Afro Brazilian Actresses and Filmmakers Criticize the Gap in representation
Note from BW of Brazil: A few questions. Is there a fear of black filmmakers in Brazil? Is there a fear of presenting black Brazilian women and men beyond the stereotypes they have long been reduced to playing in film and on television? Presenting them as full human beings with a wide range of emotions and experiences just like any other group of people?
I know people will always make the accusation of “playing the race card”, but when you look the directors in Brazilian cinema and television, the types of roles played by black Brazilians and the very few well-known black directors, these questions must be asked.
It can’t be an issue of a lack of qualified talent as we’ve seen a number of Afro-Brazilian actors and directors earning awards for their craft, both nationally and internationally. Recently, we became aware of the plight of actor Babu Santana, an actor with awards and more than 70 films and television programs under his belt competing on a reality show to have a chance at receiving a prize of 1 million reais, which would have improved his situation. A situation in which he lived in a very modest home and had trouble providing for his family due to a lack of acting opportunities.
It’s been long overdue to not only discuss the question of Afro-Brazilian actors and filmmakers, but time to recognize that a change is necessary.
Black actresses and filmmakers criticize the gap in representation
Black filmmakers and actresses from Brazil continue in the struggle to have more registration of their creativity in the audiovisual realm
By Ricardo Daehn
In the winds of the Movimento Ar (Air Movement), a manifesto that fights racism, the actress Zezé Motta, who recently turned 76 years old, doesn’t beat around the bush when talking about racial discrimination: “What a lack of air, I realized it, some time ago”. The renowned actress, who is an emblem in the trajectory of cinema, also notes a gap of space in the audiovisual medium. “We have to make our projects grow and appear. We are no longer, as blacks, for the role of the marginalized and dependent,” she observes. Winner of the Candango Trophy for Best Actress (at the Festival de Brasília that projected her in the role of Xica da Silva), Zezé Motta realizes unquestionable, current advances, when it marks a career retrospective in the audiovisual medium. “I am from a time when I was intrigued to have had a scholarship to Teatro Tablado, and, throughout my profession, to see myself opening the door and closing the door and serving coffee. I was sad to always be in the scene in the kitchen, without occupying the streets or even showing up at a supermarket there was,” she reinforces.
With a remarkable resume – which includes participations in works such as Quilombo (1984) and M8 (2019), Zezé Motta opened doors for black talents that were often suffocated. Creator of the website Mulher no Cinema, Luísa Pécora designs a renewed list of acting talents, when it comes to black actresses. “I would highlight Mawusi Tulani, Isabél Zuaa, Shirley Cruz and Grace Passô, who, of course, is already a renowned name in the theater, but which has been gaining audiences in cinema,” comments the journalist.
With the profusion of talents, how would it be to overcome stereotypes on the big screen? With a degree in Literature, film critic Yasmine Evaristo, from the state of Minas Gerais, present on the Clube da Poltrona website, sees changes in progress. “The stereotype is so interwoven in our culture, that its deconstruction on the screens is happening gradually. There is still a need to displace the black person from characters linked to slavery or marginalization, and to place ourselves to interpret what is conceived, seen or understood as a common and universal situation,” she evaluates.
In the wake of a more visible protagonism, in the skin of a black woman, Yasmine lists movements such as Black Lives Matter and discussions about racism made explicit by virtual networks as focuses for those who make art. “I notice that collective thinking has results and that every black woman who conducts, researches and produces materials on cinema is part of this. The voice of one promotes the voice of the others,”explains the film buff.
In the opinion of the award-winning filmmaker Sabrina Fidalgo (from the short film Alfazema), the evolution and changes in the representation of black women will come at the moment when screenwriters’ rooms are headed by black professionals. “There will be progress when filmmakers like me have the same privilege in public edicts and promotions for the realization of our narratives with black and female protagonism,” she points out.
Enthusiastic about the impact of foreign audiovisual entrepreneurs like Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernai and Mati Diops and other women in creative positions of power, Sabrina sees more than moderation, when it comes to black creators. “In Brazil, large companies and producers still see us as “café com leite” (coffee with milk) and with “a certain fear”, which can be understood merely as racism,” she observes.
Sabrina Fidalgo advocates an urgent change in the maintenance of structural racism and white supremacy in the country’s audiovisual. “There is a lack of opportunities for breaking paradigms. If large producers and broadcasters don’t ban the hiring of black women as authors of their works and heads of major projects, we will never advance in that direction,” underlines the artist.
Nothing to do with slavery
Key to the success of the film Café com Canela, the award-winning actress Valdinéia Soriano, winner of the Candango trophy, also takes a critical look at the issue. “I am uncomfortable with audiovisual products that seek the image of the black in a place of slavery (see note one): as if he were passive and at the mercy of the salvation of whites. We (blacks) can talk about anything: not exclusively about racism,” she reiterates.
In Café com Canela, as she says, sensations that white women also feel were treated. “There are common situations that can be interpreted, yes, by black actresses. The range has to be expanded,”comments the actress, currently seen on TVE Bahia, with the series Pequeno Gigante. An actress of the Bando de Teatro Olodum theater group, who played legendary singer Tim Maia’s mother in a feature film, Valdinéia lists infinite talents among her colleagues, all with dense scenic abilities: Ruth de Souza, Mariana Nunes, Taís Araújo, Chica Xavier and Adriana Lessa, Cris Vianna are on the list. Veteran actress Léa Garcia (whom she prepared for the cast of the feature Um dia com Jerusa) has an affectionate place for her “incredible strength”, given the inspiration and the fact that she is a “gift for the audiovisual”.
Versatile in features such as O jardim das folhas sagradas and Revolta dos Búzios, Valdinéia points out indisputable situations to reinforce her thesis of not seeing “filmmakers interested in working with black actresses.” “On these days, I was asked to nominate films with black romantic couples. In the case of national cinema, you hit your head to find them. Hence black artists are betting on their quilombos. We look for anyone who is interested, in my case, in the black actress. We keep knocking on doors and pushing some of them,” she concludes.
Interview /Zezé Motta
Complaints, demands and struggles for a “game changer” by black colleagues, due to greater visibility, ignite the actress, singer and activist Zezé Motta. She perceives slowness in the occupation of spaces. Through the Movimento Negro, Brazil’s black social movement, Zezé has already witnessed the creation of a training and documentation center for black artists, which became a website, but which ended due to the lack of sponsorship. “At the time of the research, there were 500 black actors listed in only four states,” she recalls. Zezé sees an underutilization of talents, in cinema and TV. “On stage, with musical productions and dance, it’s different. There are pieces only with black casts, of success,” she highlights (see note two).
How is Brazil doing in the audiovisual when we see representativeness in the United States?
We have to bet on our culture, make art on top of our reality. Not import the daily life of another country. We have our history, even though black people find an affinity with American realities (see note three), for example, based on financial limitations and discrimination. This is a recurring problem in the United States as well. Racism is everywhere in the world. It should also be noted that, by all means, not all whites should be seen as racist. I am from a time when there was a false racial democracy. Racism was veiled. Now, racism is wide open. Futebol (football/soccer) players are assaulted in the full exercise of their profession and there are actresses who suffer aggression on social networks. We don’t need to copy the contradictions of the United States. There, one talks of minority groups while, in Brazil, we blacks are more than 50%.
How do you see the adoption, from time to time, of the expression pardo (brown/mixed race)?
I was afraid that, on my baptismal certificate, it was written “parda”. The tone of the word is horrible! Sou negra (I’m black). So many definitions came: cabocla, mulata, preta (black), negra (black). I heard a young man say that it was necessary to abolish the expression negro, since everything that is bad “is called negro”. I even consulted my ex-husband, an African, an expert on the subject, and he said he sees no difference. The guy almost convinced me to delete the word negro. Correct anyone who says negra or preta!
What is the level of representation in cinema?
We’re walking at a slow pace. But I’ve seen achievements in 50 years of career. I’m from the time when Neusa Borges worked, I couldn’t be. There was only room for one black actress. It was a time when Chica Xavier or Ruth de Souza was there; where Léa Garcia was or another. Characters were far from diversity. There were few black characters for the number of artists available. They were always subordinate types, not to mention the productions that portrayed slavery. We were always maids, drivers and butlers. Nothing against representing these classes! But the characters didn’t have a life of their own: live in tow with the white characters. The scenario was always that of worker: no children, husband or even houses. Something to be modified.
Source: Correio Braziliense
- I am often amazed at how many Brazilian television productions continue to be based in Brazil’s slavery era. In 2016, for example, two of Brazil’s top television networks aired novelas (soap operas) based in the slavery era at the same time. Afro-Brazilian actors are so accustomed to a lack of work that some actually look forward to slave era productions because it guarantees a higher percentage of black actors and actresses for the production.
- Afro-Brazilians have made great advances in theater and musicals where they are finding success and representation to much larger degree than in film and television.
- Motta speaks of the fact that, as black Brazilians have such little representation in Brazil’s media, they often identify with American productions featuring black American actors and actresses. Although Afro-Brazilians identify with these productions, and they are often widely successful, they don’t represent the black experience in Brazil and lead to other questions as to why they cannot have productions that represent their own reality.