BW of Brazil: In Brazil, as in any other country, myths and stereotypes hold a certain sway in the imagination of the society. In a recent interview, a Brazilian actor alluded to a very well-known stereotype in regards to the sexuality of black men. In his book O Negro Brasileiro e o cinema (The Black and the Cinema) cinema historian João Carlos Rodrigues, identifies 13 recurring stereotypes of black characters in the history of Brazilian film. For this piece, we will concentrate on one: the “negão”, or the big, black man. According to Rodrigues, the negão is an archetype based on the perverted, insatiable sexual appetite attributed to black men. The negão, as a caricature, is the bloodthirsty rapist, the terror of parents of households and the social avenger.
Examples include: the unscrupulous and violent Ismael who rapes his wife in Nelson Rodrigues’ Anjo Negro (1948), Bonitinha mas ordinária (Cute but Ordinary) (1963 and 1980) in which a woman being raped by five black men is part of the plot and A menina e o estuprador (The Girl and the Rapist) (1982). Along with the stereotype of hyper-sexual black man, the violent black man is also a tried and true stereotype in television series as well as film (see here for example). The novela in which the actor discussed in this post was featured on this blog back in June due to the fact that there were no black actors on the series out of a cast of 56 characters. Thus, as has been presented in previous posts here, Afro-Brazilians are either presented in very stereotypical manners or not presented at all.
Mateus Solano and the hyper-sexualization of the black man: A negão for Félix to call his own
by Higor Faria
It’s not from today that the Walcyr Carrasco novela, Amor à vida, has caused controversy in terms of ethnic and racial issues. A few months ago, the author received complaints from viewers that there was no black (character/actor) in the cast. True, there was no black (character/actor) cast in the serial. After these complaints, they called (actress) Ana Carbatti to play the role of a doctor who was not previously in the synopsis. In a country where more than 50% of the population is negra (IBGE), it’s at the minimum strange that we don’t have any people from this ethnicity in a plot with so many actors, but this is not the discussion.
The controversy arises because of a statement of actor Mateus Solano** – the main antagonist (and highlight) of the plot. In an interview, the actor said “I even came to think that Félix would be arrested and find a negão (big, black man) (1) in jail that would make him happy, or something like that.” At that point, I (can) hear Ali Kamel screaming “we are not racist” (2). But nothing takes my head thoughts away from Solano’s comment (conscious or not) based on ancient pillars of stereotyping to stigmatize big and burly black men – or, as the actor himself classifies him: the negão.
Over the centuries, many stereotypes were constructed and reproduced about the black body, such as the mãe preta (black mother/mammy), the sensual mulata, the negro de alma branca (negro with a white soul), and the negão. These stereotypes are not any motives of pride and only serve to stigmatize and reduce the figure of the black that carries it and the group to which he belongs.
The negão – the tall, strong, burly black man – conferred two main features, hyper-sexualization and violence. The first translates into the supposed giant penis and excessive sexual vigor that would make this guy a much more virile being more than the white man, and so desired by women and homosexuals (such as the Félix, character, as insinuated by Solano). At first, this feature may bring a certain status to the negão, but there is a cruel process that reduces him to a mere sexual object. This reduction to the sexual thing removes the legitimacy of the negão to something “greater and nobler” than tesão (sexual desire), love – he is not allowed to love or be loved.
The second feature, the violence attributed to that black man is represented by transgression, by the rude, angry and explosive manner that doesn’t form itself to the ideas of European civilization. And, in Solano’s comments, approaches a civil offense that will lead to jail, where most of the inmates are those of other black bodies.
When one assigns hyper-sexualization and violence to an individual, it pulls him away from the human and brings him closer to the thing. That is, it animalizes this black man, putting him within a space of sexual instinct that puts him on the brink of “being in the rut”, of less rational and less legitimacy of a relationship that involves love.
My reading of Mateus Solano’s discuourse is that a tall, strong, black man is predisposed to violent acts (because of this he is imprisoned) and has a huge sexual appetite, just like his penis. And just like Félix, will have his punishment and his redemption. There is another problem in the comment of the actor which reduces the ideal of homosexual happiness to sex, but that’s a topic for another time. The problem presented here is the reduction nowadays of pillars of racist stereotypes from the era of slavery.
Again: how is it possible that a public person imprisons the black man, hyper-sexualizes him and turn him into a fate of a villain who has thrown a newborn in a dumpster, ordered the killing of other people and committed other crimes?
Hello, Mateus Solano! Let’s stay tuned, because there is racism when one reproduces a discourse that stigmatizes a segment of the black population and still more when that comments supposes that a negão be a fair fate (punishment and pleasure) for a criminal like Félix!
Hello, Ali Kamel, it’s time to re-read the discourse of “we are not racists!” (2)
* – Léo Santana is the lead singer of Parangolé, a Pagode band from the heavily Afro-Brazilian state of Bahia. Formed in 1997, the band became one of the principal groups of the genre. The group is currently led by Léo Santana and is mainly known by its hit single “Rebolation”.
** – In the Globo TV 9pm novela Amor à Vida, actor Mateus Solano plays the villain of the plot, Félix, a homosexual who uses his wife and son to look respectable.
1. The Brazilian prison population is the fourth largest on the planet. Brazil follows only the United States, China and Russia. According to data from the Departamento Penitenciário Nacional (National Penitentiary Department), linked to the Ministério da Justiça (Ministry of Justice), the Brazilian prison population is 469, 000 prisoners (2010 stat). In Brazil, one of the aspects that reveal the oppression of black people is the prison population, which is mostly black. According to Timothy Ireland, representative of the educational division of UNESCO in Brazil, data from the Ministry of Health indicate that the profile of the majority of prisoners in Brazil, are young people between 18 and 34 years old, poor, black, and with low education represent 73.83% of the total prison population. More than half 66%, did not finish primary school.
2. Released in 2006, at the height of discussions on racial quotas in Brazilian public universities, the book Não Somos Racistas (We Are Not Racists) (Nova Fronteira) was one of the most discussed publications of the year. Written by journalist and sociologist Ali Kamel, the volume caused quite a controversy by supporting the idea that Brazilians are not racist and what we could become by creating quotas.
Much of the indignation was against the author’s reasoning, arguing that although it happens covertly, racial prejudice is still a common practice and can be considered one of the factors that define the socioeconomic characteristics of the country. Many criticized the text for having a personal tone, without the use of research and in depth analysis. On the other hand, the publication was adopted by the people against quotas, which began to use it as the principal basis of the heated debates that affected the majority of the conversation circles of the time, which launched the popularity of the book – be it to quote him or to refute him – to the heights.