Note from BW of Brazil: After all of the hype and anticipation of the premier of the Marvel film Black Panther in São Paulo, I’m left wondering as to which was greater that night: the film itself or the reaction of the audience to the film. From my seat in the second to last row of room 5 of the Eldorado mall movie theater, my sight and hearing was filled with both. Let me pause here to issue a SPOILER ALERT, because I will need to share at least a few scenes from the film in order to explain why these moments were often immediately followed wild cheering, applause and screams. Historical context in which the black Brazilian population has been subjected to campaigns that spoke openly of the need for this segment of the population to gradually disappear for the improvement of Brazil, invisibility promoted by history books and the media, a lack of power, extremely high rates of murder of black youth and long-held stereotypes are all reasons for this film has the makings of a watershed moment for black protagonism and representation, even with the film not being a Brazilian production.
You see, if Black America is hungry for positive media representation, Black Brazil has been on an imposed hunger strike for decades, which is exactly why certain scenes from Pantera drew such wild applause. Such as when the black characters allowed one of the few white characters to participate in their struggle, but made sure to signal to him, “Yes, you’re here, and on our team, but sit back, white man, because WE RUNNIN’ THIS PIECE!” It spoke to centuries of slavery and white supremacy of which black Brazilians have been made silent and not allowed to participate from any position of authority in society. It spoke to the novelas (soap operas), one after another, year after year, in which black Brazilians are silent maids, cooking and cleaning for their white masters, tending to the children of white families while their own families aren’t even portrayed in the production. The role portrayed in these novelas mirrors the real life roles of black maids, nannies and cleaning women who often sacrifice their own family lives to take care of those of their bosses.
There was the scene in which the leader of a challenging tribe tried to entice one of the King’s warrior women to drop her sword by reminiscing about his love for her. I felt the collective gasp of seemingly the entire audience of black females with these words. But that gasp was quickly overrun by wild cheers when the warrior sister rejected his plea and made him take a knee before her. The scene clearly struck a chord with many black women due to the complex relationship between black Brazilian men and black Brazilian women, who accuse the men of abandoning them for white women and leading to masses of lonely black women. And perhaps this feeling of abandonment provoked the wild applause of the final kiss between T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), along with the fact that, in Brazilian novelas and films, you rarely see two black people kiss each other. In such a tender moment, viewed by hundreds of people who maybe have never seen people looking themselves, in a big budget production, share a romantic moment, would I be wrong to suggest that this scene could have been the black Prince Charming and Princess scene that so many have waited so long for?
If reference to the scenes described above, I must contrast this with the experience of two black women who also saw the film on Saturday night at a different theater in which they were two of perhaps 5-10 black people in the whole theater. Trading notes, they expressed disappointment as where they watched the film, nearly every scene in which I described being followed by wild cheering, screaming and applause, they said they heard crickets! Hmmm…I wonder why. It wouldn’t be “a black thing”, would it? I mean, after all, such racial interpretations/divisions aren’t supposed to exist in Brazil, right? I could go on and on as the debates over the characters, their meanings and the plot of Pantera Negra have been raging in Afro-Brazilian social media for days, but I’ll wait….maybe watch it again. In getting to the piece below, let me just say that, although Black Panther wasn’t made in Brazil nor was it made specifically for Afro-Brazilians, after watching it with such a raucous, proud, joyous roomful of them, it may as well have been!
Members of the Afro-Brazilian Intellectuality group fill screening of Black Panther
As in the African tradition, symbolically, we are reserving two seats in this movie theater: one for Zumbi and one for Dandara! We are all Wakanda!” said English teacher Durval Arantes, 55.
In response, 275 arms rose in cries of approval spread across Room 5 of the Eldorado Shopping Mall, on the west side of São Paulo. In the dim light, it was possible to see that all the places were occupied by similar ones of the two historical figures who fought against the slave colonial system. Black men, women and children, proudly sporting black power hair (afros), braids, dreadlocks, handkerchiefs and ultra-colored prints, gathered to watch the new Marvel superhero film Black Panther (released as Pantera Negra in Brazil). Directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed) the feature film has a 90% of the black cast, unprecedented in the world of comic book adaptations.
On Saturday night, the lobby of the movie theater was seized by a long line of people waiting – which grew more and more. Anxiously, viewers gave their names to the organization of the event and received a number for a raffle of gifts. The group met thanks to the idea of law student Ana Paula Evangelista, 38, Durval’s wife. They are founders of the discussion group on Facebook Intelectualidade Afro-Brasileira (Afro-Brazilian Intellectuality) with more than 21 thousand members from all over Brazil. Inspired by a previous experience, from a closed-in women’s only film session, she wanted to offer the same opportunity to black men and women.
The couple organized an event on the social network. Upon seeing the number of interested parties, they contacted the cinema and closed a contract to rent a room. Through a deposit system, they collected the money from the tickets to provide a collective experience to the group members.
“It’s a way of revolutionizing. We are occupying a space where we are always discriminated against. At the time of the rolezinhos, for example, provided so much to talk about (in relation to) groups of black youths from the periphery who gathered in shopping malls. Today, looking at our people taking ownership of the public and central spaces as this is a breakthrough. It makes me shiver talking about it,” says the photographer Lena Silva, 30.
She and her husband, the American, Jordan Fields, came from Capão Redondo, located in the south of the city. Living in Brazil for a little over a year, Jordan teaches English to underprivileged children in Jardim Ângela, at a school called Inglês Na Quebrada.
“The part that excites me most is that I’m living it outside the United States. There it is normal, we come together as a group. But seeing blacks in Brazil do the same is a milestone. I have lived in Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia. We are seeing that blacks around the world are beginning to recognize that they are black,” says Jordan.
During the session, the public spared no applause, shouts of approval, and laughter whenever a reference to cultura negra (black culture) or punctual punch against racism emerged between scenes. When the speech of a white character is ridiculed, the audience came down.
“It’s the question of the place of speech. We’ve been silent for centuries. So, when the branco (white man) tries to speak in the scene, that’s enough. This is our moment. And this is just the beginning,” says organizer Ana Paula.
The effusive clapping sounded over the loudspeakers when the Black Panther female characters took over the screen. Chadwick Boseman, who plays the main character, is constantly surrounded by powerful warriors, led by General Okoye (Danai Gurira). Also essential for the battles are her sister and technology expert Shuri (Letitia Wright) and social agent and spy Nakia (Luita Nyong’o). In addition to the message of black empowerment, there is also a good dose of feminism.
“We know that in Africa, historically women had a role of extreme leadership within their communities, this has changed with colonial crossings, for example. We have several records of armies of women, reigning matriarchy, roles of extreme relevance. To see that this is represented in the universe of the Black Panther is formidable. We fight to put this into the academic debate and we see a mass movie doing it in a direct way – says the social scientist and Movimento Negro (black movement) activist Luanda Nascimento, 34.
She came from Rio de Janeiro to attend the event. He brought with her, her mother, Irema, 73, and her friend from New York who was traveling through the country, Taj Alexander, 28.
The audience’s satisfaction at the end of the film was palpable. The cold air coming from the air conditioners in the room was occasionally softened by the warmth of chests heated by pride. A pleasant experience that has been repeated in other places since the debut of Black Panther.
In the United States, celebrities paid out of pocket so that poor communities could watch the movie. Actress Octavia Spencer closed a movie theater in Pearl City, Mississippi. Rapper TI (who made a special appearance in the film Ant Man, also from Marvel, in 2015) took children from Atlanta, Georgia, to a preview.
In Brazil, other initiatives have taken place in the last week. In Porto Alegre, about 185 blacks occupied a room of a local cinema for the premiere on Thursday (15). The event was organized by friends Luciana Dornelles, Kenya Aquino and Flavia Lemos.
“The film is full of representativeness, something I’ve never seen in movies in my 32 years of life. It is even difficult to explain what this session meant. To see ourselves in these spaces, without being portrayed as enslaved, employees, thieves, makes us believe that we can occupy them. We can be kings and queens,” says Luciana.
In Cuiabá, a black collective from the Federal University of Mato Grosso created a Facebook event to bring the comunidade negra (black community) together for a session on Friday night. As they did not rent the cinema space, the number of participants was smaller. Still, 50 black people gathered in one theater.
On the 20th, once again a room at the Eldorado Shopping Mall will be filled with full hair, colorful clothes and fists. Attorney Mayara Souza, 25, helped organize an event with 194 participants.
“In Brazil, there are 220 million blacks (see note one). Our initiatives are still few and far between. The more groups that articulate, the better for everyone,” says Mayara.
Wakanda, the fictional country of the film, replete with technology and wealth owned and controlled by blacks, is present in the movie theaters and in the heart of every viewer.
Source: Só Fatos
- Not sure if this is a misquote, a typo or Mayara Souza actually said this, but the current estimate of the entire Brazilian population is generally calculated as being between 207-210 million people, of which 54% (111-113 million, a combination of pretos/blacks and pardos/browns)) is generally recognized as making up the Afro-Brazilian population.