Note from BBT: It’s been a tough couple of days…well, about a week to be exact. I’m sure at least some of you had already heard about the tragedy that made international headlines last Thursday, which I was only able to discuss yesterday. Well, all I can say is that no one can say that BBT hasn’t been telling the world about Brazil’s war on its own people.
The open disregard for human life makes dealing with Brazil pretty difficult sometimes. Then, following the latest bloodbath in Rio, I got news that, in two of three days, two important Afro-Brazilian musicians passed away. I’ll be getting to them soon, but for now, I wanted to discuss something a little more uplifting.
It’s been a minute since I discussed the online series Punho Negro about a black woman superhero’s adventures in the city of Salvador, Bahia. With so much good content online these days, I haven’t been able to keep up with the series, but apparently, it’s still going strong and even growing its brand. The series recently got some great news as it was picked up the WOLO TV streaming platform that debuted with the series Casa da Vó starring Bahian singer/actress Margareth Menezes. In that series, Menezes plays Teresa, a “good vibe lady” that shares her home with her grandchildren.
Wolo TV was created by Angolan Licínio Januário in partnership with an Afro-Brazilian, Alex Miranda, and is produced with 99% Afro-Brazilian team. The success of the streaming platform recently saw a huge achievement in having the Casa da Vó series picked up by the TV Educativa da Bahia or TVE Bahia television network headquartered in Salvador.
The partnership between TVE and Wolo TV has the goal of bringing content that makes the black community visible to people in Bahia. This is big news because, although Bahia is known for having one of the largest black populations in all of Brazil, one would never know it judging from its television programming. As Globo TV journalist Luana Assiz said in 2019, “people aren’t used to seeing black people on TV.” Assiz is the weathergirl on the Globo TV affiliate in Bahia. Let us not forget the controversy that emerged with the 2018 Globo TV novela Segundo Sol, which was based in Bahia but featured few black actors in the cast.
This issue is no secret. Licínio recently told Forbes Brasil magazine that his venture, WOLO emerged, basically, due a lack of opportunities.
“WOLO began in the pain that many black people feel in the audiovisual market; they’re ready to work, but there is no industry to allocate them.”
This is the reason why seeing the moves WOLO is making is so exciting. With an initial investment of BRL 1.2 million, WOLO TV IS off and running. Over the next six months, the platform will have more than 50 pieces of content produced by black professionals in Brazil available for free.
But one important question always remains. Brazil’s media doesn’t seem to have a problem showing films and tv series that present successful, middle class black people if it comes from the United States. When I first arrived in São Paulo in 2012, I lost count how many times I saw Murphy’s first Coming to America film being shown on a Brazilian television network. And as numerous examples have shown over the years, Brazilians love American television series and sitcoms starring black families and black protagonists. So why are there no Brazilian programs that feature Afro-Brazilian families as protagonists?
Januário points to a fact that I discussed several years ago. “While black Americans were already partnering, slavery continued here”. In this instant, the entrepreneur is speaking specifically of the fact that slavery in Brazil continued another 25 years after abolition in the United States. But his comment could just as well be applied to the media.
It seems to almost be the rule in Brazil’s media. To present blacks as protagonists or a large percentage of any cast, the production must be based in the slavery era or present black characters in typical stereotypical roles reserved for black actors and actresses. In order to change this scenario, Januário and his business partner had to seek resources outside of Brazilian borders.
And with this initial success, we are seeing an expansion which opens the doors for other ventures, such the Punho Negro series presented below. Of course, I won’t be expecting to see the visual stimulation that a multi-million dollar production such as Black Panther brought to the game, but with more resources, I can imagine the first Afro-Brazilian woman superhero turning into something big.
Carol Alves plays a vigilante on WOLO TV, dedicated to black storytelling: we don’t have to wait to tell our story
Punho Negro, meaning “Black Fist” made its premiere on Wolo TV in April and will air every episode of the series’ first season. The actress stresses the importance of the series’ dialogue with the public and the impact it generates both in the audiovisual medium and in society: “These are agendas that interest everyone and we want them to be debated.” With the entrance in streaming, Carol talks about the need to create structures that sustain the production of black content in Brazil: “The ‘aquilombamento,’ this welcoming, is very important for us to resist,” she says.
By Heloisa Tolipan
From Bahia to Brazil, Carol Alves hits the screens next month as the star of Punho Negro the next series from Wolo TV, which explores black representation in the world of superheroes. The platform is the first Afro-Brazilian streaming service, and proposes the exhibition of products dedicated to black narratives, told and produced through the eyes and experience of those who star in them. Created by Angolan actor and director Licínio Januário in partnership with Brazilian Leandro Lemos, the service debuted in Brazil with the series Casa de Vó, with singer/actress Margareth Menezes, rapper Rincon Sapiência and Johnny Klein in the cast. The production had an average of 60 employees, of which more than 90% were black – something that unfortunately is still not common in the audiovisual medium. Besides them, the platform has already announced the entry of three other productions: As Aventuras de Amí, aimed at the children’s audience, Malandragem and Punho Negro, which will soon add to the service’s catalog.
Punho Negro tells the story of ‘Brazil’s first black superheroine’. Set in the city of Salvador and directed by the independent production company Êpa Filmes, the plot narrates the life of Tereza, who balances the ordinary life she has as a wife and mother and the vigilante Punho Negro, who fights evil with her superpower: strength. The power of the protagonist is the first stage of the deconstruction that occurs throughout the series: “Although Tereza’s physique is thin, she is very strong, in every way. But strength is not always synonymous with virtue, for this reason we raise the discussion about her power. There is a lot of stereotyping about black women having to endure everything, to be unshakable, and that’s why we tried to address this duality,” emphasizes Carol.
Despite the theme being something common in the mainstream, the series also criticizes how fiction approaches the world of action heroes, which is geared towards a mostly white, male audience. About the impact of the heroine, the actress says that the complexity of the role will make many women identify with the character: “Within this universe that she inhabits, being a superheroine is just a profession like any other. So, she also has to do things that we do in our daily lives, which is to divide ourselves between home, work, personal life, and Tereza goes through all these issues.
With this range of productions gaining space in the public, representativeness is seen from another angle. The need now is to gain spaces that go beyond acting, and enter into the production and direction of these products. “We used to talk about the importance of representation and identity, so today the need for black people to create their own narratives is even stronger,” to which she adds: “It’s not only about having the visibility of participating in some outside production, but also about us presenting our stories from our point of view. People have already understood that representation is important, so now we want to create our stories from the experience we have.
More than a platform, Wolo TV is a synonym of unity. The service goes beyond the streaming proposal and is becoming a large support network. The professionals can move between other productions, contributing to the creation of more projects and strengthening the construction of a black base in the audiovisual sector. Milena Anjos, producer of Punho Negro, is participating in the script of Casa de Vó, for example: “Creating this support network is very important. The ‘aquilombamento’, which is this conversation and support, is very important for us to resist. Wolo, as a creator, makes possible not only the representation, but the production and the narrative and imagetic protagonism on the screens, making black women grow beyond the independent production”, and continues: “These are agendas that interest everyone and we want them to be and should be debated”.
Despite winning the Best Original Idea award at Rio Webfest 2018, the actress says that the projection was not so great. Carol says she hopes that the entry in the pay-per-view will incorporate the audience of the other programs: “We had a spontaneous media here in the city, but it was not expressive. With Wolo we will have the opportunity to enter circuits in other states, strengthening us as black audiovisual producers. But this reality is about to change. With the entrance of the telephone company Oi as a sponsor, the actress tells us what she expects for the second season of the series: “With the sponsorship, we will have 5 more episodes full of feminine force. We started independently, in the guerrilla war, so we couldn’t do much of what we planned for the series due to lack of resources. Now we have the opportunity to build with more structure, and we’ll be able to explore what we couldn’t before, like fighting and effects, taking “Black Fist” to another level. We’re excited!”.
We’ re excited too, Carol!
“We started independently, in guerrilla warfare. Now we have the opportunity to build with more structure, and we’ll be able to explore what we couldn’t previously.”
What will Carol’s next plans be? Besides the series in Bahia, the actress intends to expand the range of productions with a black protagonist, this time with a work of her own called O Diário de Um Crespo (the daily life of a kinky/curly head). The next project is in conception phase, but the idea is to create a ludic environment that permeates the experience of women in a journey of self-knowledge through their kinky/curly hair. And the actress has already said: “The motto is a question I have already asked myself: ‘what if my hair could talk? The proposal of the mini-series is to tell the adventures of a young woman and her talking hair. She will find herself in the process of discovering her own hair.