” says the filmmaker, writer and producer Sabrina Fidalgo.
The film portrays the day that the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro received a funk show assembled and presented by the Companhia Na Batalha.
* K’BELA: described as “an audiovisual experience about being a woman and tornar-se negro (becoming black)”, the Yasmin Thayná film shows the transition process through which girls from the periphery go through discovering themselves and seeing themselves as mulheres negras (black women). Already exhibited in several states of Brazil, it was elected Best Film of the MOV International Festival of University Cinema of Pernambuco in 2015.