Note from BW of Brazil: The objective that led to the creation of this blog was always to present to an English-speaking audience interesting material about black Brazilians, specifically black women and from the perspective of race. There have long been misunderstandings about the subject outside of Brazil, perpetuated by long held myths often promoted by Brazilian elites and common, everyday people that presented, and continue to present the country as a place that doesn’t have serious racial problems that need to be addressed. And as the blog is written in English, half of the readers of this blog and a large percentage of the comments posted come from the United States, that other large nation in the Americas with a long history of slavery and racial inequality. As a result, the information we bring on this blog is often understood from a more diasporic perspective as people will naturally make comparisons between the Brazilian experience and that of the country in which they reside. Over the course of this blog’s existence, a number of well-known figures (mostly from the US) have been discussed in the context of some controversy, performance or statement that said person made and how the figure or occurrence was interpreted or the repercussions it had in Brazil.
Today we present a good example of this.
Last week, the popular American rapper Snoop Dogg created a buzz in social networks when he advised his followers not to tune in to the recent remake of the 1977 American television miniseries Roots, that portrayed a fictitious journey into the family history African-American author Alex Haley set in era of the US experiment with the institution of slavery. Lambasting the remake, the “Doggfather” said he couldn’t watch it and was fed up with seeing America’s media portraying the brutality that black Americans endured during this tragic era in history. Rejecting Roots along with the film 12 Years A Slave, the rapper, born as Calvin Broadus, encourages black people to start creating their own productions (1) and show some of the success that African-Americans are having. The rapper/actor’s recent comments could just as well have been applied to the situation in Brazil and, considering the fact that Brazil’s two most popular television networks, Rede Globo and Rede Record, are both featuring series based during Brazil’s slavery era, his comments on black representation in the media, which is a major topic of this blog, couldn’t be more timely.
In Brazil today, millions of persons of African descent live under an oppressive system of psychological slavery in which all-things white are to be adored and all things black to be disregarded. We see this ideology play out regularly in the media that constantly promotes the idea of white beauty, an education system in which culture and history are presented from a Eurocentric perspective and an ongoing problem of racial identity in which millions of persons who are seen or treated as black attempt to escape this racial classification either by simply denying that they are black, submerging themselves in whiteness in social settings or encouraging their offspring to marry and reproduce with persons who are considered white. In this manner, in their eyes, they can distance themselves from the pain and difficulty of being associated with African peoples, a group in which Brazil as a whole continues to reject as we have seen time and again from the manner in which immigrants are treated. Quite frankly, with such widespread racist insults and jokes, daily experiences with racism, invisibility and negative stereotypes, who would want to be black?
As a previous post showed, Brazil’s media has long had an obsession with slavery-era productions. And here it is in 2016, 128 years after the end of slavery, and Record TV and Globo TV are simultaneously broadcasting series (Escrava Mãe on Record and Liberdade Liberdade on Globo) based in the slavery era. While there are those black actors who actually celebrate slave era series going into production (as there will a huge need for black actors) and we cannot blame these actors who need the work and have bills to pay, there comes a time when we must ask these questions: How much longer must we accept these images? What are the psychological effects of such images on a population that already suffers from a lack of representation and an identity complex?
Protagonist of ‘Escrava Mãe’, Gabriela Moreyra criticizes stigmatized roles for black actors
By Bianca Soares
Gabriela Moreyra, 27, will play her first protagonist in Escrava Mãe, which opens on the Record TV network on Tuesday (31). In the Gustavo Reys serial directed by Ivan Zettel, she will play Juliana, mother of the slave Isaura.
For the actress, releasing the novela (soap opera) with all finalized chapters is not a burden. “It might network [to change it throughout over the plot], but I prefer to see it more simply: It’s already done, ready,” she says.
In principle, Escrava Mãe would replace Os Dez Mandamentos (The Ten Commandments) in 2015, but it was postponed four times for commercial reasons, as stated artistic vice president and producer of Record Marcelo Silva.
Gabriela says that ending of the scenes of violence she needed “to disconnect from everything to recover.” She, who considers herself black but does not want to “wave any flags,” says she wondered what her family would have experienced in the same situation in the past.
The actress echoes the demands of greater black representation in television drama. “People need to understand that black people can be doctors, [the roles] are very stigmatized. Slowly I think this is changing. It has to change.”
Escrava Mãe is the seventh novela of Gabriela, who debuted on Record in 2006 with Bicho do Mato.
Actors of Liberdade want more blacks on stage and behind the scenes
By João Miguel Júnior
All six black actors cast in Liberdade Liberdade (Freedom, Freedom) have interpreted roles of slaves or servants in other TV productions. None of them portrayed to judges, farmers or teachers. None was protagonist of a Brazilian novela. On Friday (May 13), the 128th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, blacks are still an absolute minority on television, although the majority of the Brazilian population. The main Globo novelas have 29 black actors, but only three interpret characters with higher education. The professionals who suffer racism in the plot and in real life, complain that there’s a lack of representation and stereotypes are leftover in national television drama.
In the 11 o’clock Globo TV novela, the history of Brazilian black is told more broadly than the standard of productions of the era. In the plot, which takes place in 1808, there is a slave who maintains frequent sexual relations with his white female master, a black woman that was raised as a sister of a white girl and a freed black serving as a colonel of the Portuguese infantry.
For the actor Bukassa Kabengele, 43, who plays the military colonel, the plot of the 11 o’clock novela differentiates itself by escaping the clichés about slaves and displaying scenes that have never been to the fore in other productions. But even so, he thinks blacks need more space in prime time.
“If we are talking about a public that today is certainly real, consumes and is part of the audience, I think there should be a relationship of more presence, evidence and number on TV. It gives the impression that [the situation] has changed and it’s changed indeed, but the [black] population is immense, so the proportionality still leaves (much) to be desired,” he says.
According to the last census, 43.1% of the population considers itself parda (brown/mixed) and 7.6% declares itself preta (black). Between pardos and pretos, there would be 97 million negros (blacks), which would make them the majority of the population, since the count is from 2010, when Brazil had 190.7 million inhabitants.
A slave for the third time
David Jr., 30, Saviano in Liberdade Liberdade, is plays the role of a slave for the third time in his career (3). The others were in the series A Cura (Globo, 2010) and in one theater piece. He has also given life to a security guard in Geração Brasil (2014) and an outlaw called Meio-Noite (meaning midnight) in Cordel Encantado (2011). Now, he is a double slave, he provides sexual services required to his boss, Dionísia (Maitê Proenca). Olívia Araújo, the slave Celeste, played the role of a maid in her last three novelas. Lucy Ramos, who is the slave extortionist Malena, has also been a maidservant in the second version of Sinhá Moça (2006). The exception was the psychologist victim of racism that she played in I Love Paraisópolis (2015).
The three are some examples of how most black professionals are still cast as characters of low economic level and that play social dramas. “Lack of representation, yes. There is, but there needs to be more. The more references on TV, the better for people to accept themselves, to assume themselves, understand their identities and understand that there is more than one type of black [physically]. You have to put blacks in all positions. There has to be a doctor, lawyer, not only the cleaning lady, the cook,” argues Lucy Ramos.
Among the four major novelas on the air on Globo currently (Eta Mundo Bom!, Totalmente Demais, Velho Chico and Liberdade, Liberdade), only 29 actors of the main casts are black. Of these, only three interpret characters who work in professions requiring higher education.
Through its press office, Globo states that “doesn’t target its cast by ethnicity, social class, sex or religion. The cast is cast according to the artistic compatibility of the character and adequacy to the story.”
Fight against racism
Actress Heloisa Jorge, who plays slave Luanda in Liberdade, Liberdade, is Angolan and has already been protagonist of a novela in her country. She believes that although racism is a part of Brazilian society and has an impact in several areas (political, social, economic and artistic), black people are also positioning themselves against it.
“The struggle of the movimento negro (black movement) and the prevailing laws of reparation here in Brazil have been mapping a path of no return. Representativeness matters and is far from being a joke,” she says.
David Jr. has received different treatment for being black and thinks that the change in the arts should happen more widely. “In the United States, the professionals, without distinction of ethnicity, produce themselves, direct themselves, I think it’s cool. Not that there’s no lack of space, but I think that also this lacks more,” he opines.
Actor Bukassa Kabengele in a scene as the character Omar in Liberdade, Liberdade
Power behind the scenes
There is among the actors the view that if more directors, writers, producers and professionals behind the scenes were black, the situation would be different. “There are no black authors who fight for these issues [of ethnicity], we don’t know why they go by or not. But I think if there were more blacks holding positions in which they decide what will be done and what the profiles are that will be placed on the agenda, the chances [of having more black representation on TV] increase,” says Kabengele.
Among the main authors of the Globo novelas, none is black. Xica da Silva (Headline, 1996), written by Walcyr Carrasco, was the first drama to have a black protagonist, Taís Araújo, who later played the first black protagonist in a Globo novela (Da Cor do Pecado, of João Emanuel Carneiro, shown in 2004). Today, she and Lázaro Ramos are the main characters of the series Mister Brau.
“TV Globo is what has the most tele-dramaturgy products, is far ahead, and so it has opened more doors. But I don’t say that it’s enough to contemplate the Brazilian population. The fact is that the number [of black professionals in TV] is still below what Brazil deserves as history and as reality,” he adds.
- An idea that Afro-Brazilians have taken to heart with a growing array of independent theater and video productions being presented on stages as well as media outlets such You Tube.
- In this depiction, we see a continuation of the exploitation of the black male who can be enjoyed and discarded after his perceived hypersexualized performance has surpassed his usefulness.
- A situation that actress Solange Couto can relate to. After years appearing in supporting roles, Couto realized that she had portrayed a maid 25 times in her career.