Afro Brazilians are Still Under-Represented on the Small Screen
Note from BW of Brazil: You don’t have to be a specialist, critic or even a student of the social sciences to note the low representation of black men and women on Brazilian television. A number of non-Brazilians visiting the country have spoken on this. If you’ve never been to Brazil but plan on visiting, between your sightseeing, trips to the beaches or restaurants, DO turn on the television for just a few hours and draw your own conclusions. You will notice pretty much the same whether you choose to tune into Globo, SBT or Record, three of the country’s top TV networks.
To be honest, I really don’t watch much television and this has been a fact for several years. There’s just not much on the small tube that catches my interest these days. That was the case in the US and it’s even worse in Brazil. That’s why I watch so much YouTube. There, I can watch the type of stuff I wanna watch, be it vintage TV shows, documentaries, instructional videos, little known commentators, whatever. It’s pretty cool to see what just everyday people come up with in terms of content.
I also have to say, even though I don’t get to watch too much of it (kids’ll do that to your time), Netflix has far more content that I’m likely to watch than free or cable TV. Truth be told, Netflix is in steady rotation in my household, but instead of being able to watch new series such as 3%, Irmandade, Dear White People or Black Mirror (that everyone keeps insisting I need to watch), my TV is constantly on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Peppa Pig, PJ Masks and Pocoyo. Netflix Kids. Oh well, one of these days, maybe I’ll get a chance to check out some of these series that friends and colleagues keep hipping me to. If I wanna watch TV and see more folks that look like me or my kids, Netflix may be my best bet. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
OFF THE AIR: From the denial of Brazil to other ways of watching TV
Courtesy of Correio Nagô
Blackface. Stereotypes. Invisibility. Yes, the participation of the população negra (black population) in national television drama is marked by a series of racist practices. From a black actor pintado de preto (wearing blackface) representing a black character (1969) to the novela set in Salvador with few blacks in the cast (2018), in these almost 70 years of TV series, under-representation has been a constant for years denounced in academic research, social movements and, in the last decade, mainly in social networks.
According to the Multidisciplinary Studies of Affirmative Action Group (GEMAA), coordinated by professors João Feres Júnior and Luiz Augusto Campos, from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), who prepared a dossier called “Globo, a gente se vê por aqui?” (Globo TV, can we see ourselves around here?), in which it analyzes racial diversity in telenovelas from 1985 to 2014, the black population is under-represented at a rate of 8.8% of the central characters.
– Of the 156 Brazilian soap operas that were launched between 1985 and 2014, 91.2% of their central characters on average are represented by white actors.
– The black population is under-represented, as it corresponds to 8.8% of actors and actresses in the cast.
– Only 7% of the soap operas have at least one black protagonist.
– 4.4% are black men and 3.8% are black women.
– Of the 5 soap operas set in the Northern Region of the country, 12.18% are black.
– Of the 15 soap operas where the predominance of scenes was in the Northeast Region, 11.7% of the cast were black.
– Novelas set in favelas or slums have a higher average of blacks in the cast, 16.77%.
– In novelas set in Colonial Brazil and Empire era, average of black characters reaches 18.48%.
– According to the list of the largest 100 Brazilian channels published by Social Blade only 8 belong to blacks.
Source: The Multidisciplinary Studies of Affirmative Action Group (GEMAA), produced the dossier “Globo, a gente se vê por aqui?” (Globo TV, can we see ourselves around here?), in which it analyzes racial diversity on television novelas of the last decades (1985-2014)
The data presented in the dossier indicates that 91.2% of the cast is white. If we cross data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), only 45.5% of the population declares white.
Still according to the research, racial inequalities remain constant if we observe the intersection between race and gender. The numbers break down as 46.2% white men, 45.2% white women, 4.4% black men and 3.8% black women, on average, of the casts. Of the three decades studied, 15 novelas (soap operas) are set in the Northeast Region, with the black cast representing being 11.7%.
HISTORICAL WHITENING (Afro Brazilians are Still Under-Represented on the Small Screen)
In a well-known controversy from 2018, Rede Globo, Brazil’s most powerful TV network, exhibited Segundo Sol, a soap opera set in Bahia with most of its cast being white. “Segundo Sol confirmed the rule, the historical errors, of a Brazilian television drama that insists on ignoring Brazilian racial diversity and eternally celebrating whites as the best and almost exclusive representation of the human being,” analyzes filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo in an interview with the Correio Nagô website.
The striking detail which made such exclusion so controversial is the fact that Bahia is known for its large black population. If we consider pretos and pardos as representative of the black population, Bahia would be 81% black. Of course, I won’t assume that all pardos are black, but we can argue that the percentage of pardos that would be black in a state like Bahia is higher than in states such as Amazonas or Rio Grande do Sul.
For Araújo, who produced the groundbreaking documentary Negação do Brasil: o negro na telenovela brasileira (Denying Brazil) (2000), the phenomena of embranquecimento (whitening) on television is old and it is a deformation in the racial reality of the country. “It is the confirmation of the racial superiority of the white segment and the subalternity of the black segment. It doesn’t matter that the authors, directors, producers, advertisers, don’t do this consciously,” says Joel Zito.
The Ministry of Labor (MPT), through the National Coordination for the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Elimination of Discrimination at Work (Coordigualdade), made a referential notification in relation to racial diversity. For Joel Zito, this response is the result of an attentive and powerful militancy. “This militancy brings within itself more than 300,000 black students who entered universities through racial quotas,” he describes.
NEW NARRATIVES, OLD PRACTICES
Alternative channels point to a new reality, but still with aspect of under-representation. A list launched by Social Blade, with 100 Brazilian channels with the greatest influence in the digital environment, said that only eight belong to blacks.
In July of the 2018, the cosmetics/beauty products chain Boticário launched an advertising piece that portrayed the Father’s Day of a black family. What was surprising was the amount of dislikes and negative comments when it was made available on YouTube. “The average Brazilian is so addicted to seeing the representation of the country being made customarily by whites that he’s shocked when he sees a black family. They’ve learned that lies and distortion have more force than truth,” says Joel Zito.
On the other hand, problematizing low representativeness and stereotypes to ensure racial diversity is not an easy task. The actor Vini de Paula reports that this dispute of narratives is still misunderstood by the white majority. He says that during the recordings of the program É Da Gente, of which he was a host in the city of Fortaleza, one of the white guests said that the black victimizes himself and that he had already suffered racism. “I interrupted him and explained that he was mistaken, that the black doesn’t victimize himself but that he is the victim, that reverse racism didn’t exist,” he emphasizes. (Afro Brazilians are Still Under Represented on the Small Screen)
OTHER WAYS OF WATCHING
Araújo further revealed that due to the negative representation of the black population there is a progressive abandoning of television. “My level of dissatisfaction with a negative representation of the black population and an extremely partisan journalism, with a lot of responsibility for the current political situation, pushed me away from TV. I have seen more streaming and internet channels,” he says.
Like Joel Zito, there is a growing movement interested in digital platforms, in which black productions have invested in less stereotyped and diverse black characters. This is the case of the actress Thaís Lago, who plays a doctor in the series 3%, originated by Netflix. “It’s very important to occupy these spaces that have been denied to us, but it is also important to know the relevance in the story that this character will portray,” says the actress.
“My body by itself already carries a representation, but what I really miss is seeing more than one black in the same product. A single black and saying that all were represented there does not account for our complexity,” she reinforces. For the actress, representation has a positive impact on the lives of black people. “I get a lot of messages from women telling me how much they’re inspired by my characters,” says Thaís.
AND PUBLIC TV, WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH THIS?
Correio Nagô spoke with General Director Flávio Gonçalves, of the Instituto de Radiodifusão Educativa da Bahia (Institute of Educational Broadcasting in Bahia) (IRDEB), responsible for the Televisão Educativa da Bahia (Educational Television of Bahia) (TVE), which signed in 2016 with the United Nations (UN) the commitment to be the station of the International Decade of the African Descendant.
According to Flávio, TVE has advanced in questions about representation. “We have increased the number of black journalists, reporters, hosts and sports commentators,” he says. The station has invested in the production and display of audiovisual content of the black population, both documentary and fiction, from within and outside of Brazil, such as the Angolan novel Jikulumessu.
Source: Correio Nagô