Note from BW of Brazil: As the vast under-representation and stereotyping of black women and black Brazilians in general in Brazil’s super-white media is one of the main topics on this blog, when I received word back in late March that actor/producer/director Miguel Falabella was putting together a new TV series featuring four black women as the show’s protagonists, I was understandably curious. But then, three things raised red flags in my mind. First, was the fact that the TV network Falabella would produce the series for was Globo TV, a channel that plays a major role in the “keeping blacks in their place” on Brazilian programming.
The second red flag was the fact that the last Globo hyped up a TV series with a predominantly black cast was the highly disappointing Subúrbio. This series that debuted late in 2012 had a number of problems in terms of its dependence on tried and true stereotypical representations of the black population that simply outweighed the all of the hype and promise of a “90% black cast.” The third red flag of this new series is in its title: Sexo & as nega, loosely meaning ‘sex and the negress’. The series is said to be a take-off on the American series Sex and the City, only it would be based in Rio instead of New York and starring four black women.
Although no one can say what the true intentions of the writer may be, I do wonder if he considered the full ramifications of this title in a show featuring four black women. As several posts have already dealt with here, black women in Brazil (and globally) have for centuries been stereotyped as hyper-sexual beings. In Brazil, these images have remained woven into social consciousness through song lyrics, ads and television, particularly Carnaval. As we have dealt with in the past, entertainment and sexuality are just two avenues in which values and images can be altered in public perception with simply a change of skin color. This is especially so when we consider the mass media in which white women are presented in a variety of manners while black women are generally type casted into consistently shallow, invisible, forgettable and subservient roles. And to be sure, there are plenty of stereotypes to choose from.
We could see the “periguete” (hoochie) as portrayed by Roberta Rodrigues in Salve Jorge.
Or the maid (also played by Roberta Rodrigues) that attempts to seduce her white employer’s son as in Mulheres Apaixonadas.
Or black women re-enforcing the “hot mulata” label as in these scenes featuring Cris Vianna…
Or how about the black woman who needs “savior” white people to stand up for them in situations of racism, as Erika Januza as shown in Em Família, a series that features a number of problematic black characters.
We could see another of the many black characters who seem to always have to have a white partner in order to be happy, pretty much the norm in Brazilian novelas (the photo above features Karin Hills, one of the actresses in the upcoming Sexo e as nega series, in Aquele Beijo, another Falabella series).
Am I going too far in on a series that hasn’t even debuted yet? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Afro-Brazilian filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo‘s 2000 book and documentary A Negação do Brasil (Denying Brazil), a 35-year (1963-1997) analysis of Brazil’s novelas (soap operas) proved that there is a long track record of the way Afro-Brazilians are portrayed in these series. So, what should we really expect? First, let’s see how the producer himself described his new series. Here is an article featuring Falabella describing the series back in March.
Falabella guaranteed that the drama of the women from Cordovil, a subúrbio (1) of Rio de Janeiro, is equal to that of the women from New York.
“These are women who like to have sex, fix themselves up, they want to get a man. They experience the same problems of women everywhere. The structure is the same as Sex and the City, but it is a poignant parody,” said the artist. The four friends – a housekeeper, a cook, a construction worker and another a seamstress – will be played by actresses Karin Hills, Lilian Valesca, Maria Bia and Corina Sabath.
“They are all singers, the show has a playful tone, when they are in difficult situations, they see themselves as the Marvelettes [American musical group from the 1960s formed by women],” explained the author. Falabella translated popular hits of black American music, “Take Me In Your Arms and Love Me”, by Gladys Knight, became “Pega Teu Amor e Vaza” (Take Your Love and Get Out of Here).
“It’s necessary to have this show because the black population of Brazil can even be the protagonist, but it’s always the villain, the poor, the wretched. They are poor but they’re sharp, they have fashion, they’re not down. They’re survivors of this jungle like us,” opined Falabella.
Note from BW of Brazil: If one is looking for more than just a series that features black women as the stars, the above description didn’t really give me any reason to believe this new series would represent something different from Globo TV’s modus operandi. And it’s not just me sounding the alarm. A few days ago, I received a request from long-time Rio-based Movimento Negro activist Carlos Alberto Medeiros asking that I share this message.
Next September, Rede Globo will launch a new series, Sexo e as Nega (sic, no plural), which could be translated as Sex and the Negress, presented as a parody of Sex and the City. Of course, the obvious offense contained in the very title does not disturb its authors (one of them the famous comedian Miguel Falabella), which becomes even more serious when one takes into account the fact that in 45 years producing soap operas, only three had black women as main characters. As the Brazilian elite is very sensitive to criticisms from outside, I think a huge campaign of denouncement should be moved at the international level.
Grande abraço (A big embrace)
Note: Journalist Marcos Sacramento also shared his thoughts on the upcoming series.
Here comes the Globo network: another series to put black women in their rightful place
by Marcos Sacramento
The Globo TV network will launch another product to reinforce stereotypes that associate blacks with poverty. Written by Miguel Falabella and scheduled to debut in September, the Sexo & as Negas series will be a version of Sex & the City set in the Cordovil neighborhood of the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro.
In place of the professionally successful women from the original series, the Brazilian version will have a housekeeper, a cook, a construction worker and a seamstress.
The title of dubious taste delivers one detail: the four protagonists are black women. The series will follow the trend crystallized in the Brazilian media to associate the black population with poverty, slums, samba, etc.
I don’t see a problem with the idea of Falabella setting the story in a “suburbia” just as character is not measured by the profession practiced. What bothers me is the insistence on stereotyping black people, especially women, ignoring that there are black women of the middle class, educated and occupying prominent positions.
Black women that consume trendy cosmetics, buy cars, their own home and even those Manolo Blahnik shoes, and object of desire of Carrie Bradshaw, the main character of Sex & the City. They are still a minority in relation to the white population, but numerous enough to merit more equitable treatment from the media.
Although over 50% of the Brazilian population, pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) are a minority among the characters of television drama and advertising. So much so that less informed foreigners, influenced by soap operas exported worldwide, are surprised when they discover that Brazil is the second blackest country in the world.
The few roles with black actors or actresses are destined, in their majority, to characters of minor importance to the plot or with a lower social status. In advertising, it seems that black people don’t consume butter, beer, don’t buy cars, use banking or telephone services.
The recent speech of American philosopher and activist Angela Davis summarizes the context: “I always watch TV in Brazil to see how the country represents itself and Brazilian TV never allowed itself that one would think that the population is predominantly black.”
For what the writers of Globo are producing, the opinion of Angela won’t be different the next time she visits Brazil and flips on the TV.
1. Subúrbio in the Brazilian context refers to the outskirts of principal cities where primarily poorer residents live.