Actor Lázaro Ramos could not watch ‘When They See Us’ Series
Note from BW of Brazil: I often wonder if Americans are aware of just how dominant American media is on a global level. A quick look at all-time topic box office attractions in the UK or France, or the 2018 and 2019 figures in Spain and Brazil gives us just a small example. Consider, for instance that, so far this year, there isn’t a single entry of a Brazilian production on the list of the 26 top grossing films in Brazil. All 26 films are American. When we combine this with the fact that American television also has a large slice of Brazil’s TV market, it should be understandable why so many black Brazilians look to American sources when they seek some sort of representation that they generally don’t find in Brazil’s media. This complete exclusion or vast under-representation applies to numerous other genres, such as literature, for example.
Sure, black Brazilians are slowly gaining more prominence in the media, but this only appears to be the case because any increase in black representation represents an improvement from their invisibility for a number of decades. And if we consider presentations in which the cast is majority black, the selection decreases dramatically. In fact, when there is some production in which the cast is majority black, the media makes a point of highlighting the fact in the headlines as was the case with TV series such as Sexo e as Negas or Subúrbia. Of course, those productions were marred with racial/racist stereotypes (see here and here), but that’s a whole other topic.
Today, we are beginning to see a number of black Brazilian producers and directors who bring black protagonism and stories to the big screen. But even in this case, although the productions are being recognized overseas, black-directed films continue to lack the distribution and marketing investment that introduce these projects to the point that most Brazilians have heard of these productions. As such, this brings back to the original point.
Black Brazilians are far most accustomed to knowing works by African-American directors such as Spike Lee, the recently departed John Singleton or a small list of lesser known black directors than they are the few black Brazilians who have directed feature length or even short films. In fact, it’s difficult to even find a Brazilian film in which a black actor or actress plays the lead character, which is why I am curious to know how the public will react to the upcoming film about Communist revolutionary Carlos Marighella, starring actor/musician Seu Jorge in the lead role. Needless to say, a film like Black Panther could never have been made in Brazil, even if the resources had been available.
In seeking this representation and telling of black stories, it should come as no surprise that many black Brazilians are checking out the recent Netflix production, When They See Us (released asOlhos que Condenam in Brazil), directed by Ava Duvernay. The series based on the infamous 1989 Central Park jogger case in which five black males were accused of raping a white woman and prosecuted the following year. The “Central Park Five”, as they came to be known, were all exonerated after having been imprisoned for several years.
Lázaro Ramos, perhaps Brazil’s most successful black actor of the current generation, recently attempted to watch the series. Attempted being the key word here. No doubt noting the similarities in the manner in which black males are criminalized in Brazil and in the United States, Ramos struggled to watch the series. A reaction that many of us have had when such a gripping story of injustice hits so close to home.
“I found it painful”: Lázaro Ramos could not watch all of ‘When They See Us’
By Silvia Nascimento
In a text for Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, actor Lázaro Ramos admitted that despite the relevance of the film When They See Us (released as Olhos que Condenam in Brazil) by director Ava Duvernay, he was unable to watch the series. “I watched 20 minutes and I stopped,” said the Bahian actor/director.
In another attempt suggested by friends, Lázaro ended up seeing a piece of each chapter and the final half hour of the last of the series produced by Netflix. “I think it’s so painful because it has to do with our daily lives. This agenda jumps in the lap of society every day,” said the actor.
He recalls that in Topo da Montanha (Mountain Top), the MLK-inspired play that he directed and acted in, the concern is always “to suggest a path. And not just stick to the denouncement.”
“Maybe that’s why this series hurt me in a way that didn’t work for me, no, even though it was very well done and executed. In addition to this issue, Ava Duvernay is a director who has already become fundamental,” Ramos finalizes.
Have you managed to watch it?
Source: Mundo Negro