Note from BW of Brazil: Can you say B-I-G N-E-W-S??? This is definitely big news. I first presented readers to the work of cartoonist, illustrator and professor Marcelo D’Salete back in 2018. It would be understatement to speak of the necessity to share the importance of his work. D’Salete comes out of a new school of black Brazilian writers who are bringing the stories, experiences and history of Afro-Brazilians in literature that has long been ignored by mainstream Brazilian book sellers. But bookstores can no longer ignore the work of Afro-Brazilian writers, D’Salete’s winning of the 2018 Jabuti Award is proof of this.
The Prêmio Jabuti is one of the most traditional awards of Brazilian literature and D’Salete won for his work, in comic book form, on the famed 17th century Quilombo of Palmares, a maroon society constructed by fugitive slaves. The author’s critically acclaimed work portrays the history of resistance to slavery in Brazil from the perspective of black peoples. Cumbe, of 2014, and Angola Janga, of 2017, were both released by the Veneta publishing house. D’Salete spent eleven years doing the research for Angola Janga.
Now comes the news that a 13-episode new mini-series is being adapted for television (via O Globo) to be shown in the United States. Is being handled by Wise Entertainment, a company headed up by Los Angeles-based Brazilian producer Maurício Mota. The team of writers for the series will feature a team of black American and Brazilian writers.
The series based on D’Salete’s book, Angola Janga, tells the story of one of the largest and important quilombos in the history of Brazil. More than 300 years after its eventual destruction, Palmares is still celebrated as one of the greatest symbols of black resistance against slavery during the Empire phase in Brazilian history.
The Angola Janga book won the HQ Mix 2017 award for Best National Special Edition and then, in 2018, D’Salete followed that up by winning Eisner Award, which is considered the ‘Oscar’ award of comic books. He won that award for his book Cumbe, in the category of Best American Edition of Foreign Material. It was released by Fantagraphic, translated under the title of Run for It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom. Then, with all of that success, D’Salete is following up with a television series. The series still no preview set for release, but needless to say, I already can’t wait!
The Netflix series Dear White People, which has a significant following in Brazil and is translated as Cara Gente Branca, has already featured an episode in which the main character tells a brief story about Palmares, its warrior leader Zumbi and his wife Dandara. I can only imagine how huge it’s gonna be seeing a black Brazilian having his work shown in a TV series in the United States! It seems like Marcelo will give us both of what we need: heroes AND good stories!
Marcelo D’Salete: “We don’t need heroes, we need good stories”
Winner of the Eisner Award in 2018, the ‘Oscar’ award of comic books, talks about ‘Angola Janga’, his ambitious graphic story about Palmares and tells how he discovered “the black perspective of Brazilian history” in adolescence through rap
By Naiara Galarraga Gortázar
Marcelo D’Salete says that he was a child when he heard the first mention of the extraordinary story of the greatest uprising of black slaves in the Americas. “Today is November 20, the day of Zumbi dos Palmares!” said a classmate, recalled the comics author. Brazil – one of the last countries in the world to liberate its slaves – celebrated at that time the centenary of abolition (1888). This community, created by fugitives of the sugar mills, and its leader, Zumbi, were protagonists of the most popular episode in the history of black people in Brazil and the monumental history in the comic book Angola Janga (small Angola, in the Quimbundo language).
For many contemporary Brazilians, Palmares symbolizes the resistance, then, against the Portuguese and Dutch settlers; today, in the face of racial injustices. But, paradoxically, few know in detail what happened.
For traditional history “Palmares was something exotic, an enclave of bandits in the jungle. The approach was always “what a good thing that Palmares was destroyed because it threatened the Portuguese empire,” a view supported only in the accounts of the soldiers, the rulers… of those who “had the mission to destroy that community,” says D’Salete (São Paulo, 1979) during an interview in the studio of his house. There, he creates his drawings by hand when he get off his other job. Winner of an Eisner Award in 2018 (the Oscar of comic books) with his previous work, Cumbe, he teaches Visual Arts to adolescents.
Angola Janga tells what Palmares was, but from another perspective. Through the eyes of men and women who survived inhuman work days of up to 20 hours of daily work, those who managed to escape from that hell on earth to create in a corner of colonial Brazil this kind of republic that lasted more than a century and had 20,000 inhabitants scattered in several villages of Serra da Barriga (in the captaincy of Pernambuco, now the State of Alagoas) in the seventeenth century. Its capital was almost as populated as Rio de Janeiro at the time. The illustrator narrates the systematic attacks of the conquerors, the guerrilla warfare unleashed by the inhabitants of Palmares and also everyday life with romances, moments of intense family tenderness, work on crops or trade with indigenous neighbors and settlers.
This work subtly combines Brazilian historical documentation, maps and fiction. As the testimonies of those Africans of the oral tradition didn’t last, the artist recreates the blanks of traditional historiography. “It’s my interpretation, there may be others,” he insists. His is a collective history of more than 400 pages, with no heroes, in which women have a remarkable presence. A story in black and white with very few dialogues. “I didn’t want to make an idealized story, I don’t like heroes. We don’t need heroes here, we need good stories, complex characters,” emphasizes the author, who placed at the center of his interpretation “the goals and interests of these characters, with their doubts, their fears… That was the big challenge.”
D’Salete thus gets into the skin of the chief, Ganga Zumba, to deepen the motives that led him to establish a peace agreement with the Crown of Portugal in 1678, which for the author seems “crucial because it divides the Palmares group.” Soares, who in the Brazilian imaginary is the Judas who betrayed Zumbi, is transformed into a complex character with contradictions, without distorting historical facts such as having achieved the desired freedom after the assassination of the leader on November 20, 1695.
This comic book author didn’t hear of Palmares in the family or study the subject at school. Nor others of his generation. He discovered “the black perspective of Brazilian history and the current Brazilian society” in adolescence, through rap. Those songs that hammered stories of social inequality, discrimination and racism were tracing an account of injustices of which he was beginning to gain consciousness.
With a mother who began working as a domestic maid at the age of ten, D’Salete was the first university student in his family. To bring Angola Janga to the fore, he immersed himself for 11 years in archives, museums and books, although he is not a historian but a graduate of Visual Arts. He has always been a scholar. Humble, he constantly enumerates historians, writers, musicians, illustrators… who have paved the way for him. Because, he emphasizes, Angola Janga is not “the history of Palmares, it is a history of Palmares.” The thousands of people who lived there came from present-day Angola – hence the name – and the Congo. More than 12 million Africans were brought to the Americas by force between 1500 and 1900, including about five million who arrived in Brazil.
The effects of this aberration appear, for example, in the term “negro” to qualify the slaves. In Portuguese, as in Spanish, it does not necessarily imply a pejorative connotation, but D’Salete says that he had to carefully calibrate with translators to other languages. Angola Janga has just been released in Spain.
Just as rap managed to break down the barriers of the most elitist culture for a boy like him, D’Salete hopes that the comic book language will make Palmares reach the general public. Although its price, 90 reais, makes it difficult. One step in that direction is that Angola Janga and Cumbe, another comic book, have been included in the catalog of readings for public and private schools. This represents a breakthrough in a country, like so many, forgetting the contribution of certain groups to the common history. The teaching of Afro-Brazilian history has only been compulsory since 2003. They are achievements that many Brazilians see in grave risk with a president such as the ultra-rightJair Bolsonaro.
D’Salete relates the institutional neglect of the history of the blacks to the structural racism of Brazil. He explains that the descendants of these slaves continue, in many cases, without access to land – they are at the origin of the favelas – without effective access to education… they are treated with a different standard. It recalls how the Army fired 80 shots at a black family car in Rio and killed its father and a recyclable waste picker trying to help them; or the five young men in a car targeted with 111 shots by police. Also black, also in Rio. It was 2015. “There was no commotion … They were from the periphery, from places where there are many black people, where the State sees itself with the right to kill, in a terrorist and genocidal policy,” he laments, after listing similar cases.
Among the countries for which D’Salete will travel to present his latest comic book, he highlights Angola. Where it all began.
Source: El País Brasil