Note from BW of Brazil: What a night! In some ways, as the revolutionary rise of black theater has been a topic that I’ve highlighted in the past few years, I almost feel a part of such a victorious occasion. Just for some background, The Prêmio Shell, or Shell Award, is an award ceremony sponsored by the multinational Shell of Brasil. Its objective is to reward standouts in Brazilian popular music and theater. The Shell Theatre Award was created in 1988, and every year awards the best performing artists and shows in theater pieces that command stages in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the two most important cities for theater in the country. Prêmio Shell is considered the biggest award ceremony of theater in Brazil.
Within this context, seeing huge victories by numerous Afro-Brazilian creators of theater was a big event! In covering teatro negro, or black theater, in Brazil, I’ve often spoken of how the stage has become perhaps the main voice of black acting creativity as the mainstream media continues to deny the full exploration of black talents by keeping black participation limited to small percentages of decades long stereotypes of black representation. On the stage, black voices, black bodies, black themes and black presence, both out front and backstage, have become a simmering pot that has threatened to boil over. Reaching a fever pitch in 2018, even Prêmio Shell could not ignore these advances and it is that moment in the sun that should be celebrated. But as always, I’m not one to hold back my views on stark realities.
Yes, these victories are long overdue. Black theater in Brazil has a history going all the back to the 1940s with activist/playwright/politician/intellectual Abdias do Nascimento created TEN, Teatro Experimental do Negro, or the Black Experimental Theater. Let us not forget that the rise of black theater came about in Brazil because at that time, the most blacks were allowed to do on stages were sweeping the floors when white talent exited stage left. This segregation still exists in Brazil’s media and only recently have we begun to see some legitimate changes. As such, we cannot act as if one award ceremony is to atone for decades of the whitewashing of the stage and screen.
I cheer for such recognition because such accolades are long overdue. But I don’t go overboard in my cheers because basing our value on the same white institutions that ignore us is how black artists and the black population allow themselves to be continuously manipulated and deceived into the belief that we have somehow “arrived” only to be put in our collective places again and again as we await our rewards for our patience during the countless years of exclusion. It’s still fresh in mind how we see such examples at the yearly Oscars ceremonies in the United States. In 2002, African-Americans rejoiced when Denzel Washington and Halle Berry took top honors for Best Actor and Best Actress on the same night. In revelry of the victories, no one immediately thought about the shocking black stereotypes represented in the films that the pair won for. Washington as the brute, rogue monster cop in Training Day, and Halle Berry, as basically a whore in Monster’s Ball, a film loaded with degrading stereotypes about black character.
Having been thoroughly primed to believe black actors had finally “arrived” on the world’s greatest stage with the victories of not only Washington and Berry, but later winners such as Monique, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker and others, black Americans would later call for a boycott of a recent edition of the Oscars because of the lack of black representation. Did we forget that quickly that, equal to the illusion of full integration of African-Americans into American society, we are still symbolically subject to being told to sit on the back of the bus? Or did the recent victory of Spike Lee at the 2019 Oscars after 33 years behind the cameras documenting black life not remind us of this once again?
Again, seeing a number of deserving black faces and groups recognized at the 2019 Shell Awards is a front page story. It is. But let us not forget the precarious position of Afro-Brazilian talent in the fact that, like the not so serious idea of a black American boycott of the Oscars, our top black Brazilian talent cannot even dare choose to revolt too much against the nation’s top television network because too many of them are dependent upon it for their meals, salaries and big breaks in the world of Brazilian entertainment. This is not meant to belittle any of them, it’s just stating an obvious fact on a lack of power in Afro-Brazilian hands.
Thus, let me say again, I applaud the HUGE victories of Afro-Brazilian talent at the 2019 Prêmio Shell. If possible, I would have been in the front row cheering every one of them! Congratulations brothers and sisters, but the goal should always remain developing our own, by our own and for our own. Because, if we haven’t learned the lesson provided by the few examples cited above, the master still giveth and the master still taketh away…
Projects of black collectives were highlight of the Shell Award
Coletivo 2ª Black, which had its last edition in Rio’s Botafogo region, won in the category for Innovation
By Adalberto Neto
Certain that black artists are often invited only to interpret slaves, crooks, janitors, porters, servants and security guards, and tired of waiting for changes, five people rolled up their sleeves and made time for a project which brought to blacks the protagonism of the story. Inspired by 2ª Preta (Belo Horizonte), Segunda Crespa (São Paulo), A Cena Tá Preta (Bahia) e 2ª Negra (Rio Grande do Sul), artists Licínio Januário, Paulo Mattos, Reinaldo Junior, Rodrigo França and Sol Miranda created in Rio, the collective 2ª Black, the winner of the Shell Award in the Innovation category, held on the 12th at the Copacabana Palace.
“We have always had a view that, in the performing arts, black artists have no visibility in their spectaculars. In parallel, I observed that since 2016 the productions of black artists began to intensify. I, particularly, when I visited Belo Horizonte some time ago, I had contact with 2ª Preta, that follows this mold of composing a group of artists who present their processes, with critics who make an interlocution about what is shown. Based on their experience, Sol and I thought of doing something similar in Terreiro Contemporâneo, of Rubens Barbot, who told us that Licínio and Rodrigo were also thinking of doing something along the same lines. We marked a meeting with them and with Reinaldo, and thus 2ª Black was born,” says Mattos.
The event had three editions in 2018: the first in the Terreiro Contemporâneo, downtown, from February to May; the second in Olabi, in Botafogo, in October; and the third at Sesc Copacabana in November. A new season is the planning in a location still to be defined, in the South Zone of Rio, in May. The goal is to circulate around the state.
“There are works in the 2ª Black that don’t even talk about racial issues, but the presence of the artist’s black body already brings this. The word militancy sometimes has a very negative idea, but the fact that we get together for this project is already a militancy. With it, we can reach out and involve more people than through a conventional protest,” Sol believes.
For Licínio Januário, more than a gain for the 2ª Black project, the award was a collective achievement. He, who is an actor, scriptwriter, director and professor of capoeira, moved less than a week ago to São Paulo, where he intends to work with cinema and, consequently, to increase the participation of black actors in the audiovisual sector.
“There is the 2ª Preta, in Belo Horizonte; the Segunda Crespa in São Paulo and the 2ª Negra in Rio Grande do Sul, and we were contemplated in the Innovation category without doing anything exactly innovative. This explains how our movements are ignored. If it were not so, we would have been in another place a long time ago. It would all be different if Shell had had a black jury since its first edition. But that never happened over those 31 years. To this day, only whites have made up the jury,” he says.
For Reinaldo Junior, his professional trajectory corroborates the vision Januário has about the invisibility of black movements. An artist since he was 13 years old, he attended several projects in Rio’s Baixada Fluminense region, where he lived, but was only “perceived”, according to him, in 2014, when he was featured with the play “Salina, a última vértebra” in Sesc Copacabana.
“It is extremely important that blacks reach places of power and be awarded prizes. And that this is not just in the theater, but in education and in all areas of society,” says Junior.
In a statement, the organization of the Shell Prize affirms that “it always reflected the effervescence of the theatrical scene in Rio de Janeiro, and this year’s award had the predominance of black professionals. If the award already consecrated actors and actresses known to the general public, it also has the concern of being a vanguard and recognizing various actors, actresses and spectacles before gaining major notoriety.”
Three more projects with blacks were awarded
This year, four of the nine categories of the Shell Award were won by black artists. In addition to the members of the 2ª Black, in the Innovation category, winners André Lemos (Direction, with “Esperança na revolta“), Larissa Luz (Music, with Elza) and Doris Rolemberg (Scenario, with “A última aventura é a morte”). The organization of the prize does not confirm, but professionals of the artistic class affirm that this edition had a record of blacks with works awarded.
“This edition was rather atypical. Perhaps because it is the oldest theater prize, it has a more avant-garde tendency, valuing whoever assembles their shows on race. The others still privilege the great productions, the musicals … The Shell jury seemed to me more open to trends and to understand that black culture is part of the country. After all, we represent 54% of the national population. You can no longer see only whites in the theater, on TV and in the movies,” says Lemos, the first black director to be considered by Shell.
This was the first prize the director earned in his 15-year artistic career. If he had been born white, however, he believes that his professional trajectory would have been recognized a long time ago.
“Art is very undemocratic, the black is always in the place of marginalization. I myself was greatly marginalized by the class itself for having already denounced a group of which I was part, in which I suffered racism. But from my work I started to have a little more voice. Of course, if I had another history, if it were white, it would be all different. However, my art would not have all this power. People come out of my scrambled assemblies, because in them they have a lot of my experience, which includes countless difficulties and struggle. I decided not to give the response for everything I’ve suffered in my life. I preferred to transform it into art and throw it into the theater,” says Lemos.
Larissa Luz: contemplated in the Music category
The artistic restlessness of musical director Larissa Luz made her look for spaces where there was masculine predominance. She, who is also a singer, felt fulfilled for having won the Shell Award in the Music category.
“This is a space that we, black women, must occupy. There are growing numbers of sound techniques, musicians and black music producers, but I hope that with this recognition, the number will increase even more,” she says.
For her, overcoming the difficulties that the system imposes so that, mainly, black artists win prizes of this magnitude is better than receiving the award.
“I was thrilled to witness this moment. And, mainly, for not being the only one, the exception. “I now hope that new opportunities and new looks will emerge, and that people will allow themselves to think and consume art from another perspective,” says Larissa.
André Lemos is the first black director to be awarded in 31 years of Shell Award
Courtesy of Notícia Preta
The favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the streets formed and gave sensibility and strength to direct the spectacular Esperança na Revolta (Hope in the Revolt), to which André Lemos, of the Coletivo Artístico Confraria do Imposível, was given the title of best director. In the 31-year history of the Prêmio Shell de Teatro Rio (Shell Rio Theater Award), which took place at Copacabana Palace on March 12th, this is the first time a black director has been awarded a prize.
Raised in many outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, such as Mangueira, Jacaré, São Carlos and Lapa, André, at 33, marks the history of black art in Rio. In his thank-you speech, André made a point of emphasizing black ancestry and thanking his ancestors who paved the way for him to receive the award.
Coletivo Confraria do Impossível
Actor Reinaldo Junior, spoke for the Confraria do Impossível (Confraternity of the Impossible), which was leader of nominations in the second half of the awards, in the categories direction, music and authorship, remembering the lack of black proportionality in theatrical productions. “Modern Apartheid happens when anti-racist people do not include blacks in their productions, we need to question this, not only on sage, but in the structure of thought,” he says.
The artistic collective 2ª Black was awarded in the Innovation category, for creating a space for meeting, research, exchange of knowledge and presentations of scenic experiences of black artists.
The two collectives remembered in their speeches that despite the night being a party, many advances still need to be made. “This award comes to the favelados (residents of the slums), to the Dona Marias as a historical reparation, because even though we are here in this luxury hotel we don’t have much to celebrate, because in a few hours the event ends, some return to their apartments, others very few to the ghettos and to the baixada, because every 23 minutes a young black man dies, because a year ago they killed Marielle and we don’t know if we will be alive tomorrow to celebrate the victory of today,” he concludes.