On Brazilian television, it’s very common to see television shows and movies made outside of the country being shown on TV stations. In many of them, the original visual presentations are reproduced exactly as they are with Portuguese overdubs by Brazilian actors being substituted for the audio. Some popular American shows featuring primarily black casts that are shown on Brazilian television are The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire (translated as Um Malucuo no Pedaço), My Wife and Kids (translated as Eu, a patroa e as crianças) and Everybody Hates Chris (translated as Todo Mundo odeio o Chris). As Brazil’s media is dominated by a “dictatorship of whiteness”, imported American TV programs are often the only TV programs where Brazilians will see a TV show featuring a primarily black cast.*
SBT TV’s My Wife and Kids
Carrossel is a popular Brazilian kids TV show that’s been on the air since the spring of this year. The show is a re-creation of the popular Mexican version from the late 80s, spelled Carrusel, which itself was inspired by the Argentine program Jacinta Pichimahuida, la Maestra que no se Olvida, which debuted on TV in 1966, with two films in 1974 and 1977 and another TV series in 1983. In Brazil for the current edition, rather than simply overdubbing the audio of the program from Spanish to Portuguese as in the early 90s edition, the show was recreated on SBT TV using Brazilian actors.
2012 Brazilian edition of Carrossel on SBT TV
In the Brazilian edition, the young actor Jean Paulo Campos was cast as Cirilo, the show’s only black child character out of sixteen kids. Campos recently won a Troféu Raça Negra (1) award for his role on the show and was also featured on the cover of Brazil’s only magazine dedicated to the Afro-Brazilian population, Raça Brasil.
Jean Paulo Campos on the cover of Raça Brasil magazine
According to the SBT website, Cirilo Rivera is “naive and innocent” and “usually falls for the jokes his colleagues play on him. Sweet and good-natured, he always helps his friends. Being black and from a poor family, he suffers prejudice from Maria Joaquina, a girl he falls in love with.”
SBT TV’s Carrossel website
In older versions of Carroussel, from Argentina and Mexico, the Cirilo character buys an ointment from the character Paulo in order to become white and win the affections of Maria Joaquina (or Etelvina in the Argentine version from 1983). In the version made in Brazil in 2012, the story is slightly altered. In it, Cirilo purchases a tonic to drink to become handsome and it is not mentioned that he wants to be white, possibly to avoid charges of racism. At the beginning of the scene during the video version from ‘83 (Argentina), the girls laugh at Cirilo (played by actor Marcelo Fabián Rodríguez) because when he asked if he was whiter, one of them says that the only white thing about him is the whites of his eyes, and then Cyril gets nervous, yells at them to not laugh at him and pushes Etelvina (Maria Joaquina), who retaliates by calling him “negro (black)”. In the 2012 version, Cirilo asks if he is as handsome as actor Denzel Washington, and the girl also laughs, but this time, another girl says the only nice thing about him is the tip of his nose. He then also gets angry, but doesn’t push her as in 1983 version, only calling her “silly.”
The Argentine version, that starts at 0:02 seconds and runs until 0:22 seconds, goes as follows (voices in Spanish, text in Portuguese and English): (see video below)
Boy: Eu estou mais branco (I’ve become whiter)
Girl: Ouviram meninas, ele disse que está mais branco (Look girls, he said that he’s whiter)
Girl: O único que ele tem de branco, é o branco do olho! (All that’s white is the white of his eye)
Girl: Isto é pra morrer de rir! (This will make us die of laughter)
Boy: Não riam! Não riam! (Don’t laugh)
Girl: Negro! (Black)
Following is the Brazilian edition, starting at 0:23 seconds. Below are translations of the text starting at 0:31 seconds to the end of the video.
Boy: Don’t you think I’ve become as handsome as Denzel Washington?
Girl: What? (O que?) (girls laugh)
Girl: Listen to what he’s saying, girls. He’s saying he’s as handsome as Denzel Washington!
Girl: The only thing as handsome is the tip of his nose!
Girl: This joke is going to make us die of laughter!
Boy: Stop laughing! You’re silly!
In the Mexican version that was shown in Brazil in the 1990s, actor Pedro Javier Viveros portrayed Cirilo. The plot was the same. He used a creme to try to whiten himself and was in love with Maria Joaquina who always told him, “sai daqui, seu negro (get out of here, you black)!”
Cirilo character portrayed by:
Marcelo Fabián Rodríguez (Argentina) (left) and Pedro Javier Viveros (Mexico)
It should be noted that in every version of the show, the black kid was the one that always fell for jokes, as in the old “negro buffoon” stereotype, and in both the Mexican and Argentine versions, he tries to whiten his skin to become better looking and win the affections of a little white girl. In both of these two versions, he is told to go away “negro”, the term serving as a racial insult signifying his inferiority in relation to whiteness. In Brazil, the “whitening”of the population of color was a national policy, as it was in Mexico, Argentina and other Latin America countries at the height of the racist eugenics movement of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
The funny thing is, considering the often-times blatant, open racism that is endemic in Brazil, the producers of the Brazilian edition of Carrossel made sure to alter the overt racism of this scene when remaking the show in 2012. With more black Brazilians reporting verbally abusive, racist insults and with more critical analysis of racism in the media, it seems the show’s producers decided not to take the chance with the language of the original scene. Even so, the black character remains the gullible butt of jokes. The question here is, whereas before, Brazilian society always pushed these types of accusations under the rug as if racial hostility and discrimination didn’t exist even when they are clearly recognizable (as in the “go away you negro” comments from the Mexican version shown in Brazil in the 1990s), in today’s environment, the theme of racism is sometimes approached on TV although not seriously challenged.
|Adelaide of Zorra Total|
To be sure, Globo, SBT and other Brazilian TV networks have never been shy about pushing the envelope in terms of what is acceptable and what is not politically correct in terms of humor. For several months, a character known as “Adelaide” on the comedy skit show Zorra Total (left) has been the target of denouncements from the Movimento Negro. The character, a black female, is portrayed by a light-skinned actor who is made up in what effectively appears to be blackface, is missing teeth and talks in a very uneducated manner. In 2004, popular blonde children’s TV program host Xuxa was sued by the NGO Djumbay because of what they interpreted as racism on one of her shows.
|Xuxa no Mundo da Imaginação DVD|
In a segment of her show called “Xuxa no Mundo da Imaginação (Xuxa in the World of Imagination)” that was thought to “reinforce stereotypes against the black race”, Xuxa tells a fable about a king who would give his crown to the son who could arrange a bride. The two sons go out to find their brides. One of the boys finds a castle inhabited by monkeys. He was treated well and he liked the queen monkey. The queen is characterized with a face painted black with a muzzle, monkey claws and a string of bananas. He chose this queen to be his bride and took her to his
father. He kisses the queen monkey and she turns into a “beautiful” white woman and her subjects also become white people. According to the NGO, a black actress represented the queen monkey and other monkeys were also played by black actors (if not, they had their bodies painted). This is not clear as another report says that Xuxa didn’t want black actors interpreting monkeys on her show.
It’s unclear what the outcome of this case was, but I would imagine that it was archived because it would be very difficult to prove that this story had racist intent. It is true that the terms “macaco” and “macaca” (meaning monkey) are perhaps the most commonly used racist insults used against Afro-Brazilians (for example, see here, here and here) and if Xuxa actually refused to allow black Brazilians to portray monkeys on her show this would mean two things. One, she knew of the historically racist depictions/association of blacks with monkeys and two, realizing this, she wanted to do the right thing while moving forward with the piece.
Terra article: “Public Ministry investigates denouncement of racism against Xuxa”
Apparently this wasn’t the case when Xuxa chose to perform with one Brazil’s greatest black actors, Grande Otelo, wearing blackface. Respect for the black community also hasn’t influenced the lack of diversity of cast members on her show like the dance troupe of young blondes known as the Paquitas, all young white women. Over the years, many studies have been written about the lack of black representation on a children’s show that so many Brazilian children adore, in a country where half of the population identifies itself as non-white and the development of self-esteem and a black identity remains problematic.
With the Brazilian media’s controversial past, current programs being denounced as racist and abundant stereotypes of Afro-Brazilians, should removing the racially insensitive language in the 2012 edition of Carrossel while maintaining the black character as gullible be considered an improvement? How many black kids will look at the Cirilo character and still not identify with the character because he is seen as the “docile”, “naïve” black kid that’s always falling for jokes? On the other hand, is it possible that black kids who go through the same things that the Cirilo character goes through will identify with him because they can relate to this type of treatment? One last question. In a country where there was a national policy to whiten the population through the gradual disappearance of blacks through miscegenation and where white women are overwhelmingly promoted as the standard of beauty, what is the message in having a poor, young black boy fawning over a rich, little white girl? What do you think? Overall, in my view, the handling of the character and its lack of diversity is a simply a switch from “Racism” to “Racism 2.0”. In a future article, we will delve a little deeper into one particular aspect of this program. Stay tuned.
* – In the past decade there have been a number short-running TV series and films that feature primarily Afro-Brazilian casts, but these shows are often loaded with well-known clichés and stereotypes about the black population. See an analysis here.
1. Annual award show honoring the accomplishments of Afro-Brazilians and people who contribute to the social improvement of the Afro-Brazilian community.
Invisibility in school curriculum leads to fragmentation and rejection of black children’s identity
Seminar “Blacks in the Media”: Even with progress, whiteness remains the standard; blacks advance only when validated by the white system
Blond ambition: the Brazilian Media’s Manufacturing of the white woman as standard of beauty and the place of black women
Brazil: The ideology of “whitening” and the struggle for a black identity