Actress Maria Gal speaks on the lack of black families in Brazilian cinema and TV and being told her skin color isn’t “commercial enough”
By Marques Travae
Far from being a rookie in the entertainment business, Gal performed many years with the Bando de Teatro Olodum, the theater group of the internationally recognized Carnaval bloco, Olodum and is very engaged with the racial issue as it relates to her character on the SBT children’s novela As Aventuras de Poliana as well as the position of black Brazilians in audiovisual world overall.
She describes her character as also having consciousness of the race issue and seeks to prepare her daughter for the realities of racism. She sees the Gleice character as a very honest woman who doesn’t hold her tongue and speaks her mind. Connecting her identity as a black woman to her experiences with her peers in the Bando de Teatro Olodum, who theater pieces always dealt with the issue of race.
With her experiences with the new Aventuras novela, participation in a Netflix series, Banda and other roles, Gal decided to use her experience in her own venture, Maria Produtora, a production company she created to create material intended to create and increase the black presence in film and TV and to address the necessity of Afro-Brazilians in the genres.
The actress understands race plays out behind the scenes of Brazil’s mainstream media outlets as she’s seen how it can affect her. Gal recalls having been denied a role a role because of her skin tones by the director of a certain production who thought that her skin color “wasn’t commercial enough”, preferring a white actress instead. Perhaps knowing that saying this openly and directly wouldn’t sit well in a country such as Brazil that in some ways continue to push the myth of “racial democracy”, the director didn’t say this to Maria, but to her friends also working on the production, who in turn passed the information on to her.
This idea that Gal’s skin color wasn’t “commercial enough” for the production is reminiscent of a similar comment made about journalist Alinne Prado, who was told she wasn’t “neutral enough” for her post as host of the Globo TV program Video Show before she was fired and replaced by not one, two, or even three white women, but four.
For Gal, “It’s enough to turn on the TV, watch a national movie to see the racism expressed, with stereotyped characters, without great opportunities or in the absence itself. Everything I’ve experienced has made me more willing to handle the projects,” she reveals.
When the discussion is racism and exclusion, often times people will point to blatant manifestations of racial prejudice, such as the racist insult or joke, but only considering these forms of racist thought doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the structural racism evident in so many realms of Brazilian society.
“How many black families do we have in Brazilian tele dramaturgy? How many Brazilian actresses with black, African traits have you ever seen starring in movies in Brazil? We suffer a great scarcity and it’s not because of a lack of competent people,” the actress reminds us.
A structural racism that often leads to stereotyping of all black as criminals which in turn leads to violent confrontations with police, such as what happened when actor Leno Sacramento, also of the Bando de Teatro Olodum, was shot in the leg a few months back.
On her character in the current SBT novela, Gal’s character is yet another maid, a role that countless black actresses are given in Brazil’s novelas. But there is striking thing that makes this maid stand from so many others. The character has a family, with a black father present and her kids go to a good school. Viewers of the program have picked up on the importance of this and have sent encouraging messages to SBT’s social media page.
The timing of the inclusion of a black family in one of Brazil’s top three TV stations should also be noted considering the recent controversy over a Boticário Father’s Day commercial that aired featuring an all-black family. Black families are rare in advertising and also rare in the novelas. Speaking on the issue, Gal admits that she can’t remember any black family in a Brazilian novela that sticks out in her mind. Let me be clear here and say that no one is saying that there haven’t been any black families in the decades of novella productions, but rather that they are rare to the point that when there were shown, most viewers probably won’t remember many.
For Gal, the question centers around a certain type of unconscious thought that doesn’t associate normal affection with black families. Again, speaking of Brazilian productions, she notes that we don’t see black couples in the romantic comedy genre, almost as if the big screen is trying to say that the display affection is not a black thing. When these productions touch on any sort of racial, blacks will always be shown in depictions of sex and violence or involved in the world of samba in some way, but not in a loving, affectionate setting. Again, mostly white and occasional mixed couples, but rarely, if ever black. Gal’s observations fall somewhat in line with what others have said about the lack of black families in the media, as well as how black couples are received in society.
For Gal, examples such as these are part of a structural racism that has only in recent years begun to be discussed on a mass level. And the acting profession is only a fraction of the problem as the problem affects ALL areas of society regardless of the profession that one practices. The actress also calls for the end of what activists call the ‘genocide of black people’, putting Brazilian society on notice that none of this is the fault of the black population itself, but rather that of the society. As she sees it, this treatment of black Brazilians affects ALL Brazilians regardless of their race and only a full-scale plan reaching all sectors of society, involving large businesses, city, state and federal administrations and the will to create legislation can successfully address this unequal racial hierarchy that has been embedded in the nation’s infrastructure for so long.