Note from BW of Brazil: I have never tried to avoid the facts. Afro-Brazilians continue to be vastly under-represented in the Brazilian film and television industries. And when they do appear in roles of prominence the blog-o-sphere (including this blog) always points this out. It’s almost as if black presence is so minute that we feel it’s sometimes necessary to promote productions in which this presence goes beyond the stereotype or supporting role. Today, that continues to be the case. But the good news is that beyond these two areas, Afro-Brazilians are finding various other avenues of which to share their perspective, culture and aesthetic. We’ve seen this is a growing genre that can called ‘black theater’, a new cast of talented black filmmakers, as well in art and music. As racist as most Brazilians generally consider the United States, in that country it is far more common to see television programs and films with primarily black casts, black directors and films starring black actors and actresses. The question remains, how long will it be before we see this same representation in Brazil’s media? As today’s post shows, it’s clearly not due to a lack of talent!
Courtesy of Metrópoles
Culture transposes spaces, unmasks prejudices and arises as a place of affirmation and resistance. Turning on the TV, the radio and going to the movies already shows that we have a much larger number of black artists writing their own stories today.
If the subject of the moment is Netflix and American serials, it’s not possible to speak of television production in the United States without mentioning Shonda Rhimes. Celebrated series such as Scandal, Gray’s Anatomy and How To Get Away With Murder show the importance of having figures such as Shonda in these spaces. In two of her series, black protagonists star in strong roles. This is the case of Viola Davis, who for How to Get Away won an Emmy for best actress in a dramatic series for the role of attorney Annalize Keating. With the character, Viola became the first black actress to win the award.
In the last decade, cinema has also shown signs that awareness is going very well, thank you. Netflix’s first production, Beasts of No Nation, stars blacks as does O Último Rei da Escócia (The Last King of Scotland), Django Livre (Django Unchained), 12 Anos de Escravidão (12 Years a Slave), Selma, Preciosa (Precious) and Fruitvale Station – A Última Parada (Fruitvale Station).
The scenario in Brazil is also very encouraging. Lázaro Ramos, one of the most accomplished actors of the current generation, is black. Currently, he is remaking the last day of Martin Luther King’s life in the theater production O Topo da Montanha (The Mountain Top) starring alongside his wife, actress Taís Araújo. The couple occupy a space on TV before reserved to the white actors and actresses. The duo also stars in the series Mister Brau, which garnered prominence in The Guardian newspaper for having rich black characters who escape the stereotype of blacks in roles of subservience.
In Brasília, the theater group Embaraça addresses the issue of racism by touching on the still-open wound of prejudice made possible by beauty standards imposed by the media. Tuanny Araújo, 25, Fernanda Jacob, 26, and Ana Paula Monteiro, 26, formed the company founded in 2012 by former students of the University of Brasília.
On stage, the three actresses perform in Pentes (combs), a piece that discusses the painful and important process of the acceptance of kinky/curly hair. To create a reflection, the piece quotes racist discourses that have already been naturalized, such as the expressions “beleza exotica” (exotic beauty), “denegrir” (denigrate) and “negra linda” (beautiful black woman). For Tuanny, the presence of black actors and actresses on stage creates a universe of representation. “It’s very important for black women and men to feel represented. They see themselves on the stage and empower themselves much more,” observes the actress, whose reference was in her trajectory Cabeça Feita (ugly head), the first black theater group in the DF, led by the also professor and poetess Cristiane Sobral.
The same theme is treated with respect and care in the documentary Das Raízes à Pontas (meaning, ‘from the roots to the tips’) directed by Flora Egécia. On the big screen, a sincere account of men, women and girls that broke with the dictatorship of the chapinha (straightening iron) and chemicals. Among those interviewed are Luiza, a 12-year-old super-empowered girl, Melina Marques, long-time owner of dreadlocks and granddaughter of black feminist Lélia Gonzalez, and actress Sheron Menezes.
“The afro theme is a big deal in my life, and it attracted me a lot to talk to people about something so dear to me. It was a way I found to expand consciousness very effectively,” says Flora. Das Raízes à Pontas is not the first audiovisual work of the young director. In 2013, Flora was at the Festival of Brasília of Brazilian Cinema with the documentary InEspaço (In Space), which addresses residential occupancy and urban mobility in the federal capital.
Empoderamento negro (black empowerment) also comes by means if literature. In the first half of November, Bianca Santana released the collection Quando Me Descobri Negra (when I discovered myself as black). Divided into three parts – “Do que Vivi” (From What I Lived), “Do que ouvi” (from what I heard) and “Do que pari” (from what I birthed) – the book is an account of stories, of women and men, who have assumed their identidades negras (black identities). The first part is formed by situations that the author experienced in different moments of life; the second are reports that she gathered especially for the work. “The third part is a fictional attempt to record reports that I did experience that way or that I didn’t hear from anyone in an objective way, but that are present in my imaginary in some way,” says Bianca.
According to the author, the construction of identity is complex and, with the structural racism of Brazil, it’s very difficult to identify as black. “In school and in the media the references we have are the slave, the ugly, the poor, the bandit. It is very painful to identify with these images. It is a long process to understand that black people have been enslaved in a brutal crime that lasted for centuries, that beauty is not presupposed by white, blonde, what they call cabelo bom (good hair),” says the author.
The same empowerment is seen in the verses of Cristiane Sobral. “Não Vou Mais Lavar os Pratos” (I Will not wash the dishes anymore), one of her main works, reinforces the representation of black characters in writing and far from spaces that treat them as servants. A PhD in Law, Ana Luiza Flauzina is the author of O Corpo Negro Caído no Chão (The Black Body Fallen on the Floor), the result of her research on the prison system and genocide, in her master’s degree program at UnB. The book gave Ana a prominent role in Brazilian academia and literature. Her latest release, Utopias de Nós Desenhadas a Sós (Utopias of us drawn alone), draws on literary language to address black feminism. Within the theme, it unfolds in topics such as the solidão da mulher negra (solitude of the black woman).
In the traits of the artist Muha Bazila are his impressions of the world, everything that he believes. Born in Bahia, but raised in Brasília, the artist created in the federal capital his link with the arts. A graduate from the University of Brasília, Muhammad Junior Braga Bazila, 25, graduated in fine arts, but his first contact with drawing came at the age of six. With the use of acrylic paint on canvas, with pens and watercolor, Bazila created his brand by representing black women in the “Odara” series, which can be seen in this series. “I saw in the portrait of black women a way of affirming black aesthetics and questioning Eurocentric patterns,” says the artist. The son of Maria Luiza Junior, militant and researcher, Bazila was inspired by his mother to portray her racial consciousness.
Besides the maternal figure, the artist has other references in the city, such as Antônio Obá. Transitioning between performance, drawing and painting, the brasiliense (native of Brasília) graduated from the Dulcina de Moraes Department of Arts and does double duty as a teacher and illustrator.
The relationship of music and ancestry appears strongly in the lyrics of the Brazilian group Filhos de Dona Maria. The album Todos os Prazeres, released at the Abre Caminhos Festival, brings together authorial compositions that exalt Afro-Brazilian culture and religiosity. “Racial discourse has come to me through music. First, through rap, mainly by artists from DF and by Racionais MCs and later by Ilê Ayê,” recalls Khalil Santarém, who forms the group alongside Amílcar Paré, Artur Senna and Vinícius Oliveira.
While mainstream American music is occupied by names like Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Bruno Mars, Drake, The Weekend and Nicki Minaj, Brasília is experiencing a great phase in music. “The group Filhos de Dona Maria owns a place in Brasília’s samba alongside prominent personalities such as Dhi Ribeiro, Teresa Lopes and Kris Maciel, but the city has other talents that also treat their own sound as an object of affirmation. GOG, Japão, Dino Black and Ataque Beliz as some of the most compelling voices of the rap genre, among which DJs and MCs Jamaika, Chokolaty, Donna, Vera Verônika, Layla Moreno and Janna dominate tracks.
With messages of love, peace and tolerance, Alexandre Carlo and the Natiruts have shown that Brasilia can also be labeled as reggae capital. At his side, groups such as Jah Live, Reggae a Semente and the UPreto Soundsystem team strengthen the black scene in Brasília’s music scene.