Note from BW of Brazil: The topic of the sexual stereotyping of black women is a topic that a number of women have touched upon here over the past few years. And with the annual media depictions of the hip-gyrating black woman so deeply embedded in Brazilian culture during Carnaval and a recent controversial television series whose very name directly associated black women with their sexuality (Sexo e as negras), there has been plenty of reason to focus on the subject over the past seven months.
But what of the images associated with black male sexuality?
Although it’s not as frequently discussed, as we have shown in previously posts (here, here and here), the image is just as problematic. And as concepts of hyper-sexuality and promiscuity can have opposite affects and understandings according to gender, it can also be a challenge to convince black males who are willing participants in the socially-driven image of the well-endowed, sexually insatiable “negão” (big black man) that these connotations, just as those of the black man’s supposed violent nature, can also undermine his desire to be recognized as a full human being rather than all brute, brawl and no brains.
Truth be told, there are probably millions of black men out there who proudly partake in this imagery to satisfy their own egos and to continue amassing sexual conquests with women of whatever race. But what happens in a case in which a black man with no power should become sexually involved with his rich and powerful white female boss? In such a one-sided social relationship, is this black man “the man” or is it possible that he could be symbolically continuing a master/slave relationship and not even perceive it due to his thrill of bedding a woman that society deems his social superior? Of course, there are many factors within such a relationship to seriously consider such a dynamic. But a new prime-time novela actually presented such a relationship and, typical to the black man’s place in the social hierarchy, its ending wasn’t a surprise. In fact, it should have been expected. Here’s how one viewer saw it.
“You can be a man in bed, but outside of it …” : the tragedy of hyper-sexualization of the black man in Babilônia novela
I learned about Val Perré’s work as an actor through the big spectacular Ogun: Deus e Homem (Ogun: God and Man), of the Compania NATA de Teatro (NATA Theatre Company). Since then, Val Perré has shown the Bahian public that interpreting the Lord of wars and iron, one which opens the door, sticking heads and navigating in rivers of enemies’ blood, is not for everyone. Despite all criticism of the press at the time, I always believed Val’s work and talent and I began to follow his career, which is currently situated at Rede Globo (Globo TV network). However, I always found myself in a kind of game of perceptions when Val Perré appeared in a very insufficient manner in some novela (soap opera), series or movie, as most of the black actresses and actors who can hardly manage to appear on Brazilian television. He was the henchman Firmino in Saramandaia. It was the chauffeur José Maria in O Rebu. He was the security guard in Tim Maia – O Filme (The Movie) (1). For the one who played Ogun, these characters, even though very important for the professional resume of the actor, don’t fully display his great talent. It is still the great fate of a racist and stigmatizing dramaturgy for us black men and women, artists or not, that litany of “representativeness” we know too well.
by Daniel Dos Santos for Portal Geledés
A few days ago I was struck by the image of Val Perré stamped on the list of Rede Globo for the premiere of the Babilônia (meaning Babylon) novela (soap opera), which took place on last Monday the 16th. The dissatisfaction beforehand had taken me, as Val would again play a character category that is directed especially to black actors: marginalized and subordinate roles, ensuring the maintenance of the status quo of stereotypical media representations of black men present in the collective imagination of the public Globo audience. In this case, the chauffeur of the millionaire businessman Evandro, played by Cássio Gabus Mendes, and his fiancée Beatriz, played by Glória Pires. But the problem with the Cristóvão character is even greater. The character Beatriz manifested in her archetype a nymphomania that is fed through her fetish for shall we say, “unconventional” men: in addition to creeping in one of the opening scenes with a carpenter, the character becomes sexually involved with the Cristóvão character in a sequence of sweeping scenes of erotic fantasies and betrayal. But Cristóvão is black.
Let’s highlight some possible positive aspects of the Cristóvão character. Cristóvão is a family man who has the responsibility of a patriarch of support for his wife and children with his chauffeur’s salary. However, the Cristóvão’s family is plagued by problems in the plot because his wife is ill and his daughter, played by actress Camila Pitanga, works madly to pay for a pre-university course and feed her dream of entering the university. The black family is shown again as a tense and problematic nucleus, always fleeing the ideal of non black elitist family that is proposed by the other main nuclei. Even being a black patriarch configured into traditional gender values dictated by the Brazilian patriarchy, Cristóvão is a dedicated man and is concerned as much with the future of his daughter, as he is with the health of his wife, always guaranteeing their survival. However, Cristóvão reveals himself in a covert way in the course of the chapter. He corresponds to the innuendos of the Beatriz character; he accepts the proposal of fetishistic betrayal of his marriage; he has sex is cathartic way; he ends up constructing a parallel and artificial relationship that is destroyed along with his life after Beatriz murders him because of the blackmail of the Inês character, played by Adriana Esteves, who threatens her with videos caught in a company party of her fiancée.
I believe that the participation of Val Perré in Babilônia ended beforehand, however the issues that his character exposed at primetime continue to plague us black men. The symbolic hyper-sexualization of the black man is the main device used by the novela authors to once again stereotype male representations present in television dramas. This is evidenced when the Cristóvão character decides to manipulate his extramarital relationship in order to be able to save his wife, requesting money for her emergency heart surgery. “You can be a man in bed, but outside…” is the line that summarizes the sexual objectification and dehumanization that Cristóvão character suffers in the plot. The character Beatriz situates Cristóvão in his place as subordinate: black, driver, lover, blackmailer, opportunistic. The meteoric and tragic fate of the character is determined by his own boss that kills him and excludes him from her game of interests and desires.
Given the Cristóvão murder scene, a semi-anachronistic image automatically popped into my head: the Beatriz character might well be Cristóvão’s sinhá (slave master’s wife) and Cristóvão her slave if the plot possessed a slave colonial context. A sinhá that in addition to exploiting her slave with free will, propriety and domain (especially sexual), she is the master of his destiny. Even with the great silencing of the history about the relations of the women of the Brazilian colonial elite and the black male enslaved population, debris and remnants of slavery in the Brazilian collective imagination make us create projections and reflect on how much these representations can be highly dangerous to the process of affirmation and (re) empowerment of the black man in Brazil, comprising among its dynamics the (self) recognition and the construction of self-consciousness and its ethnic-racial values. Reflecting on such a question, the British sociologist Paul Gilroy in his work Entre Campos characterized this phenomenon as a “New Racism”, which offers constantly through its technology (in this case the television) “doubtful forms” of (re) invention of the black male in our postmodern times. The hyper-sexualization of the black man is one of the damn products of the racist symbolic exchange of Rede Globo, which continues to sell stereotypes to its audience.
It’s not today that I warn about this, loving black men. Although black hyper-sexualization (which in the novela will be once again exposed by the Regina character, played by Camila Pitanga) can turn into a two-way street of advantages and disadvantages for us as warns the philosopher Cornel West in Questão de Raça, we can end up being murdered symbolically as the Cristóvão character in this post-colonial Babilônia.
Daniel Dos Santos (DanDan) has a degree in History from the State University of Bahia – Campus V, a founding member and resident researcher of the Interdisciplinary Center of African and Afro-Brazilian Studies (AFROUNEB). He is currently a Masters student of the Multidisciplinary Program of Post-Graduate Studies in Culture and Society at the Federal University of Bahia.
Source: Portal Geledés