Note from BW of Brazil: The image is well cemented in the nation’s consciousness. The gyrating, frenetic dancing woman of visible African ancestry; the one who is “out of this world” and of the “exportation type” because her sensuality captivates the world during Carnaval and on world tours. Due to her imagined sexual powers, she is perceived to give any man a “hot time” in the bedroom, but is not necessarily worthy of marriage. We’re speaking here of just a few of the stereotypes associated with the Brazilian ‘mulata’. The topic has come up a number of times in previous posts. Is she simply black woman whose beauty and whatever degree of racial mixture somehow places her in a more “exotic” category or is she not black, not white, but something else entirely different? The image and stereotype has existed for centuries in Brazil but perhaps became a permanent stereotype in national consciousness after the publication of Gilberto Freyre’s 1933 classic Casa Grande e Senzalas (translated as The Master and the Slaves).
In their paper on sexual tourism in the northeastern state of Bahia, Eleuterio and Cavalcanti (2009) studied the image of the mulata from the work of Freyre to modern times. In Freyre’s Casa Grande, he cites the mulata as the woman who “who treated us and initiated us in physical love and gave us, on the noisy air mattress, the first sensation of masculinity.”
With further focus on Freyre, Eleuterio and Cavalcanti also cite the following from the same 1933 work:
“good popular sense and folkloric wisdom continue to believe in the diabolical, naturally over-excited mulata […] For this overexcitement, true or not, of sex, the mulata is sought by those who want to reap from physical love the extremes of pleasure, not just the common.”
And Freyre was not alone in his connecting the mulata to a certain exacerbated form of sexuality. Eleuterio and Cavalcanti further cite 19th century scientist Nina Rodrigues. According to these authors: “In medical reports, Rodrigues said in 1894 that the mulata presents herself as having an excessive and unusual excitement, not being able to stop being considered an abnormal type.”
Updating the groundwork laid by Freyre and Rodrigues, Eleuterio and Cavalcanti cite a widely read report on the historical invention of the image of the mulata in a 1990s work by Mariza Corrêa. In “Sobre a invenção da mulata” (on the invention of the mulata) (1996):
“Corrêa demonstrates how this stereotype was widespread, always relating the mulata to either exotic flavors (such as Gabriela Cravo e Canela, a Jorge Amado character created in 1958) or bodily sensations never felt before, like the extreme pleasure presented by Freyre.”
According to Corrêa:
“Words that connected [the mulata] directly, without mediations of herbs or spices, the universe of pure bodily sensation: lubricity, fickleness, amorality. In the discourse of some literary critics (José Verrísimo, Silvio Romero), in some historians (Capistrano de Abreu), medical discourse (Raimundo Nina Rodrigues and many others), and in the literary (I repeat, from Gregório de Matos to Guimarães Rosa) who served and ballast for the construction of this mythical figure, the mulata woman is pure body, or sex, not socially ‘engineered’.
The modern image of the mulata serves as simply a continuation of this historical interpretation:
“In contemporary times, the figure of the mulatto is further enhanced. Piscitelli analyzes articles published in major Brazilian magazines about the coming of foreigners to Brazil in search of women. The author presents what would now be recognized as intrinsic of the mulata”:
“Joy, sensuality, youth, affection, submission, docility, enormous disposition for sex and a certain passivity characterize ‘Brazilian morenas’, delineating a particular and intriguing femininity. In it is intertwined aspects that are considered ‘traditional’ female sexuality in many Western cultures – passivity, submission, receptibility and attributes recurrently associated to the figure of ‘mulatto’ in Brazil – thought of as passionate, sensual, voluptuous, even immoral, but also naive and loving.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Another important author that has contributed profoundly to the image of black Brazilian women is Monteiro Lobato, who according to Patrícia Vitória Mendes dos Santos “initiated children’s literature in Brazil as a product of national origin”.
The character Tia Nastácia (Aunt Nastácia) (that we first dealt with here) is well-known to generations of Brazilians becoming a popular figure in the popular children’s television program Sítio do Picapau Amarelo. The series of books of this title were written in 23 volumes by Lobato between the years 1920 and 1947 and re-produced on Globo television twice, 1977-1986 and 2001-2007 firmly cementing the characters in Brazil’s television history.
But how is Tia Nastácia portrayed in the series? As a maid, and a regular character in the series, Tia Nastácia often tell stories to the other characters of the series, including Emília, a rag doll in the book that is played by a child actor in the television series. In a passage from one of the books, upon hearing Tia Nastácia’s stories, Emília defines them as a study in people’s ignorance and stupidity and that are not even funny. She further defines the stories as crude and barbaric and a thing of a “negra beiçuda”, meaning a “big-lipped black woman.” But Dona Bento, who is white and takes over as the story teller, is thought to “know how to tell real stories.” The description is of a racist tone that attributes to blacks an inferior culture in relation to whites. Lobato makes further references to Tia Nastácia’s lips in a way that animalizes her as can be noted in another of Emília’s comments in which she says “I cut off a piece of that beiço (thick lip).” In a dialogue with another character, Pedrinho, Emília tells him, “oxes have beiços, we have lips.”
As dos Santos tells us:
“In these fragments, there is an aesthetic detail directed to blacks, to the point of finding them devoid of knowledge. Animalizing black characters, the writers ended up reproducing a stereotype of ‘cognitive impairment.’ They rob the identity of blacks from an ethnic and cultural point of view, reducing the differences to the physical and racial field. This, due to interaction leads, by means of embranquecimento (whitening), with black characters, to a degree of stripping their racial identity.”
In another example, the character Narizinho speaking of Tia Nastácia says she’s “ashamed, poor thing, because of being black.” The character then continues, “Don’t atone because of being black. She is only black on the outside, not by birth. It was a fairy that one day blackened her, condemning her to stay that way until she finds the right ring in the belly of the right fish. Then the spell will be broken and she will turn into a beautiful blonde princess.” (1)
Dos Santos further confirms that:
“Tia Nastácia is a principal black character of Monteiro Lobato. She is illiterate and called a ‘negra de estimação’ (meaning a black women whose value is above her actual worth), besides being treated “like a part of the family.” But it’s in the kitchen, always beside the stove, where her inferiority and her part of social interaction is reinforced.”
Lobato’s racism is evident throughout his works and presents blacks as “positively absurd, not needing to be taken seriously in the real world of adults.” Rounding out dos Santos’s overview of Lobato’s work, she confirms that “if on the one hand it is possible a racist reading of Monteiro Lobato, on the other the Tia Nastácia figure serves as a portrait of a historic moment in Brazil, where racial harmony was – and often continues being – made possible by the hierarchical subordination: the domestic servant, who ends up ‘becoming part of the family'”.
It is through this litany of stereotypes with which the image of the black woman, including the ‘mulata’, was constructed in Brazil and with black women continuing today to be mostly affiliated with roles that represent housework, the kitchen, sensuality or sexuality (see here or here), it remains an image that a new generation of Afro-Brazilian women are fighting to free themselves from in order to claim their complete humanity beyond the stereotypes (see here, here, here or here). It is against this historical context that we now consider the work of an actress who aims to continue the deconstruction of these images through her performance. The piece was staged from November 6th to November 21st during the Month of Black Consciousness.
‘This Is Not A Mulata’ project discusses representations of the black woman
The multi-language project Isto Não É Uma Mulata (This Is Not A Mulata) will occupy the Gamboa Nova Theatre (in Salvador, Bahia) during the month of November month with the performative solo of actress Mônica Santana and the exhibition of her drawings, poems and visual essay, carried out with photographer Andrea Magnoni. The presentations will take place November 6-21 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm (with extra sessions on November 20 and 21 at 6pm).
Starting from point of the famous phrase uttered by Gilberto Freyre, “Branca para casar. Mulata para fornicar. Negra para trabalhar” (White woman formarriage. Mulata for fornication. Black woman for work), the artist weaves works that question the forms of representation of black women: being the hypersexualized mestiça (woman of mixed race), in exuberant ways always available for sex, or being the dark black woman for manual labor.
It comes from the starting point of mocking the canonized image of black women in the arts and media, visiting different references and creating new discourses that performer, actress and educative-communicator Mônica Santana develops the multi-language project Isto Não é Uma Mulata (This is Not a Mulata), with the production of Gameleira Artes Integradas.
In between place of performance and theater, the solo piece Isto Não é Uma Mulata works in the zone of irony, visiting clichés in the representation of black women, sometimes reduced to housework, the sensuality of the Carnival passista, the exuberant body. Also coming on the scene, references to pop culture, music, creating new strategies for an exercise in political theater, where the movement, dance and paradox are explored resources, without employing didacticism.
The photo layout explores the ingredients of theatrical soil, reinforcing the play of signs, irony, provocations and clichés about estratégias de embranquecimento (strategies of whitening). The production was done on to Mônica Santana’s account, who performs in the photos and the capturing of images was by Andrea Magnoni, a photographer whose work is dedicated to the themes related to diversity.
In the exhibition, the public can discover poems and drawings made by the artist, an integral part of the creative process and reflections on the themes addressed in the show: texts and images dialogue creating textures and ironies in the questioning around the deconstruction of traditional representation for the production new images and discourses of itself. Mônica Santana is an actress, a journalist and also plunged into the visual arts and the word, bringing to Isto não é uma mulata her vein of playwright and performer, but also the critical eye of performing arts researcher.
The project includes the production of Gameleira Artes Integradas and brings the musical direction of André Oliveira, costumes of Cássio Caiazzo, scenographic solutions of Deilton José, makeup of Nayara Homem and lighting by Luiz Guimarães.
Isto Não é Uma Mulata – Solo Peformatic and Exhibition
Isto Não É Uma Mulata – An exhibition of Illustrations, Poems and Photographic Layout
Direction, playwriting and acting: Mônica Santana
Musical Direction and Sound: André Oliveira
Set design: Deilton José
Costumes: Cássio Caiazzo
Lighting: Luiz Guimarães
Production: Gameleira Artes Integradas (Olga Lamas e Raiça Bomfim)
Photography: Andrea Magnoni
Graphic Designer: Tai Oliver
Press Office and Social Networks – Crioula Comunicação
Source: Correio Nagô, Dos Santos, Patrícia Vitória Mendes. “A representação da Identitdade da Mulher Afro-Descendente, Tia Nastácia, em O Sítio do Pica-pau Amarelo de Monteiro Lobato”. Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz. Departamento de Letras e Artes Especialização em Estudos Comparados em Literaturas de Língua Portuguesa, 2007. Cavalcanti, Vanessa and Claudia Eleutério. “A Construção da Identitdade da Mulher Brasileira a Partir do Enfoque do Turismo Sexual na Bahia: Permissivas, Pecadoras e Sensuais?” Naveg@mérica. Revista electrónica de la Asociación Española de Americanistas. 2009, #2.
- In this passage we see yet another example of the Brazilian ideology of embranquecimento (whitening) in which everything that defined as intelligent, powerful, rich and beautiful is associated with whiteness and blacks only being able to attain these attributes through cultural whitening (distancing one’s self from any cultural connections to blackness) and physical whitening (by using products that Europeanize one’s physical appearance or producing whiter offspring through miscegenation).