Jéssica Ellen, who plays Rita on the TV show Malhação, was a cleaning woman and says that she’s already been confused for Brazil’s most successful black actress, Taís Araújo
Before getting her first job, Jéssica Ellen heard that the job was too strenuous for her, but she couldn’t refuse the salary: she washed dishes, carry things and unclogged the women’s bathroom in the Outback restaurant of Shopping Leblon (mall) in Rio, all of this in her first day of work as a cleaning woman. At midnight, when she got off the bus and returned home in the famous Rocinha favela(shantytown) (1), she cried in her mother’s lap. Playing Rita on the Globo TV series Malhação, she revealed this story a year later.
“I studied a lot. There was a time that, besides school, I was in two more projects. I did theatre, dance and (studied) English)…Everything in an NGO. I had a scholarship for everything and was even selected in a group of 30 students to do a two-month exchange program in England and France”, the 20-year actress said proudly getting a 100% discount in college in the area of Scenic Arts and had to let go her job to manage the courses.
“I was scared, but I had to go to college. My mother is a domestic and only went to school up to the 4th grade so she could help my grandmother who is illiterate. Almost no one in my family finished high school. I put together a little money and my spiritual center helped me with transportation and meals.”
Without any makeup or even polish on her nails, Jéssica is a realist speaking of her arrival at Globo TV that happened after three auditions. She still lives with three siblings and her mother in Rocinha and goes from there to Projac (2) where she soon realized who it was that she looked like…
“At Globo, I had already heard: ‘Tatá, you are pretty in Cheias de Charme (3)!’ Since I was born, (people) have said that I look like Taís Araújo. When I ran into her, we looked at each other and I was surprised: I look more like her than I do my sister.”
Her godmother, however, is another actress. Jéssica is stuck to Thalma de Freitas, that plays her mother on TV: “She adopted me, bought the dress that I wore in the release of the novela (soap opera) and made me up. When I call her Thalma, she plays: ‘Call your mother mother.’”
Affectionately, Thalma affirms her love for her TV daughter:
“I adopted Jéssica as the daughter that I would like to have! She is a very special girl, quite intelligent, talented and stylish, she enchanted me from the first time we traded e-mails. When we finally met, we became true friends!”
Jéssica said that, when she went to school, she suffered bullying because of her curls, but the actress vented and said the story is different today, “I think that this was back then. There are so many beautiful black actresses like Camila Pitanga, Taís, Sheron Menezes. I think this has changed because of them, they created a space inside the TV.”
1. Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is located in Rio’s South Zone between the districts of São Conrado and Gávea. Rocinha is built on a steep hillside overlooking Rio de Janeiro, and is located about one kilometre from a nearby beach. Most of the favela is on a very steep hill, with many trees surrounding it. 69,356 (census 2010) people live in Rocinha, making it the most populous favela in Brazil.
2. Projac, an abbreviation of Projeto Jacarepaguá (Jacarepaguá Project in English) is the main center of television production of the Organizações Globo and Latin Americas largest audio-visual production center.It opened in 1995, and is located in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
3. Cheias de Charme was a novela that ran on the Globo TV network from April to September of 2012. The series starred actress Taís Araújo as Maria da Penha, one of three domestics around which the series was centered.
I've seen so many beautiful Brazilian women that look exactly like Jessica! How does the industry decide who gets the limited roles for black women when beauty isn't an issue? I guess talent must have a big part.I hope more roles are becoming available to black actresses. All shades of black not just lighter skinned.