“Where are the white people?!?” New television commercial by Brazilian cosmetics chain receives 40% dislikes on You Tube. Why? It featured a black family on a Father’s Day ad
Sometimes I marvel at the myriad of ways that Brazil shows its adherence to whiteness as supreme representative of humanity. And before anyone comes here making an accusation that I am speaking of every single Brazilian citizen, let’s be clear. It is not necessary to condemn an entire country in order to point out certain elements, trains of thought, beliefs and preferences that continuously seem to come out in one form or another.
The reactions to the new ad by Boticário is a case in point. A few days ago, when I chose one of the numerous You Tube videos that I seek on a daily basis, I rolled my eyes as yet another commercial started before I could get to watch the video that I chose. I rolled my eyes because advertising on You Tube is a double-edged sword. The reason being is that, on the negative side, the commercials I usually see attached to the videos, like television, NEVER advertise products that I would ever consider buying, as such, the 5-30 second, or sometimes 2-minute video is a complete waste of my time.
On the other hand, I know there are probably hundreds of thousands of people that could be earning a substantial income from the commercials being featured before their videos, which is cool. Why not get a piece of this advertising pie? I’m actually thinking of returning to You Tube myself in the near future!
Anyway, in a past post, I wrote of how I note that Boticário is a company that seems to go the extra mile in featuring diversity in its advertising. A rarity among companies in Brazil who see no problem with ALWAYS hiring persons with white skin to represent their products. Remember the post in which I shared a conversation I had with a black director of advertising at a prominent São Paulo agency. He detailed how one of the company’s long-time clients specifically requested that the black person in the draft of the ad that the company created for a campaign be removed from the photo?
When you look at ads in Brazil, one could argue that this is pretty much the standard with the advertising industry as a whole. And why would that be? We may find the answer in the new Boticário ad.
As I said, as a video I chose to watch from You Tube was loading, and after being irritated with yet another ad, my perspective changed when the new Father’s Day commercial aired. First, I saw a black man talking about how he was born to be a father. Having already caught my attention for the mere fact that a black man was playing a prominent role in a commercial, the following 25 seconds or so were even more surprising. (See the commercial here)
Usually, if there is a black man or black woman featured in an ad for a brief second, their presence is usually drowned out by the overwhelming presence of white-skinned persons that take over the clip, re-creating the old “fly in the milk” motif. If there’s a black man, he’s usually paired with a white woman. If it’s a black woman, she’s often paired with a white man. Or even a mannequin! But surprise, surprise. As this commercial continued, I saw black children AND, what….A black wife too!?! Unbelievable! Impressive if not, unfortunately, unusual.
And perhaps that’s what many other people were thinking as well. A white couple? THAT’s normal. A mixed couple? Acceptable? But a BLACK COUPLE?!?! WTF?!?!
I’m beginning to think that Humberto Baltar was on to something when he candidly spoke about his experiences in Rio de Janeiro. Baltar is the owner of an English school and does well for himself, so one would think he and his black girlfriend would be well-accepted in middle-class settings and nice restaurants. Well, not exactly. According to Humberto, he often notices uncomfortable stares from people when he and his girlfriend enter these places. Often times, he and his girlfriend are the only black couple in such settings that are usually filled with mostly white and to a lesser degree, mixed couples. But black man/black woman? It’s a rarity. For him, it seems that black couples offend people, a reaction he doesn’t notice with white or mixed couples.
This thing of preferring that any black person is matched with a white person also touches on an opinion of Nana Raiza, who opined that whites maintain a position of power in a affective/sexual bondage relationship over blacks that appears to be offensive when blacks choose to love their own. Could it be that Brazil has a deep down fear of black couples? As miscegenation has been promoted since the late 19th century with the intended goal of black disappearance, could an all-black family on television be deemed a “threat”? Could it be that some people know that as long as they keep feeding black people this rhetoric of “love has no color” and “we are all equal” that they will remain in a position of submission and continue to contribute to their own demise? Hmmm…
After the commercial debuted on You Tube on July 26th, the thumbs up and thumbs down seemed to reflect the discomfort with seeing a black man, black wife and black children. Within a few days, the video had attracted 18 thousand likes, but also 12 thousand dislikes. What is it that people could have possibly disliked about this ad? It featured a friendly, smiling black man, being silly, being present and being a father with his children in a family setting. A big no-no in Brazil, apparently. Reading the comments it would seem that this was EXACTLY the problem with the commercial, with dozens of people complaining because the ad featured an exclusively black cast. What other conclusion should we take from this especially when in 2016, Boticário aired a similar ad for Father’s Day, the one difference being that the family in that ad was portrayed by all white actors. The result? 9 thousand 700 likes and 1 thousand 200 dislikes. In other words, when an all-white family was portrayed, it earned an 89% approval rating. When an all-black family was portrayed, it received a 40% negative rating.
2016 Boticário Father’s Day commercial
In the comments of the new ad, people asked why there are no white people in the ad and asked if there aren’t any “equal rights”. Another comment read that Boticário lacked creativity, was racist and needed to “mix up” this family. Another question asked if Boticário was making perfumes for people of African descent. Denying any accusation of being racist, the comment read that it was “only a question of respect.”
I found the whole thing to be utterly absurd. Absurd due to the fact that day after day for decades, one could turn on a TV on any Brazilian TV network and see nothing but white faces in not only the commercials, but among news journalists and many of the ever popular novelas, yet one never hears complaints when the faces are white or almost all-white. How many black faces did you see in the stands when Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014? As various studies have shown, this is the norm for advertising in Brazil. The discourse seems to be, openly promote the idea of mixture and “we Brazilians are all one people” while really preferring to see white faces represent Brazil as a whole in all genres.
Another thing that I find interesting in this latest controversy in the land of “racial democracy” is the contrast in reactions when compared with a commercial that aired on American screens five years ago. In that ad for the popular breakfast cereal Cheerios, viewers saw a black man, a white woman and a little girl of mixed race representing an American family. Remember? Almost from the moment it began airing the red flags started flying from thousands of viewers who rejected the ad. In contrast, Brazilians reject a TV commercial because it showed an ALL-BLACK family without the presence of one white person. No white wife/girlfriend. No white husband/boyfriend. No white child.
When we look at this from a historical perspective, Brazilian reactions seemed to echo a prediction made at the 1911 Universal Congress of Races held in London. At that Congress, Brazilian anthropologist João Batista Lacerda proclaimed that within 100 years, black people will have completely disappeared due to generations of miscegenation with whiter partners while the mixed-race population will have dwindled down to a mere 3%. In other words, Brazil can deal with persons of mixed race as a stepping stone to whiteness, but blackness has GOT TO GO!
How else would you explain this hailstorm of hate over a harmless commercial? I mean, we have a smiling, non-threatening black man surrounded by his black family; a setting that is very hard to see in Brazil’s media. No open promotion of miscegenation as what we usually in the novelas and commercials. The black man is not presented as a thief, a criminal or violent; tried and true stereotypes of black men broadcast everyday on networks such Globo, Record and SBT.
Amazing. All of this over just one television commercial. Just imagine if black Brazilians were to get their own television network. Can’t let that happen, right?