Note from BBT: The February Black History Month in the United States officially ended a few days ago. The November Month of Black Consciousness in Brazil ended on December 1st. But as many have correctly opined, the history of African descendant people cannot be fully explored in just one month. In a blog that has discussed issues of race, Afro-Brazilian personalities and issues since 2011, as much as I have posted, I still feel as if I have yet to even scratch the surface of the black experience in Brazil.
The funny thing is that, most scholars and historians only speak of black history from a timeline that starts some time with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans that arrived in the Americas some time between the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century. In reality, this period of a little more than 500 years doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of black history. If it is true that humanity originated in Africa, the period between the 15th and 21st centuries represents less than a fraction of a tenth of one percent of not just black history, but world history.
In reality, as I can barely do justice to sharing a little of the Afro-Brazilian experience, I can say with full conviction that it would take several lifetimes to consider covering the colossal history of African people. The fact is, because of the lies and denials about the history of Africa and its people, its a story that desperately needs to be told. And even though it not my objective to take on such a task, I will say that I feel I am making my own small contribution to the telling of our story. After all, black Brazilian history is in fact part of Black History.
It was thinking along these lines that went into a special production of Falas Negras that aired on Globo TV on Brazil’s Day of Black Consciousness just a few months ago. The special featured a number of black Brazilian actors and actresses portraying Africans and descendants of Africans, some very well known, some lesser known, in short, dramatic monologues taken from historical records about each personality.
Of course, most of us are familiar with names such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela and Toussaint L’Ouverture, but how many of us are familiar with the story of Mahommah G. Baquaqua? I only heard about his story maybe five years ago. What about Otaudah Equiano? I learned about the airing of Falas Negras a few weeks before it aired and anticipated watching it. When I learned of the personalities that were to be portrayed, I still looked forward to the manner in which the actors and actresses would interpret these figures.
My second thought was, even though the special featured a handful of important Afro-Brazilians, why didn’t the special feature more Afro-Brazilians? The question takes me back 20 years to my first visit to Brazil and Salvador, Bahia. After diving into the history of Afro-Brazilians, I was familiar with a number of people that I thought all Brazilians should be familiar with. On that first trip, I remember walking into a small restaurant and seeing a photo of activist/intellectual Lélia Gonzalez on the wall. When I said “That’s Lélia Gonzalez!”, the two young black Brazilians who I was with looked at each and asked, “Who is she?”
My point here is that, when we are introduced to Black History, figures like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, as important as they were, are already pretty well known even by people who aren’t scholars in black history. But of the viewing audience that watched Falas Negras on November 20th, how many of them were hearing about Gonzalez for the first time? Or Luis Gama? And why weren’t people such as intellectuals Abdias do Nascimento, Beatriz Nascimento, Manuel Querino or activist/journalist Hamilton Cardoso portrayed? All of these people made contributions to the Afro-Brazilian struggle, yet I guarantee that, if you were to walk down the street and mention their names to the average black Brazilian, most will have no idea who they were.
Of course I’m not saying that the Falas Negras special wasn’t good. I’m just saying that, in a country in which there are still many who believe that black leaders aren’t necessary in Brazil because racial issues are a thing of the United States, important Afro-Brazilian historical figures need to be known by the Afro-Brazilians for whom they struggled. They existed because racial issues also exist in Brazil. Which is the main reason I created a blog that proposes to “analyze Brazil from the perspective of race”.
Black Speeches: On Black Consciousness Day in Brazil, TV special presented historical speeches of people who fought for racial causes from 1600 to today
By Flávia Cirino
On November 20th, Black Consciousness Day, 22 real testimonies from black personalities will be echoed on TV Globo. In the special Falas Negras, directed by Lázaro Ramos, a strong cast interprets biographical records that History has offered us. From the colonial reports of Nzinga Mbande (Heloisa Jorge), which date from 1626, to the pacifist teachings of Martin Luther King (Guilherme Silva), through the vehemence of Malcolm X (Samuel Melo) and Angela Davis (Naruna Costa), to the force Marielle Franco (Taís Araujo), or the pains of Mirtes Souza (Tatiana Tibúrcio), mother of the boy Miguel, and Nelito Mattos Pinto (Silvio Guindane), father of the young João Pedro, “Falas Negras” will show that the spirit of struggle and the resistance of Afro-descendant peoples in Diaspora goes beyond the barrier of time, territorial limits, and remains alive to this day. Raça Brasil magazine talked exclusively with the couple Taís Araújo and Lázaro Ramos and presents all 22 actors involved in the project.
“November 20, for me, is a milestone, yes, a day of struggle. In my case, the reflection is constant. I often think that, in order to have health and strength to follow, I need to experience other themes that are there in my life, because I am called upon all the time. And on social media, people tell me their private stories. So, black consciousness passes through my life during the 365 days of the year. But the 20th is a date that was conquered after society understood that this is a stimulus for people to think about our future. I don’t think it’s just to talk about the past, but rather, to talk about the wounds that still exist, how each one can contribute to improving the situation. It’s a date for yet another conversation, it stimulates the construction of the future, about what we want for our society,” comments Lázaro, who has a 100% black cast and a team of black majority for the special.
The professional timetable with his wife, Taís Araujo, takes place right after the two recorded together, during the quarantine, an episode of the series Amor e Sorte. “I love being directed by Lázaro. He is a very affectionate director, at the same time, he is firm. He knows a lot about what he wants and manages to pass it on to the actor, leveraging this artist. Not only the cast, but the team as well. The atmosphere on the set that he directs is always very good because you feel the appreciation of each professional. And each one feels valued and is consequently doing his best. So, it is very beautiful to see also as his companion, how talented he is in this place. In the place of conception, creativity, conductor and leader. Because it is very important to value his team and he does it like nobody else,” praises Taís. It was the actress’s mission to play Marielle Franco in the special, in a cast that started with Manuela Dias, author of the novela (soap opera) Amor de Mãe, and creator of Falas Negras. “I was very touched by the invitation because Marielle means a lot to me, in many places. I was very happy! She is a very important character for the recent history in Brazil,” guarantees Taís.
And the characters’ story of struggle is the guiding thread of the special. There are no dialogs created for the program. All of the lines came from historical or video records, coming from an extensive work, from research done by Thais Fragozo and anthropologist Aline Maia.
Lázaro Ramos, along with the assistant director Mayara Pacífico, conducted for 10 days rehearsals done remotely, where the cast had the preparation of Tatiana Tibúrcio and had real classes on the trajectory of the characters, given by Aline Maia. Teresa Nabuco, who created the costumes, Mauro Vicente Ferreira, responsible for the scenography, musician Simoninha, who did the soundtrack, are also part of the troupe that got together to shape the special.
“We looked for actors who were good storytellers, because the project, in fact, is this: It doesn’t have big camera movements and changes in scenarios, it counts on the actors’ ability to tell this story well, which is what he will do with the viewer that gets involved with it,” explains Lázaro.
One of the main criteria for choosing the characters was that their lines were real, autobiographical. They will be presented in temporal order. “Of course, it lacked the people. But I believe that artistic works serve as a stimulus. At the end of my show O Topo da Montanha (The Mountaintop), we say the names of some black personalities as a tribute, but I always say to the audience ‘whoever was missing and is in your heart, say the name now’. This construction of the tribute can be collective as well.” And regarding the choice of actors, Lázaro clarifies:
When I go to do a project, I look for several talented actors that I know exist. I know the quality of the actors I have in my country. The hard part was choosing between one and the other. Sometimes, there were two people very qualified for the same character. Fortunately, I have co-existed over time as an artist and as a spectator with several black talents who are there and deserve all the opportunities,” says Lázaro who also includes several faces lesser known to the TV audience in the cast.
Still, Lázaro’s own artistic verve also screamed when making the special. “Martin Luther King is the character that I most identify with, and that I thought 20 times if I wouldn’t do it, I was really tempted to do it. But I am very happy with the actor who is doing it. And there are projects that I can build as an actor and as a director. There are some that I look at and I think I don’t have much to contribute as an actor, because it won’t be challenging for me, so I think I can serve as something else. But the actor will never die, that’s where I feel most useful,” he explains.
Anyway, if Lázaro the actor has already won us over for some time, Lázaro the director also shows what’s coming and opens, with the special, more and more space for black professionals in the audiovisual field. “We have a team that is mostly black, absurdly powerful, competent, thinking, carrying out this program with a theme that we always wanted to hear, speak and tell. The Brazilian public will have the chance to see a program that was created and conceived by the majority of black professionals that we have inside TV Globo and that makes me very happy,” praises Tais.
Nzinga Mbande (Heloisa Jorge) – The queen of the Kingdom of Ndongo and Matamba was born in Angola and lived between 1583 and 1663, and symbolizes the African resistance to colonization and the commercialization of slaves; She was a fighting queen, fearless, personally leading the army until she was 73 years old.
Otaudah Equiano (Fabrício Boliveira) – The Nigerian writer, who lived between 1745 and 1797, was abducted and enslaved when he was 11 and traded by local traders. He was sent across the Atlantic to Barbados and then to Virginia. There, he was sold to an officer in the Royal Navy, with whom he traveled the oceans for about eight years, during which time he learned to read and write. He managed to buy his own freedom, and in London he became involved in the movement to abolish slavery. In 1789, he published his autobiography, which is one of the first books published by a black African writer.
Toussaint L’Ouverture (Izak Dahora) – The leader of the Haitian Revolution lived between 1743 and 1803, was enslaved until he was 30, and yet he learned to read and write. Upon winning manumission in São Domingos (present-day Haiti), Toussaint led the uprising that led enslaved Africans to victory over French colonists, abolished slavery there. Captured and imprisoned in 1802, he left Haiti under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who won the revolution and, in 1804, proclaimed the Independence of São Domingos.
Harriet Tubman (Olivia Araújo) – Ex-enslaved woman, she has an imprecise date of birth, considered 1820 or 22, and lived until 1913. She enlisted as a cook and nurse during the American Civil War to spy on and capture information, and there helped hundreds of slaves escape from the dominated territories of the southern farms, from the United States to the north of the country, where there was no slavery, and to Canada.
Mahommah G. Baquaqua (Reinaldo Junior) – Formerly enslaved, he lived between 1820 and 1857, was born in West Africa, in present-day Benin, came on a slave ship that docked in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. But working on a merchant ship, which took him to New York, changed his life completely. At that time, the northern states of the United States had already abolished slavery, and Baquaqua managed to escape. In Detroit, he published his biography, which is one of the few records of the time told in the words of a black man enslaved in Brazil, and which describes in detail the heinous punishments committed against those enslaved in the country.
Virgínia Leone Bicudo (Aline Deluna) – Sociologist and first Brazilian psychoanalyst woman, was born in São Paulo and lived between 1910 and 2003. Co-founder of the Brazilian Society of Psychoanalysis, she is one of those responsible for important publications in the area.
Luiz Gama (Flavio Bauraqui) – An important abolitionist leader, journalist and Brazilian poet, he was born in Salvador and lived between 1830 and 1882. The son of a Portuguese descendant with a free slave, the revolutionary Luiza Mahin, was sold by his own father, after his mother was exiled for political reasons. Self-taught, he became one of the most active abolitionist lawyers in the country, responsible for the release of hundreds of blacks held in captivity.
Rosa Parks (Barbara Reis) – Civil rights activist, was born in the United States and lived between 1913 and 2005, worked in Montgomery, the capital of the state of Alabama, in the southern United States, the center of the biggest racial conflicts in the country. She is said to be the “mother of the modern civil rights movement” in the United States.
Nelson Mandela (Bukassa) – Lawyer, president of South Africa, lived between 1918 and 2013. Mandela led the movement against Apartheid – legislation that segregated blacks in the country. Sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment, he was released in 1990, after great international pressure. He received a “Nobel Peace Prize” in December 1993 for his fight against the regime of racial segregation.
James Baldwin (Angelo Flavio) – Writer, playwright, poet and social critic, was born in the United States and lived between 1924 and 1987. At school, his talent for writing was noticed from an early age and was stimulated by teachers. In Paris, he wrote the semi-autobiographical book Go Tell It On The Mountain, published in 1953 and considered by Time magazine in 2005, one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Malcolm X (Samuel Melo) – Civil rights activist, was born in the United States, lived between 1925 and 1965. Through the influence of his brothers he converted to Islam. Because of his intelligence, oratory, strong personality, he soon attracted crowds. Over time, his speeches became increasingly popular and inflamed. As his popularity grew, his rejection increased and he made enemies that led to his being murdered.
Mílton Santos (Ailton Graça) – Geographer, journalist, lawyer and university professor, he was born in São Paulo, and lived between 1926 and 2001. He is recognized worldwide as one of the greatest Brazilian geographers and, in 1994, he was awarded the Vautrin Lud Prize (the Nobel Prize for Geography) and has more than 40 books published in seven languages.
Martin Luther King (Guilherme Silva) – Baptist pastor and political activist, was born in the United States, lived between 1929 and 1968. Within the black movement, he fought for civil equality between blacks and whites and had as a strategy of struggle the method of non-violence and the preaching of love for others, inspired by Christian ideas.
Nina Simone (Ivy Souza) – Singer, songwriter and civil rights activist, was born in the United States, lived between 1933 and 2003. She used her songs to express her revolt at the racial conflicts she witnessed since childhood in the southern United States.
Lélia Gonzalez (Marlana Nunes) – Historian, anthropologist and teacher, she was born in Belo Horizonte, and lived between 1935 and 1994. Intellectual who devoted part of her work to analyzing the effects of the nefarious combination of racism and sexism on the situation of black women, in addition to discussing language and creating the notions of amefricanity and pretuguês, meaning ‘black Portuguese’.
Muhammad Ali (Babu Santana) – Greatest boxer in history, elected “The Sportsman of the Century”, was born in the United States, lived between 1942 and 2016. Ali was born Cassius Clay and his victory in boxing came with his conversion to Islam and the change of name. He would then be called Muhammad Ali. Summoned, he refused to go to the Vietnam War and defied the American government. The move yielded the forfeiture of his heavyweight title and left him for three years out of the ring until the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
Angela Davis (Narunda Costa) – Philosopher and activist, was born in 1944 in the United States. As a teenager she organized interracial study groups, ended up being harassed and banned by the police. She was persecuted for her association with the American Communist Party and the Black Panthers, convicted and imprisoned without evidence. After her arrest, Angela became an influential history teacher and became an activist against the American prison system.
Luiza Bairros (Valdinela Soriano) – Administrator and Social Scientist, she was born in Porto Alegre in Brazil’s south, living between 1953 and 2016. She was one of the most active names in the Unified Black Movement (MNU), the main organization of the country’s black community in the second half of the 20th century, and was also marked by her political trajectory. She was Secretary of Promotion of Racial Equality in Bahia between 2007 and 2011 and Chief Minister of the Secretariat of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality in Brazil, between 2011 and 2014.
Marielle Franco (Taís Araujo) – Councilwoman, sociologist, human rights activist, was born in Rio de Janeiro, in Complexo da Maré, lived between 1979 and 2018. Elected councilwoman in 2016, she chaired the Women’s Defense Commission and was executed on the night of March 14, 2018. Her death became a landmark and cause for protests in several countries in the world. Even today, the case has yet to be solved. The councilor defended the causes of women, blacks, LGBT people and the periphery.
Mirtes Souza (Tatiana Tibúrcio) – Mother of the boy Miguel Otávio, who died after falling from a luxury building in Recife.
Neilton Marttos Pinto (Silvio Gulndane) – Father of the teenager João Pedro Mattos Pinto, murdered in the Salgueiro favela, in São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro
Young Protester against George Floyd murder (Tulanih Pereira) – Actress plays a mixture of testimonies from protesters at the time of the tragic episode that culminated in the death of George Floyd, which started a wave of protests in various parts of the world.
Source: Raça Brasil #219
This is a very unique and inspiring project. Good work Lazaro!!!