Note from BW of Brazil: This is a follow up report on the controversy surrounding the choice of singer Fabiana Cozza to portray a very important singer/songwriter in the world of Brazilian samba, the beloved Dona Ivone Lara, who recently passed away at the age of 97. Those following this story surely know by now that, after criticism that she was too light-skinned to portray a darker-skinned woman such as Dona Ivone, Cozza recently relinquished the role even as Ivone Lara’s family defended her selection. Personally, I think Fabiana made the right decision, again, not because I question her blackness, but because of all of the ways a light-skinned black woman portraying a dark-skinned black woman can be interpreted in a racist society as well as how such such a portrayal can be manipulated in the future.
Fabiana’s decision, even though under pressure, reminded me of the young actress Amandla Stenberg, who admitted to stepping down from a role in billion-dollar grossing blockbuster Black Panther, that had such a huge influence on black Brazilians. In an interview, Stenberg revealed that as she got closer and closer to winning a role in the film, she looked around and saw all of the darker-skinned actors in the film and decided that, having such representation, in a film with such investment and so many black people in such a huge film, was much bigger than a role for her in a film. I certainly hope that Fabiana sees this latest controversy in the same manner and understands that, if black people are to be one family, we must all recognize certain situations in which some of us may have certain privileges that the rest of us don’t have.
Throughout the piece below, featuring Cozza’s post in which she relinquished the role, several people weighed in on the controversy through social media in comments that were recently featured on a Buzzfeed article.
In a letter, Fabiana Cozza renounces role as Dona Ivone Lara in the theater
Singer says that by being mixed was criticized for being “too white for the role”. “I renounce it resign because the skin color of Dona Ivone Lara now needs, still, to be another artist, blacker more than me,” she says
By Newsroom of Revista Fórum
Singer Fabiana Cozza renounced the role of Dona Ivone Lara who she would play in the musical “Dona Ivone Lara – um sorriso negro” (a black smile). According to her, the samba singer, who died on April 16 at 97 years of age, “now needs, still, to be another artist, blacker than me.”
Comment 1: “Whiteness doesn’t accept not being the focus of things. Samba resisted until today thanks to black women, if it weren’t for them it would be extinct.Dona Ivone Lara sang RESISTANCE and BLACKNESS above all, putting a white person to play her role is disrespectful.
Comment 2: “Fabiana Cozza is not white. We have to take the opportunity to discuss colorism. It is a mistake to place a light-skinned black woman to play Dona Ivone”
Since she was chosen, activists of the Movimento Negro (black movement) had been criticizing the fact that Fabiana, as a parda (meaning brown or mixed), accepted the role. “I renounce for having dormido negra (gone to bed black) on Tuesday and on Wednesday, after the announcement of my name as the protagonist of the musical, acordar ‘branca’ (waking up ‘white’) in the eyes of so many brothers,” she said in a letter published on her Facebook page.
She wrote a long text where she requested “that this episode will serve to unite us around a table, face to face, to think together of spaces of representativeness for us all”. And spoke of the right of “outras mulheres e homens de pele clara” (other light-skinned women and men), like me, also be respected as blacks”.
The letter caused controversy, as shown by several comments on the publication, some supportive and others criticizing the content of the text and the phrase “alma não tem cor” (soul has no color). “You did very well to resign, because it is a fact that Dona Ivone deserves to be represented by a negra retinta (dark-skinned black woman), as she, so proud of her race. I will not go into the details of your comments, because when you say that soul has no color, it such a large reductionism to the debate, that it is not worth it,” replied Suelly Bonfim.
When Fabiana was announced to play the role, the production of the musical underlined that the family celebrated (her choice). “In Brazil, the artist who most honored Dona Ivone Lara was Fabiana Cozza. When the (producer) Jô (Santana) came home for the meeting on the project, the family was unanimous, we would very much that the one who play Dona Ivone would be Fabiana Cozza.
Today, with the announcement of her name, we celebrated in a party. As the Dona Ivone herself said, Fabiana is people from home,” said Eliana, daughter in law of Dona Ivone Lara, upon learning that singer would play Dona Ivone Lara in her mature phase.
Comment 1: “I know that it seems obvious (at least to me), but it’s so common to find a certain resistance of light-skinned blacks when some discussion about preference goes down of light-skinned blacks in the place that should be of those who are dark-skinned”
Comment 2: “Colorism is not just there for us to say, “I’m black yes, colorism!!!”, but to understand how structural racism affects us all, but in different ways.”
With five albums recorded and two DVDs released, Fabiana has done several shows beside Dona Ivone Lara and already sang with other artists, such as Elza Soares, João Bosco, Leci Brandão, Emicida and Rappin Hood.
Read her letter below, published here.
Fabiana Cozza dos Santos, Brazilian
Birthdate: January 16, 1976
Mother: Maria Ines Cozza dos Santos, white
Father: Oswaldo dos Santos, black
Color (on birth certificate): parda (brown/mixed)
To the brothers and sisters:
The racism looms large when transferring the war into our terreiro. Today, I renounce the role of Dona Ivone Lara in the musical “Dona Ivone Lara – um sorriso negro” after listening to a lot of shouting of alert – not angry barks. Daily I learn in the exercise of art – and more recently in the university, always with my masters – that listening is a place of recognition of the existence of the Other, it is the mirror image of us.
I resign because speaking of racism in Brazil became a chat of “politically correct” people. And i am reluctant. My humanity hurts because many go through me. Many are those who imprint my body. They are all my memories.
I resign for having gone to bed black on Tuesday and on Wednesday, after the announcement of my name as the protagonist of the musical, waking up “white” in the eyes of so many brothers and sisters. I resign at feeling in my body and heart a pain I never felt before: of lose my color and my place of existence. It becomes hollow inside. And it becomes thoughts for hours.
I resign because I saw the “war” being transferred once more to within our ilê (house) and I felt that we could illustrate once more the page of the newspapers when ‘they’ transfer the responsibility to the back of those they whipped so much. And continue to punish. And racism becomes a thing of us, pretos (blacks). And they celebrate our rags in the Casa Grande (Big House). And they drink, drink and fuck us. The mulatas (mulattos).
Renuncio em memória a todas negras estupradas durante e após a escravidão pelos donos e colonizadores brancos (I renounce in memory to all black women raped during and after slavery by white owners and colonizers).
I resign because I am black. Because I breathe enough telling the time and place to descend to keep up the fight. It is my listening like a wolf, a quilombola community. I resign chasing the sun, my head up, made my father, my (white) mother, my grandparents, my great grandparents, great great grandparents…
At your side, my brothers and sisters.
I resign because the skin color of Dona Ivone Lara must now, still, be that of another artist, mais preta do que eu (blacker than me). I resign because I want to one day dance beside any brother, all and any skin tone celebrating in the square of our freedom.
I resign because I respect the family of Dona Ivone Lara: Eliana, André, his father and all the relatives and friends who cared for her until her 97 years and have been severely constrained by everyone who say they are in the fight but attack their equals perversely. I resign by the spirit of Dona Ivone that still makes her passage and is in need of peace.
I resign because I want that this episode to serve to unite us around a table, face to face, to think together spaces of representation for all of us.
I resign because I want that other light-skinned women and men, like me, to also have the right to be respected as blacks.
I resign because I have a soul of an artist and I take love to people. Because I believe in a world made of people and affection.
I resign because I do not tolerate injustice, the disrespect of another, the linchamento público e gratuito (public and free lynching) of people, unreasonable, vile, without character, inhumane.
I resign in respect to direction and production of the spectacular that so embraced me, in respect to the cast that is now forming and that, sensitive to all, fought for their space and need to work and create in silence.
I resign for love to my friend artists, relatives, brothers and sisters that life gave me that are also saddened, but don’t cower before the cowards.
I resign because I am free like a Tiê (type of bird), because I sing today, here, there and always to the Lady, the Golden Lady, my friend and beloved Dona Ivone Lara.
I resign because, as he wrote to my beloved friend (musician) Chico Cesar, “soul has no color”. And everyone gets there.