Spike Lee criticizes the lack of blacks in power in majority black state of Bahia

Filmmaker Spike Lee with mayor of Salvador, Bahia, ACM Neto

In the external area of the headquarters of the mayor of Salvador, Bahia, two cameras pointed their lenses in the direction of the Baía de Todos-os-Santos (Bay of All the Saints). Standing, flanked by a team of 25 professionals, director Spike Lee looked in the direction of the sea. But his look went beyond the beautiful scenery captured in the background by the cameras.

Câmara Municipal (city government headquarters) of Salvador, Bahia

His interest is in the councilman Sílvio Humberto (PSB party), founder of the Instituto Steve Biko (Steve Biko Institute) and one of the representatives of the Movimento Negro in the City County building in Salvador.

black Brazilians
 Sílvio Humberto, city councilman in Salvador, Bahia

Seated on a bench on the balcony of the Câmara (city government) palace, Sílvio is surprised by the first question: why has Salvador, a city with a predominantly black population, never had a black mayor and why has the state of Bahia never had a black governor or senator? (1)

 State of Bahia in northeastern Brazil

“He found absurd the fact of the racial diversity of Brazil not reflecting itself also in the structures of power. This shows a structural racism in Brazilian society”, said councilman Humberto, that is fulfilling his first term in the Câmara. 

 Overview of Bay of All the Saints with the Lacerda Elevator to the left

Capturing images and interviews for the documentary Go, Brazil, Go!Lee came to Bahia to discuss the racial question. The film, that next year will enter the Cannes Film Festival in France, has as a central focus the current scenario of the country’s advances and Brazil’s protagonizing role on the international scene. But it also plans to delve deep into the contradictions of a country that has as a principal feature the diversity of races.

Since Friday, February 8th, in Salvador, the filmmaker has interviewed and will interview artists like Margareth MenezesCarlinhos Brown and Ivete Sangalo, the president of social/cultural/musical organization Olodum, João Jorge, the governor Jaques Wagner and the mayor ACM Neto that conversed with Lee for about 40 minutes. In the conversation with the mayor, there was more discussion about the racial question in the capital city of Bahia.

“The documentary comes at a good time because it will show a problem that exists, but it will also show that there are measures that are being adopted by the mayor’s office and the government. We show that this is a question being dealt with more and more with seriousness”, said ACM Neto leaving the interview with the director responsible for classic films such as Do the Right Thing (released as Faça a Coisa Certa in Brazil) and Jungle Fever (Febre da Selva).

Carnaval – As a backdrop in the capturing of images of the film in Salvador, is the week of Carnaval in Bahia. For the councilman Sílvio Humberto, a perfect scenario for discussing the segregation of Bahian society, that reflects in its Carnaval circuits a division of classes that mirrors itself in the racial division.

Carnaval is a reflection of what we have in society. Whites are on top, in their camarotes (grandstands) or protected by the blocos and the blacks remain below, holding the ropes”, he critiques (2).

Mayor ACM, in his turn, guaranteed that starting in the next year, Salvador will have a Carnaval more plural, with spaces for the diverse sectors of society. “We are going to democratize the participation of various movements in the street, in the most important moments, in the most glamorous moments of Carnaval. The party cannot be only for certain groups that have results economically. Carnaval has to be for all baianos (citizens of Bahia)”.

This is not the first time that Spike Lee has come to Bahia. In 1996, he directed the recording of the music video of the song “They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson. On that occasion were made images of the artist singing together with Olodum, in the historic Pelourinho area. For the recording of Go, Brazil, Go! The team directed by Lee should visit still the neighborhoods of the Pelourinho, Itapuã and Liberdade, all marked by the strong influence of black culture.

1. Upon his arrival in Brazil to begin work on his documentary, Lee made similar observations about the invisibility of Afro-Brazilians on Brazil’s TV networks. See the story here.

2. For more on the situation in Salvador, Bahia and how Carnaval is simply a microcosm of the overall reality, see this article. Also see coverage of recent elections which the choice of two black women for vice-mayor of the city here.

Source: A Tarde 

About Marques Travae 3144 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Yes, I've always wondered about that too. Are blacks in Bahia actively kept from voting? Or do they just not vote. I thought it was required for all citizens to vote. Or do they only just vote for white people and not trust themselves to run their own state? This really confuses me. I'm not so much confused about the white people, I want to know more about the mindset of the black people. Are white people really keeping them back, or are black people keeping themselves back. Please someone explain.I feel that it's the latter

  2. Wow! I'm impressed. An African-American celebrity has finally discovered Afro-Disney's deep, dark secret. My wife, Ana Paula Silva, will be pleased to learn that the obvious is finally being grasped up there.However, if we were to judge "black" by American political standards (including Washington D.C.'s last three mayors which, my American friends assure me, are all black), then Brazil has a hell of a lot of "black" politicians – including ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.In Brazilian politics – and especially in Bahia and the rest of the Northeast – patronage is much, much more important than attributed ethnic identity. The "Malvadeza" family, which has been running Bahia as their own personal fiefdom since before the Renaissance, are perhaps our country's master manipulators of patronage.Americans seeking to understand Brazilian politics would probably do well to read a bit about the history of Brazilian politics, rather than simply presume that everything should work here as it does in the U.S. If there were to ever be a significant, politically organized african-brazilian vote, politicians all over Brazil who now claim to be white or who say nothing at all about their ethnicity would suddenly claim to be black. An excellent example of this is ex-presidential candidate Marina Silva who NEVER publically claimed to be an African-descended woman until it became politically expedient for her to occupy that political ground in the last election.What Brazilians are is ethnically FLEXIBLE. Make it worth our while to be black and we'll happily be black. If it makes you feel better to have the 1% in power claim to have African roots, if you think that really makes some sort of abiding difference in a country like this, then you not only need to read Brazilian history, but a bit of Marx as well.

  3. What about those people who are actually black( in looks) and can't really be flexible about it? Also can a black person with strong features identify as white and be really dark? It seems that a white or lighter person can identity as black but it doesn't go the other way. So what happens to those who can't be flexible? Also what's wrong with being "black" if it's clear that whites are in the minority?

  4. I'm a stonge believer in 'global pan-african networking' because "together we are stronger in numbers"!Africans in the diaspora face similar if not the same inequalities that have been oppressed into us. Working together using our many skills and talents is a good way of creating awareness on subjects such as racism and discrimination. African-American film director filming in Brazil is a good example of this. His skill as a film maker along with being well acclaimed will surely attract an audience. I just hope very shot or interview won't be 'sugar-coated' to keep those 'at the top' happy.I met Spike Lee briefly while he was filming in Maragojipe… Notice his fixation on the KKK costume… A racial symbolic representation of Brazil? http://travelmakerkai.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/go-brazil-go-spike-lee-documents-on-brazil/

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