Note from BW of Brazil: The scenario behind an upcoming novela (soap opera) on Brazil’s top TV network is becoming a soap opera in itself. In a follow up report to a story presented here last week, the Rede Globo television network recently came under fire (again) due to the casting of its new 9pm soap opera. You see, it’s bad enough that Globo continues its decade long under-representation of black actors in its novelas, but the lineup of the new soap was especially difficult to accept due to the fact that the cast is nearly 90% white while the state of Bahia, where the novela is set, has a 76% black population and is known both in the country and around the world for its strong Afro-Brazilian cultural influence. Recent developments in the network’s stance on the controversy have been intriguing for a few reasons. Let’s take a look…
‘Segundo Sol’ actors have emergency meeting at Globo to question the lack of blacks in novela
Television network admits little representation and promises changes
Last Wednesday, this columnist received information that a meeting was being held with the cast of Segundo Sol to talk about the lack of black characters in Globo TV’s upcoming 9pm novela (soap opera). In addition, there was a supposed e-mail sent only to white actors explaining how they should respond to the press on this issue, since the presentation of the drama to the journalists happens next Tuesday. Actor Lázaro Ramos, who is not even in the cast of the series, embraced the cause!
The column sought out Central Globo de Comunicação, which clarified the issue. “There was no meeting of the cast with the Communication; there was, and never was, an e-mail from Globo with instructions to the cast on this subject; at the time of the Segundo Sol casting, names such as Taís Araújo, who couldn’t do it because of being on Mister Brau (TV series), and Camila Pitanga, who does not feel ready to return to the novelas, after the accident that caused the death of Domingos Montagner at the end of (novela) Velho Chico.
On Wednesday, a group of actors from the novela sought the director of the DAA (Development and Artistic Accompaniment), Monica Albuquerque, to know the company’s position on the comments critical to the escalation of the drama that circulated on social networks over the weekend. They heard from Globo that a story such as Segundo Sol, also because it happens in Bahia, brings many opportunities and, undoubtedly, reflections on diversity in society, which will be addressed throughout the series, which is structured in two phrases.
The critical demonstrations that Globo has seen so far are mainly based on the disclosure of the first phase of the novela, which focuses on the plot that will unleash the others.
GLOBO ADMITS LACK OF BLACK ACTORS
“We are attentive, listening and following these comments, confident that we still have a lot of history ahead of us. It has been stated that, in fact, we still have less representation than we would like, and we will work to evolve with this issue. It is important to clarify that conversations like those that happened on Wednesday are commonplace and even encouraged in a company that values transparency and dialogue with its employees.”
To summarize: Globo admitted that it has few blacks in the novela, but promised that it will change this picture in the second phase of the plot.
Blacks will have prominence in soap operas when white people press
Broadcasters to adopt more diversity only under pressure from TV stars
By Jeff Benício
Actors have a lot of power on Brazilian television. But they don’t know how to use it to promote policies for the benefit of their own class. At the moment, there is a certain mobilization due to the vote in the STF that may extinguish the requirement of professional artist registration, called DRT.
In general, ego and personal interests speak louder and there is little unity in defense of the interests of those who work in TV, theater and film. The negligible presence of blacks in novelas (soap operas) is a consequence of this lack of cohesion. The recurring controversy on television racism once again made headlines on because of Segundo Sol, Globo’s upcoming 9pm novela.
Set in Bahia, the state with the most blacks in Brazil, the plot has no afrodescendentes (African descendants) among the protagonists. The few blacks selected will be seen in secondary roles. Some as domestics of rich whites, as usual. Asked (about the issue), Globo became indifferent at first, dropping one of those predictable bureaucratic press releases.
The stance of the channel changed when actors from Segundo Sol requested a meeting with a production director and challenged the absence of blacks in the cast. The pressure of some stars had an effect. Globo now says it will review future castings to expand ethnic diversity.
It is a step forward, albeit timid, to the demand that the Brazilian population, made up of 54% of pretos e pardos (blacks and browns), is better represented in the most powerful TV shows in the country. Movimento Negro (black movement) groups have previously protested against this frequent racial disparity in tele-dramaturgy. In practice, little progress has been made.
It is now seen that a chorus of voices from white actors was needed for Globo to really be sensitive to the cause. It is impossible not to parallel the very liberation of the slaves in Brazil. It took the pressure of European whites, from countries in which slavery had long since been abolished, so that the Empire finally promulgated the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) here. Brazil is shamefully among the last five nations to end the regime of black slavery. After 130 years, racism still remains intrinsic to Brazilian society.
The reduced presence of blacks in novelas is indisputable proof of a social problem of little discussion and difficult solution. At Globo, there are examples of successful black leading roles. Taís Araújo shone as Preta, the main character of Da Cor do Pecado, a novel broadcast at 7pm in 2004.
At the moment, the actress and her husband, Lázaro Ramos, are the leads of another successful production: the series Mister Brau, in its fourth season, always with critical compliments and a good audience. Taís herself had broken the racial barrier well before reaching the Globo network. She starred in the hit Xica da Silva on Manchete TV between 1996 and 1997.
There is no point in saying that most of the soap opera makers prefer white-skinned actors in prominent roles in novelas. There was a noisy case of a rejected black protagonist. It was the Helena character of Viver a Vida (2009), a character played by Taís Araújo herself. But the reaction of the public was because of dramaturgic and dogmatic problems, not by the skin tone of the actress.
Helena was a character without charisma and carried the weight of having an abortion so as not to miss a golden chance in her modeling career – an attitude that would certainly have been disapproved by the conservative viewer even though if the actress were white.
In defining the actors in the cast of a soap opera, any broadcaster takes care that it is a very expensive product and can generate considerable damages if it does not win over the audience. However, always investing in the same atores brancos (white actors) only as a guarantee is, in addition to an uncomfortable and non-creative attitude, an unfortunate contribution to the invisibility of blacks in the most powerful vehicle of mass communication in the country.
This will only change under pressure from the actors themselves, from the press and from the consumer of fiction on TV. Hopefully, this initiative by the artists of Segundo Sol will generate more than a ‘mea culpa’ from Globo. An effective attitude that promotes significant inclusion in the next productions of the channel is expected.
Television has only to gain by reproducing the beautiful diversity existing neste País tão miscigenado (in such a mixed country).
Note from BW of Brazil: The typical, responses that companies offer when accused of racist practices are to be expected, but both of the two articles above failed to point out a glaring contradiction in Globo’s response. In another response, the network claimed that the reason for the lack of black actors in the upcoming novela was due to the fact that two of its biggest stars, Taís Araújo and Camila Pitanga weren’t available to participate in the new soap opera. Another note issued by the network read as follows:
“The criteria of selection of a novela are technical and artistic. Globo doesn’t make selections of its works by skin color but by the adequacy of the profile of the character, talent and availability of the cast. And it believes that this is the most correct way of doing this.”
The fact is, both responses simply don’t hold up and come across as simply flimsy attempts to calm the flames of the heat. Why? First, as the cast is about 87% white with maybe 3-4 black actors, adding two more names to the cast will hardly balance out the lack of faces that would more accurately portray the racial representation of black Bahia. The second statement is also BS because, although they have been few and far between, when Globo wants to, it has presented TV series with primarily black actors as we’ve seen in series such as the highly criticized Sexo e as Negas, the equally problematic Subúrbia, which it promoted as having a 90% black cast, the critically acclaimed Cidades dos Homens (City of Men) as well as the current successful series Mister Brau. Are we to believe that there simply weren’t many qualified white actors available for those series as well or would it be a more logical conclusion that the network simply decided to create series with predominantly black casts?
I’m pretty sure we can all agree on the response to this question.
The simple fact is that Globo, like other TV networks, has the authority to put whatever content it so desires on its airwaves, and producing a new series with a cast that does not accurately portray the racial representation of one of the nation’s blackest states it simply a decision to continue the same sort of racial exclusion that the network has practiced since its beginnings. Globo knows it and increasingly, so does its viewers.