Zezé Motta is considered one of the most important black actresses in Brazil having appeared in more than 70 films and television series since 1968.
Born in a small town in the northern state of Rio de Janeiro, the actress and singer moved with her family to the capital of Rio when he was only two years old. Zeze Motta attended drama school Tablado, where she began her acting career in 1967, starring in the play Roda-viva by singer/songwriter Chico Buarque. In 1969, she starred in Figaro, Figaro, Arena Canta Zumbi and A vida escrachada of Joana Martini and Baby Stompanato. In 1972, she participated in Orfeu Negro and in 1974 starred in Godspell, among other theatrical productions.
Her singing career began in 1971 in nightclubs in São Paulo. At first it became clear that Samba was her true passion, Zezé decided to explore other styles of music re-recording songs by popular artists Rita Lee, Caetano Veloso and Luiz Melodia, but yielded to Samba shortly after with the album Negritude which boosted her musical career .
Two career highlights are her appearances in soap opera A Próxima Vítima (1995) which featured the first middle class black Brazilian family in Brazil’s television history and Xica da Silva (1976), a film about a real 18th century slave that would attain wealth and prestige due to her relationship with a Portuguese diamond contractor. In Xica, Zezé became the the first black female protagonist of Brazilian cinema
Perhaps the lowest point of her acting career occurred in 1985 when she portrayed the role of the arquitect, Sônia Nascimento Rangel, who was involved in an interracial relationship with white actor Marcos Paulo’s character, Cláudio in the soap opera, Corpo a corpo. Although Brazilian elites had for many years declared the country a “racial democracy” where racism didn’t exist (this in spite of numerous reports to the contrary) and interracial relationships were far more common than in Brazil than in the US, with the development of the on-screen romance, Paulo’s voice mailbox became flooded with messages of disapproval of the relationship. According to the messages, Brazilians thought that Paulo must have been needing money very badly to kiss Motta in the mouth, and that he should either wash his mouth with soap or antiseptic after kissing that “horrible” black woman.
Motta is also a singer and has released 13 LPs/CDs since the beginning of her music career in 1974. Also recognizing the under-representation of Afro-Brazilian artists, models and actors, in 1984, Motta founded CIDAN, the Center of Information and Documentation of the Black Artist, with the goal of promoting the insertion of black artists into the market of their perspective artistic field.
In her latest CD Negra Melodia released in 2011, by DJ Zé Pedro’s Jóia Moderna record label, the singer performs the repertoire of two great Brazilian songwriters. Taking as references the singer/songwriters Luiz Melodia and Jards Macalé, Negra Melodia is possibly Zezé’s most characteristic album.