At 95, Ruth de Souza is the subject of retrospective film focusing on her illustrious career; actress opened many doors for Afro-Brazilian actors

ruth cover
ruth cover


Note from BW of Brazil: For those who live outside of Brazil but have an interest in important personalities in the history of Africa, its people and descendants, please do feel free to check out a few of the articles on this blog that detail just a few of the reasons that we must celebrate the life and career Ruth de Souza. Even though a racist Brazilian society would never allow of artist of talents to rise to superstardom simply because of the color of her skin, she excelled for many years working with the roles she was given. Like  veteran actor Antonio Pitanga, who was a honored just a few weeks ago, as well as Milton Gonçalves, de Souza has appeared in some of Brazil’s most important films dating back to the black and white era. Now at the the age of 95, de Souza is enjoying a well-earned retirement as well as an homage for her body of work. Today’s post can be taken as a simple salute to a living legend who, as you will see, realizes her historic importance but also understands that the struggle continues. 

Ruth de Souza, 95: I’m the black actress and a supporting actor earning homages

By Leonardo Rodrigues

Ruth de Souza, the first black woman to act in the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro

At a time in which whites had to paint themselves black to portray certain roles, actress Ruth de Souza, 95, came to hear incredulous laughter when she decided to earn a living on stage. Today, the first black woman to perform at the Municipal Theater of Rio, in the play O Imperador Jones (Emperor Jones) (1945), she was also the first to be the protagonist of a novela, A Cabana do Pai Tomás (1969), is the theme of an ample audiovisual presentation. Pérola Negra: Ruth de Souza (Black Pearl: Ruth de Souza) will be playing until the 28th of this month at CCBB São Paulo, bringing together 25 film and TV productions that featured the illustrious participation of the artist. It’s been more than six decades of production portrayed from the point of view of the carioca (native of Rio), a daughter of a farmer who, before consecrating herself on TV, had to interpret maids and all kinds of stereotypes related to blacks in Brazil.

Ruth, today at 95

None of this came without struggle or a few frustrations. In the movies, for example, Ruth could never cease being supporting actress. “I fought and demanded from the whole world. It was Janete Clair and Dias Gomes who gave me and (veteran actor) Milton Gonçalves the opportunity to do all kinds of work,” she says, in a choked voice, in a telephone interview with UOL.

On the fact that racism is still na issue in the 21st century, Ruth, in fragile health  and retired since 2010, she is succinct: “It’s all a matter of education,” she summarizes up before revealing one of her greatest joys today: The recognition of Lázaro Ramos and Taís Araújo, stars of the series Mister Brau. “I told Lázaro, ‘You are fulfilling a dream that I had.'”

Ruth de Souza as the slave Sabina in Tom Payne’s film ‘Sinhá Moça’

How do you feel being honored with this film?

Ruth de Souza – I’m so proud. I didn’t expect CCBB to do that. I had the opportunity to re-watch many of my works. Breno [Lira Gomes, curator of the show] was very happy to show several phases of national cinema, which many people don’t know. For me, it’s very important because I’ve never starred in movies, I’ve always been a supporting actress. I’m a supporting black actress who’s earning a film, which makes this homage very touching.

You started in the movies in the 1940s as a maid and, 50 years later, played a pianist and a judge on TV. Are you aware of your importance in breaking social stereotypes in Brazil?

It’s just that I’ve always fought and demanded a lot from all the world to have space. But it was Janete Clair and Dias Gomes who gave me and Milton Gonçalves the opportunity to do all sorts of work. Before them, it was just the merry, fat black woman that played the maid of the  E o Vento Levou (Gone With the Wind). There was a lot of this in theater, before television and the movies. And even in Hollywood, it was only after the actress from Gone With the Wind [Hattie McDaniel] won the Oscar that it started to change. Previously, blacks were made to look ridiculous.

Many advances have been made, but racial bias persists in the most diverse ways. What will be necessary to change that?

I saw that Globo actor [Bruno Gagliasso] adopted a little girl from Africa, and many said things. They did a great malice with him. There is still much difficulty. There is no education. The person who has education has no racial prejudice. At least in all my experience, all my white friends treat me with the utmost respect and tranquility. The fact that Barack Obama was elected president in the United States brought a very big improvement. But now this horrible man has come [Donald Trump]. I’m terrified of him.

“Pérolas Negras: Ruth de Souza” pays homage to the actress and shows highlights of her career

Do you think the fight against racism is receding with the latest developments in politics?

I think the issue of racial prejudice is not exactly in this, politics. It’s more involved in getting the opportunity to study. In forcing everyone to have a formal and also religious education. This is very important.

Ruth with veteran actor Milton Gonçalves

Have you ever suffered prejudice while working?

Yes. But I was always conscious of everything, and God helped me. When I entered the theater, white actors needed to paint themselves to play the role of blacks. That’s when I started to see that there was something. But in my experience, I have always had the support of many wonderful people, who I have great affection and respect for. The first film I did was by recommendation of (famed writer) Jorge Amado [Terra Violenta, 1948].

And it was Pascoal Carlos Magno [Brazilian theaterologist and diplomat] who arranged a scholarship for me in the United States. I was scared to go, because of the racial issue. I remember Nelson Rodrigues saying: “If you don’t go, I’ll substitute you.” Before I went, (songwriter) Vinicius de Moraes sent me a letter. “You go to the United States, and if anything happens to you, look for my friends in Washington.” I didn’t have to use his letter, thank God.

Ruth (center) in a scene from the film ‘Filhas do Vento

But I knew of the difficulties that were to be a black actress. Only now are black actors appearing, such as Lázaro Ramos and Taís Araújo. I told him, “You are fulfilling the dream I had.” It’s a great joy.

There are lots of “Pérolas Negras” (Black Pearls) out there. Do you like the nickname?

I find it funny (laughs). I honestly didn’t expect that honor. It was very beautiful.

What do you miss most about not acting?

I think the actor’s career is a constant therapy. When you have a personal problem and leave the dressing room to the stage, the problem stays in the dressing room. Once I was with Sílvia Bandeira in the dressing room, doing the play 8 Mulheres (8 women), and I had terrible hoarseness. I entered the scene, did the play and came back. Then she asked: “What happened that your voice stayed the same?” I said it was not me. It was the character (laughs). I have a leg problem that keeps me from walking. I really miss acting.

Source: UOL Cinema

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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