Invited to participate in new TV series, singer/actress Negra Li shocked with the whiteness of the cast: “It’s not normal”
Actress shocked with SBT’s new white cast: ‘It’s not normal’
It’s been a while since singer/actress Negra Li’s name appeared on a post here at BW of Brazil, so it was great to learn that one of the principal actresses of the film and series Antônia will soon be making a return to the spotlight. But being away from TV screens for 11 years, Negra Li was surprised to discover that things hadn’t changed much in terms of diversity at Brazil’s top TV networks.
Happy at having receive an invitation from SBT-TV and Disney to appear in in the Z4 series that was to debut on July 25th, her joy turned into a bit of disappointment, or perhaps shock when
“I’m loving it, but I feel lonely, you see such a cast, all white. It’s not normal.”
Well, in reality, it is pretty normal. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Brazilian TV show make its debut with few or no black actors in its roster. Remember that we just dealt with a similar issue in terms of the country’s top TV station, Globo, when it debuted a new novela but attracted attention for the wrong reason. You see, the series called Segundo Sol was set in the northeastern state of Bahia, the state most known for it’s large black population, which was why it’s few black actors caught many people by surprise. But this is actually business as usual form Brazilian TV. After all, it’s not just Globo. A report recently showed that the other two of Brazil’s top three TV networks have nothing to brag about in terms of black representation themselves. And as this is pretty much the norm, perhaps Li shouldn’t have been so surprised.
“It’s because people are used to it, it’s so ingrained, they don’t realize it, and I, because I’m black, I try to see myself in other people who look like me. And I’m sure that at home, the children, the young people think the same thing when they watch TV. It’s lacking representativeness, it’s important that we see ourselves on TV,” the actress said.
In the past, Li had explained how she, like other little black girls, had always wanted to be a Paquita. Back in the day, Xuxa Meneghel, one of Brazil’s most popular and beloved TV personalities was the host of a series of children’s TV variety shows. And several of those programs featured an all-girl song and dance group known as the Paquitas.
But the Paquitas were mini versions of Xuxa herself. All white, blonds and brunettes. Negra Li recently explained how watching Xuxa and the Paquitas shaped how she saw representation on TV, because white skin was and continues to be the norm on Brazilian broadcasting networks.
“I remember when I was a child and I didn’t see [blacks on TV] and I was desperate. I wanted to be a Xuxa Paquita and it was impossible for me. It was my childhood dream. When Adriana Bombom came up, I said, ‘Wow, I could be there.’”
Actress/dancer Adriana Bombom, also black, was later added to the show and even though she had a regular presence on the program, she was clearly not a Paquita and some people saw her role as being a stereotype of the sensuous black woman, a contrast to the wholesome projection of the Paquitas.
“I know how important representativeness is, and I’m happy to play that role in Z4 in a Disney series, which will be shown in many countries,” she commented.
For her role in Z4 series, Li portrays the seamstress Fátima, a woman who is left alone with few resources by her husband to raise their two children, Jéssica, played by Vivi Santos, and Paulo, played by Gabriel Santana. In the series, her son is a member of a boy-band.
“My children, in the series, have pele morena (light brown skin), a lighter tone than mine. I feel lonely in many works, but it’s very important that I accept doing it, regardless of being a stereotype, a poor, an unstructured family and this is also tiring. It’s difficult.”
Li touches on a number of topics here that are common occurrences in the portrayal of black characters in Brazilian novelas and TV series including the ongoing promotion of the embranquecimento (whitening) of blackness. A long-time complaint of Afro-Brazilian actors as well as critics of the media is that, often times, black characters are always shown as poor, working low skill/wage jobs and usually without any family background on the program. According to her phenotype, Negra Li would be considered a black woman by most people, but the actors that are cast as her children both have a racially ambiguous look which is in line with Brazil’s decades long promotion of darker-skinned Afro-Brazilians producing whiter looking children with whiter/lighter partners with the ultimate goal of the eventual disappearance of all traces of blackness in the Brazilian population as the ultimate goal.
“I know people are accustomed to seeing blacks in these real-life roles, but that’s not all. We could help people see it differently. If TV is a showcase, it can change that concept and show that we are not only in the jails, in the favelas, and that we are in other positions. Who knows, maybe one day I don’t get a role of just any person, not of someone black,” she said, laughing.
Li has long wanted to expand her possibilities as an actress, but she is mostly known for her musical performances. Since 2005, she has released three full-length CDs, participated in a soundtrack, an EP, released several singles, videos and made a number of guest appearances on songs by other artists. Her only foray into the realm of acting was the series and film Antônia more than a decade ago. But not having more experience under her belt as an actress is not due to a lack of effort, as she explains.
“I’ve done a lot of auditions, you know? A lot of auditions for Globo. I’ve done auditions that I didn’t pass and the person who took the role didn’t do well and was never called for other jobs. I really like it when they give me the opportunity and they work me to do the character, because I’m sure I’ll handle it. Auditions are difficult. Sometimes I was in the middle of a tour, with my head somewhere else,” she recalls.
The story line of Z4 is about four talented young men who dream of musical stardom. The series centers around a music producer who can’t seem to catch a break in the music industry after having led a number of performers to national stardom. The producer, played by actor Werner Schunemann, hasn’t landed an artist on the charts in years and no one’s willing to help him get back on, including stars he once put on the map. Determined to prove that he’s still got what it takes, he decides to put together a boy band consisting of four young and talented young men. The series is a joint venture between SBT, Disney and Formata Produções.