Filhas do Vento – “Where are the white people?” – The reaction
Revisiting the triumph and controversy surrounding the film Filhas do Vento, the first Brazilian film made with a majority black cast and black director – Part 2 (see part 1 here)
Asked about the absence of white people in a film with a 90% black list, veteran actor Milton Gonçalves, the patriarch of the story, took the floor at the 32ndannual Gramado Film Festival to make a long speech.
The most exciting moment, and probably most important of the 32nd Gramado Film Festival (1) of Brazilian and Latin Cinema happened during the discussion with the filmmakers of Filhas do Vento of Joel Zito Araújo. Asked about the absence of white people in a film with a 90% black cast, Milton Gonçalves, the patriarch of the story, took the floor to make a long speech. The journalist who provoked the actor’s speech said he was looking for more whites in the movie, because otherwise, the production was in danger of becoming a ghetto.
Slowly, Milton began a speech in which, at no moment did he lose control, nor change his tone and was even less propagandistic. At 71 years of age and a 50 year career, he said: “I spent my last 50 years looking for blacks in the movies of whites, blacks who were not criminals, slaves or servants.”
Then he told how, an illiterate worker, became an actor in Grupo Arena (2) in São Paulo; he recalled that he helped William Hurt win the Oscar for Actor for Kiss of the Spider Woman, of Hector Babenco, in which he played opposite the American and revealed to have been the director of the novela Escrava Isaura(Isaura the Slave), the most successful Brazilian novela of all times. “My name is not there, but I was the director.”
He stopped several times saying that it was a very emotional moment and he didn’t want to cry, but at that moment, the actresses Maria Ceiça and Danielle Ornellas (also part of the film), who were on the table, were already in tears. He continued to narrate part of his life. He revealed that being employed at the Globo TV network, he raised three children, all of whom went to college and all speaking more than one language. All blacks.
Actresses Maria Ceiça (left) Danielle Ornellas (right) with Ruth de Souza (center)
He finished his speech repeating that he spent his life looking blacks in domestic and foreign films and on stage in Brazil, but he didn’t find them. And to close, he praised the courage of Joel Zito Araújo in making a movie with only blacks in which none of them was a criminal, a slave or a servant. He received a lengthy standing ovation and ended up shedding tears himself.
Thus, the image of this festival is not only about Milton Gonçalves making this speech, but, on the movie screen, placing blacks where they should always be. “We are the majority in this country”, he reminded us.
The comment and question of the journalist to which Gonçalves replied is emblematic of the attitude that is very pervasive in Brazilian society. In the journalist view, it would not be proper, acceptable or a good image of Brazil having a film in which the vast majority of the cast is Afro-Brazilian. This is part of the contradiction that is Brazil. For many, Brazil is a country without race problems, or even a racial democracy as long as white faces and bodies represent the country in the media and on fashion runways, for example. Everyday in Brazil, countless persons of visible African descent are called monkeys, rejected as winners of beauty contests, are demeaned or reject themselves due their hair or are rejected when offering their services.
In “Racial and etnic stereotyping in Brazilian advertising”, Carmen Sívia Moraes Rial discovered just how deeply this investment in whiteness as representative of Brazilian society went. What she discovered was that the main obstacle to importing US made advertisements to Brazil was that the US ads featured black people in positions that were considered “unacceptable” in Brazil. After comparing television ads from Brazil and the US, she discovered that while blacks in Brazil, were always portrayed in subservient roles, in American advertisements, blacks were shown driving cars and doing everything that white people did. Heloisa Buarque de Almeida found similar results in her study “Na TV – pressupostos de gênero, classe e raça que estruturam a programação (On TV – assumptions of gender, class and race that shape programming). In her conversation, with an advertiser of the São Paulo branch of McCann-Erickson, a global advertising firm, the advertiser told her that clients didn’t like seeing blacks in advertisements so he had to remove them. The rep went on to say that he also couldn’t use blacks as the sole focus in the ads. According to this rep, black skin was synonymous with poverty or ‘class C’ in the Brazilian economic class structure and no one wanted to buy a product geared toward the poor. This type of thinking is very pervasive throughout Brazil and not being able to attract a wide audience from the general public was also an initial concern of the producers of the Brazilian edition of the stage production The Color Purple, also featuring an overwhelmingly Afro-Brazilian cast.
Taking all of this into consideration, Filhas do Vento puts things in their proper places, namely, that black Brazilians should become appreciated in the country in any role that they represent in society. It may not be a great movie, but it is beautiful and touching. Of the four Brazilian films shown at the film festival, it was the best production of the Gramado Festival.
1. Gramado Festival is a film festival in Brazil, held annually since 1973 in the Palais dos Festivais in the city of Gramado in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Since its 20th edition (1992), it has included not only Brazilian productions, but also films of Latin origin – hence its official designation, “Brazilian and LatinoFilm Festival.” In the 1980s it was the most important film festival in Brazil.
2. Or Teatro de Arena (Arena Theatre) was one of the most important Brazilian theatre groups in the 1950s and 1960s. Beginning in 1953, it promoted a renovation and nationalization of Brazilian theatre. The group was defunct as of 1972.
See part three of this three part series here