Note from BW of Brazil: Actress Juliana Alves has been previously featured here on the blog and has made a name for herselfin various novelas and during annual Carnaval celebrations in Rio de Janeiro. Juliana is also not afraid to speak her mind on social ills, disappointments and problems in Brazilian society, particularly those facing Afro-Brazilians in general and especially black women. In the piece below, taken from a special issue of TPM magazine on Afro-Brazilians and racism, Alves reveals her thoughts on the struggle for justice and representation.
A desire for change
by Felipe Maia
The actress Juliana Alves, 32, has been a member of the NGO Criola and in the recent Carnival, she embodied the “Rainha de Bateria” (Queen of the Drumbeat) for the Unidos da Tijuca Samba School. She believes that black women are the most vulnerable in society.
“I could be the contradiction in person. I have experienced many instances that almost made me give up being the ‘Queen of the Drumbeat’ in Carnival, examples of a sexist universe worshiped in Brazil, but I think it’s important that our culture have its own identity. When I place myself in front of a samba school, a structure in which the woman is often devalued, I experience my culture as a political act. I try to position myself as part of the school, but, above all, as a black woman that deserves respect.
Dance was my first channel of expression, since I was little. My parents have always been very appreciative of the arts, as well as being socially engaged. When I was a kid, two kids offended me and my sister. They said we were monkeys while their father laughed. This image showed me that, racism was a problem in that family. When I experience such an episode, I know I’m in the right place – who is in the wrong place is racist. My interpretation would be different if it were not the discourse of my parents.
Even so, what most moves me as a human being is understanding how society, including people who love us, are capable, before an act of injustice, to let themselves be taken by an archaic reference to racism and sexism. How do they manage to think, ‘If you have suffered this, was it something you did’? They indulge in a more comfortable thought in order not to have to transform themselves also. It saddens me that people would rather believe in sexist and racist reality that they construct because it is more comfortable.
About two years ago my nieces and I went to a restaurant and, in the waiting area there was a playground for the kids to amuse themselves. The children were playing and a girl told them: ‘This is not the place for menina morena (brown girls), go play over there!’ When one of them came running to tell me what happened, I said, ‘Go back and keep on playing!’ It took me a while to compose myself from this situation because I knew what they were experiencing. These are experiences that, when we overcome (them), we need to pass it on to the children. Seek to make them react in case they go through this too.
These are examples of how, despite our warrior, competent and creative people, there are still ignorant people feeding this retrogression. I think Brazil is a very racist country. The case of Claudia Silva Ferreira, the black woman dragged by Military Police car in Rio de Janeiro, is racism. The case of Vinícius Romão de Souza, the black actor wrongfully imprisoned, is another example. Given the facts there are no arguments. And, in that context, black women are the most vulnerable in society.
Because of this, it is very important for our movement that we have visibility. I witnessed my nieces seeing Taís Araújo starring in the prime time novela, Viver a vida (2009), and asking: ‘Who is she?’ Taís appeared and paraded, she was applauded and cried. The girls began to realize that this character mattered. Lara, my niece who appears in this story, is the oldest of them. At that time, she was going through an identity crisis, she had just entered kindergarten and would say that she was ugly, she felt inferior. In these days of crisis, I showed her the character in the novels and said, ‘Look how beautiful her hair is! Look at her skin tone, the same as yours!’ After a few seconds, Lara said, ‘Titia (Auntie), I love her.’ When you see a great engineer, a great doctor, you see yourself there and go after this. Opportunities often come, but you have to believe in this a lot to reach them.
I speak with a willingness to change this situation. I advocate measures such as quotas for blacks in universities because they break barriers constructed by a historic mistake. Likewise, thanks to the Movimento Negro (black movement), we have a greater number of blacks on television and in Brazilian cinema. It’s important to have visibility. When my little nieces see successful black characters on TV, they identify with them. As an actress, the success and impact of my work are instruments of social transformation. I am, besides an artist, a citizen.”