Note from BW of Brazil: Alright, alright, so I’ve been meaning to feature this piece for some time now. I’ve been reading reviews about this YouTube series for several weeks and kept putting off doing a piece on it. Interestingly, as the film Black Panther (released as Pantera Negra in Brazil) was exploding all over the world and taking in over a billion dollars in profits, folks in Salvador, Bahia, were preparing to launch their own black super-
hero heroine. Now let’s be clear, this new series doesn’t have the estimated $200 billion plus dollar budget that went into the making of the action film set in the fictional nation of Wakanda, but after looking at a few episodes of the web-series known as Punho Negro, meaning ‘Black Fist’, I have to wonder what this series would look like with even a budget of one million dollars reais.
As I pointed out a few days ago, we’re living in a time of some incredible creativity, and technology is making it a lot easier to produce great results in endless genres. So whether you’re into producing music, graphics, videos or even full length movies, today the sky’s the limit. If you got the idea, you have a vast array of tools available today to bring your vision to life. Today I present to you another in a long line of independent productions in which Afro-Brazilians are finding their own ways of creating black representation in a media that is almost totally anti-black. Black Panther showed us that black women can be portrayed as some amazing, talented, inventive and powerful warriors. Now check out the Punho Negro!
Bahian producer creates heroine ‘Punho Negro’ (Black Fist) to deal with prejudice
By Vinícius Marques*
Protagonist is a black woman who finds time in her schedule to fight Salvador’s villains.
In just one month in theaters, the film Black Panther (Pantera Negra in Brazil) has reached an expressive billion-dollar mark worldwide. The film is already the seventh biggest box office success in the North American market. But if the King of Wakanda has been conquering fans all over the world, here in Bahia we’ve also got won a superhero, or rather, a heroína negra (black heroine), to represent us.
Punho Negro, meaning Black Fist, a web series produced by the collective Êpa Filmes, features a black woman as a protagonist who finds time in her daily schedule – where she plays the role of mother and wife – to fight the villains of Bahia’s capital city, Salvador.
“We wanted to make a series that talked about the black woman and that we could bring some of these issues of our sexist and racist society and we think of this mulher superpoderosa (overpowering woman). Mainly because we have few women starring in stories, especially black women,” says Murilo Deolino, director of the web series.
The representativeness is present in the series from the title. The title refers to the clenched fist of the Black Panthers, an organization created to combat the oppression of whites in the United States in the 1960s.
“We wanted to bring a strong brand to the question of the representativeness of the povo negro (black people). Punho Negro emerged from this, a title that initially has no defined gender. It could be a man as it can be a woman,” says Murilo.
Carol Alves plays Tereza, Punho Negro. For her, such a production is not just another one about the superhero genre. Carol questions how many audiovisual productions of female heroes exist, and within these, how many are black women?
“It’s not just about being a black heroine, but that blacks are thinking about this script, writing and setting their story from our own view,” says Carol.
This is also a problem that Milena Anjos, producer of the series, brings. “The series is the result of this resistance and lack of space that we black people have to talk about our pains. Most of the films and series that portray us most of the time are not written or directed by black people,” says Milena. “When Murilo proposed to me the idea of writing the series, I was amazed,” she says.
Real black heroines
Carol Alves also reinforces the pride of participating in a production in which she feels represented. “I thought a lot about my mother, my grandmother who raised five children, so it is this matriarchal force that is very strong, that strength of the black woman that we have to cherish, let’s gather all the women who are these heroines of our lives,” she says.
“There are women who have to support the family, they have to take care of the house, they have to raise their children, they educate their children, they are super-heroines.”
The narrative is constructed under a critical eye for the universe of superheroes, which is mostly male and white, and questions standards imposed by the sexist society. In addition to facing villains, Tereza also needs to reconcile her heroine career with the challenges of her personal life. “This is the power of Punho Negro. We have to be strong to resist, to survive, but there are days when we want to throw everything up in the air and do nothing,” says Carol.
“We unfortunately have to have all this time to deal with various issues. You have to know how to take care of the house, you have to take care of your husband, you have to know how to cook, you have to be always beautiful … and it’s totally the opposite of what Punho Negro wants to show,” says Milena.
“We women don’t have to be everything, we don’t have to be strong, we don’t have to be there all the time.”
Heraldo de Deus, an actor who plays the role of Vagner, Tereza’s husband, tells how he also remembered her grandmother and mother when he was invited to participate in the production. “I’ve always been hooked on series, and when I read it, I didn’t even think twice and I already said I was going to do it,” he recalls. Heraldo also highlighted the importance of the collective production process.
About the release date of the web series being precisely on International Women’s Day, Milena provokes. “I think it’s a very cliché date, it gives a voice to the super standard woman, but another member of the collective convinced me that Punho Negro represents the opposite,” she said. And Carol reinforces:
“Why do you want to put us in a specific day?”
The web series already has two episodes recorded in three months of production, which was from December 2017 to February this year. Without public funding or sponsorship, the collective Êpa Filmes, which since 2012 has been working on the audiovisual scene, intends to continue with the episodes that have already been written in response to the public. According to Milena Anjos, the team also aims to seek partners for the series to continue.
The collective Êpa Filmes has been in action since 2012, always bringing in its audiovisual productions social debates and the representativeness of the black people. Their first work is the short film O Menino Invisível (The Invisible Boy), which tells the story of a boy living in the street who is ignored by passersby.
“We talked about an important issue, social invisibility, but using this allegory of the hero, a street kid who created his hero’s uniform from objects of garbage. We made this metaphor of being invisible in the streets,” recalls Murilo Deolino, director of the short film.
Debate with humor
Despite bringing important debates, the Punho Negro series manages to do so lightly and humorously. Murilo says that despite having worked with social issues, humor is something new for them.
“As we’ve already thought about distributing the series on the internet and on social networks, we think of using humor to talk to a wider audience,” says the director.
“The audience gets better at certain topics when they are handled lightly. We don’t open a debate if we come to pointing the finger,” says Milena.
Punho Negro is exhibited on the Facebook page and YouTube channel of the series, with a biweekly release of new episodes, for free. The character also has an Instagram account, which is managed by Punho Negro herself.
The projection is that, for the first season, the series have 13 episodes. The stories take place in the commercial areas and at the border of Salvador. But places like Campo Grande and Avenida Sete will also be part of the filming. Currently the production is recording its third episode.
* Under the supervision of the editor Márcia Moreira