Three generations of black actresses, Ruth de Souza, Zezé Motta and Taís Araújo reflect on the presence of blacks in the last few decades of television

Representantes de três gerações, atrizes colecionam vários sucessos na carreira

 Actresses Zezé Motta, Ruth de Souza and Taís Araújo

Note from BW of Brazil: Black presence on Brazilian television continues to be a struggle, both in terms of sheer numbers which vastly under-represent the 51% of Brazilians who define themselves as negros as well as the stereotypical roles in which they continue to be represented. But even with these issues, Brazil still has a history of great black actresses who have left their mark on the small screen as well as the big screen. Below, three actresses, arguably the most respected of their respective generations, reflect on the changes they have witnessed as well as the changes that are still necessary in order for black actors and actresses to get their fair due in Brazil’s influential entertainment industry. 

Representing three generations of black actresses, Ruth de Souza, Zezé Motta and Taís Araújo reflect on the presence of blacks in the last few decades of television

• Representatives of three generations, actresses discuss various successes in careers

by Ana Branco

Zezé Motta, Ruth de Souza and Taís Araújo
Zezé Motta, Ruth de Souza and Taís Araújo

RIO – Seated next to Ruth de Souza and Zezé Motta in a cafe in the Jardim Botânico, Taís Araújo assumed herself to be in the presence of two of her greatest career references.

“I’m only here (working as an actress) because these two women persisted,” Taís affirms.

As protagonists and other signature roles, the actress, who turned 35 on the November 25th, represents next to Ruth and Zezé, a portrait of black women on television. They are actresses from different generations who have won prominent places in national drama.

Zezé Motta and Taís Araújo, two actresses who have portrayed the historical figure Xica da Silva on TV and film. Photo taken from the TV series
Zezé Motta and Taís Araújo, two actresses who have portrayed the historical figure Xica da Silva on TV and film. Photo taken from the TV series

“The conquest of the generations that came after mine is to seeing black actors of all ages working, including the younger ones. Today we have several young girls and adolescents on the air that serve as a reference for children. The nearest identification that I had before debuting was Zezé, who is from another generation,” Taís analyzes.

The landscape has changed, say the three. And it’s different from what Ruth experienced early in her career in the 1940s. The first black woman to perform on the stage of the Municipal Theater of Rio, she   opened space for other artists and was part of the group of pioneers who were on the initial television broadcasts on TV Tupi. The daughter of a farmer and a laundress, Ruth grew up with the desire to become an actress in spite of hearing from everyone that there were no artists of her skin color.

Ruth de Souza
Ruth de Souza

“They made a joke when I said I wanted to be an artist,” recalls the veteran, 92-year- old, who, debuting, dodged the lack of space by becoming a part of the group Teatro Experimental do Negro (Black Experimental Theatre): – “In spite of everything, I don’t complain. Since I started, I never stopped.

Ruth collects historical works in dramas such as A cabana do Pai Tomás (1969) and Sinhá Moça (1986), in which she worked alongside legendary Afro-Brazilian actor Grande Otelo.

“When I did A Cabana do Pai Tomás the public complained a lot and they had to remove my name from the credits. I have been through other situations of prejudice such as this. Before, I had tried a job as an actress in a novela (soap opera) on Rádio Nacionaland I didn’t get it. They said that they didn’t have a role for a black. But is the voice of the black different?”, Ruth quips.

Despite having already come to video after names such as Ruth herself and Léa Garcia, Zezé, 65, also had to earn her place. The actress claims to be “from a time when we only had one or at most two blacks in every production” of television.

Zezé Motta
Zezé Motta

“We only saw many blacks in the same novela if the topic was slavery,” Zezé points out.

She says that if she were already on the air, Neusa Borges, who is the same age range, would not come on. And cites still the case of Zózimo Bulbul (1937-2013). If he was called for a novela, Antônio Pitanga’a chances diminished.

“Today we see six to eight blacks at the same time on the same serial. And with varied roles,” Zezé emphasizes, before making one more exception:  “But if we base it on the number of blacks in Brazil, the representation on TV is still very small.”

On the air currently on the series Copa Hotel on the GNT network, Zezé worked on over 20 novelas in a career of a little more than 40 years. An actress and singer, she was Xica da Silva of the 1976 Carlos Diegues film of the same name. On TV, she appeared with Ruth in Corpo a Corpo (1984). She played the daughter of a colleague in a drama that marked her career. She was a young, middle class woman who had a romance with the character of actor Marcos Paulo (1951-2012). The relationship was not well received by the public.

“There were people saying to me, ‘I change the channel when you appear at the side of Marcos Paulo’. Other people said they did not believe in the veracity of the couple,” remembers Zezé, who has also gone through a similar situation in real life: “I had a white boyfriend and his family accepted me. But it was not until we decided to get married that the confusion started. His mother was taken to hospital and the wedding didn’t happen.”

Between sips of cappuccino, Ruth says that she never participated in an interracial romance on novelas. With Taís, the experience was something else. She felt a positive change in the behavior of the public to Da Cor do Pecado (Of the Color of Sin) (2004). The novela featured the actress as the first black protagonist of a Globo series. Preta, the character, had a relationship with actor Reynaldo Gianecchini and had great fanfare.

Taís Araújo
Taís Araújo

“I remember I was talking to Zezé before this novel, and she said that I was to prepare myself. But the couple worked and is still remembered by people. It was a change,” highlights Taís.

The actress is the face of a generation that came to the TV at a later stage. She carries the title of the first black protagonist of a serial, in Xica da Silva (1996), shown by the defunct Manchete network. Before Taís, only Yolanda Braga played a leading role, in A cor a sua pele (The color of her skin). But the serial, from 1965, was still a part of an initial age of TV.

Taís was also the first black protagonist of a primetime Globo series in Viver a vida (2010). But she doesn’t like to brag about these titles.

“It was important, I think it’s boring this thing of the ‘first that’ or ‘the first that’. What’s the use? I’ve come to a comfortable place. But I wonder if we’ve advanced or that I’ve simply stopped in the almanac of Brazilian TV? I feel the lack of black authors and directors on television. Our history is always told by the point of view of the other.”

Questioned from a young age about the presence of afrodescendentes (African descendants) on TV, Taís admits she feels more secure today in discussing the matter.

“It’s only today that I feel more prepared and secure to talk about the issues of blacks. Despite being the daughter of an economist father and an educator mother, my discourse and affirmation of black identity were fragile. I was raised in Barra da Tijuca, and my reference was something else. I developed my view on the subject gradually. Lázaro (Ramos, the actress’s husband and also an actor) is a guy who already came with a more political discourse and also helped me in this process,” she reveals.

Note from BW of Brazil: As a side note, back in March, Taís appeared on the television program Espelho, which is hosted by her husband, actor Lázaro Ramos, in which she spoke on the topic of racism. The actress revealed that she couldn’t deal with prejudice in her youth because her parents didn’t talk about it. “This subject was not discussed. It was not an issue in the house, racism, prejudice. When I went to the streets, I had to face the world, I didn’t know how to handle it. I felt completely unprepared with a very inarticulate discourse. Time passed and I learned to deal (with it).”

Actor Lázaro Ramos interviewed his wife Taís Araújo on the television program "Espelho" back in March
Actor Lázaro Ramos interviewed his wife Taís Araújo on the television program “Espelho” back in March

Taís’s recollections of growing up in a home in which her parents didn’t discuss the issue of racism is a very common experience for many Afro-Brazilians. It could be argued that this is probably a major reason why so many persons of visible African ancestry in Brazil grow up with a lack of a black identity or are humiliated and not know how to react to experiences with racism in a country that preaches that “we are all equal”.

Source: O Globo

About Marques Travae 2894 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. Glad she married a black man.. Brazil wake up. Stop lightening yourself by marrying lighter skin to fit in. Not saying you should not marry out of your race but for love only. You will fit in when you stand up proudly and be confident in who you are and they will notice. I am nigerian black women and confident and speak assertively. People notice too. Racism is a mind disease and the racist’s problem. Don’t take on their headache.

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