“There are no Brazilian Spike Lees”: Writer of series on slain councilwoman Marielle Franco ignores award-winning black Brazilian filmmakers to justify absence of blacks on TV project
By Marques Travae
The more I hear about this story, the worse it gets. I told you a few days ago that I would be keeping my eye on developments concerning a TV series being produced by Brazil’s top television network, Rede Globo, based on the murder of Rio councilwoman, Marielle Franco, who was murdered two years ago today. In my last report, I shared with you that more than 60 influential Afro-Brazilians, many of whom are part of the áudio-visual world responsible for creating television and film productions, signed a denouncement criticizing the lack of black creators on the project.
For the group, “it is revolting once again to see branquitude (whiteness) disguise as good intentions the appropriation of the image of a black lesbian woman, from the favela, a mother, daughter, sister and wife.” Since the release of that letter, the people involved in the project have begun to issue statements presenting their position on the controversy, which, in fact, has made the situation even worse.
The first to speak on the issue, screenwriter Antonia Pellegrino, who is a writer involved in the series, attempted to justify the choice of José Padilha as director of the production in an interview with UOL columnist Mauricio Stycer. Pellegrino, Padilha and George Moura, all white, have been chosen as the creators of the series. Afro-Brazilian critics have pointed to past projects of Pellegrino and Padilha to demonstrate that they are not the proper choices the work on a project about the slain councilwoman.
Pellegrino was a writer of the heavily criticized Rede Globo TV series Sexo e as Negas while Padilha was diretor of the Tropa de Elite film that praised a very violent of Rio’s Military Police known as BOPE. Padilha also directed a series that many say glossed over the facts about the notorious Lava Jato political scandal that led to the imprisonment of numerous Brazilian politicians and businessmen.
Speaking on Padilha and herself, Pellegrino said, “I am progressive and non-punitive. He regretted it,” in reference to Padilha’s directing of the series about Lava Jato, O Mecanismo. She added, “people make mistakes. And I don’t think it’s a big enough mistake for us to cancel a person.”
Addressing the issue of why there are no black people involved creatively in the series about Franco, Pellegrino again attempted to present justifications, regretting that there is no “Brazilian Spike Lee” who could have put at the head of the project.
“There is structural racism in Brazil that prevented, until today, the formation of a Brazilian Spike Lee. It’s not white supremacy. It’s a denunciation”, she wrote.
The main issue I, and numerous black Brazilians take with this statement is that, as I have pointed out in numerous past articles, there are numerous talented Afro-Brazilians in the áudio-visual world who have won countless awards and prizes for their work, both around the world and in Brazil. The term “Brazilian Spike Lee” has already been applied to a few of them. The talent is there, what is missing is the opportunity for such a director to attain the fame and prominence of a Spike Lee in a country that continues to refuse to give Afro-Brazilians a voice in the telling of the importante role black Brazilians have played in society.
Andreza Delgado, na activist and cultural producer, immediately took Pellegrino to task over the statement. “In reality you can be even more racist, calling for a Brazilian Spike Lee and disqualifying a a whole range of black professionals, as if there was only one way to make audio-visual and cinema. We blacks are diverse and allied you have nothing,” she tweeted.
Also addressing Pellegrino’s attempt to justify the selections, Professor Caio César said, “There is no Brazilian Spike Lee because, historically, white women like you are always more inclined to lend a hand to white men when it comes to building anything”.
In response to the idea that there is no “Brazilian Spike Lee”, I will re-introduce just a few of the Afro-Brazilian filmmakers who have made a name for themselves in the world of film and television.
André Novais is a director, executive producer, as well as a screenwriter. He and a partner founded the Filmes de Plástico production company in the city of Contagem, located in the state of Minas Gerais. On his resume of films are Temporada, Ela volta na quinta, Pouco mais de um mês and Fantasmas. Novais’s films have already been selected at more than 200 festivals in Brazil and around the world, winning more than 60 awards for his works. Temporada was selected for Locarno Festival in Switzerland, while receiving five nominations in Brazil’s own Festival de Brasília, which also brought the film’s star Grace Passô the award fir Best Actress.
Joel Zito Araújo is perhaps the most famous of today’s Afro-Brazilian directors. His 2000 book and documentary A Negação do Brasil brought a critical overview of the history of Afro-Brazilians in the ever popular genre of Brazilian telenovelas. Director of 16 films, Araújo is most known for his documentaries on topics such as race, sexual tourism and black representation in Brazil’s media, but he also directed a critically acclaimed feature film in Filhas do Vento (2004).
His list of awards is too long to list here, but a few include the Festival Iberoamericano de Cinema de Sergipe, Festival É Tudo Verdade, Mostra de Cinema de Tiradentes, and the Festival de Cinema de Gramado, wjhere his Filhas do Vento won eight awards. His latest work is a documentary about the legendary Nigerian Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti, My Friend Fela.
Jeferson De is another important filmmaker in Brazil. A paulista (native of São Paulo state) from the city Taubaté, Jeferson has received numerous accolades and won a number of prestigious awards in his two decades of fillmaking. A few of his Works include Distraída Pra Morte (2001), Carolina (2003) and Narciso RAP (2005).At the ‘Gramado Film Festival’ on the premiere of his first feature film. ‘Bróder’ was an absolute success earning 11 nominations in the Grande Prêmio do Cinema Brasileiro. It was also featured in the renowned ‘Sundance Screenwriters Lab’, in Germany.
In 2005 he released the book Dogma Feijoada e o Cinema Negro Brasileiro. In 2009, he founded the production company BUDA FILMES. In 2013, he directed 26 episodes of the Pedro & Bianca series, shown on the TV Cultura network and won an Emmy at the 2nd Emmy Kids Awards and also the Prix Jeunesse Iberoamericano in category of fiction. Jeferson’s work has been featured and in numerous TV productions, directing series and programs for MTV, SBT, Globo and the TV Cultura television networks. His current work is the film M8 – Quando a Morte Socorre a Vida, featuring Lázaro Ramos, Ailton Graça and Zezé Motta in the cast.
Originally from Salvador, Bahia, Viviane became the second black Brazilian woman to direct a feature film with her Um dia com Jerusa, which stars one of the country’s most importante Afro-Brazilian actresses, Léa Garcia. She is a founding partner of Odun Formação e Produção as well as artistic director of the annual Encontro de Cinema Negro Zózimo Bulbul- Brasil, África e Caribe, a film festival presenting works of black filmmakers around the world. Jerusa was originally released as a short film, later developed into a feature length movie.
Sabrina is a filmmaker, screenwriter, actress and producer. In 2018, the American publication Bustle elected her to eighth place as one of the “36 Female Filmmakers Across the Globe Who Are Breaking Ground In Their Own Country”. Her 2016 film Rainha earned 13 awards. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Fidalgo has was bound to enter the world of cinema. Her parentes are Alzira and Ubirajara Fidalgo, founders of Teatro Profissional do Negro.
Renata is a director and screenwriter and created the award-winning Empoderadas webseries, and a screenwriter for the Pedro e Bianca series shown on the TV Cultura television network. She is winner of the 2013 International Emmy Kids Awards as well as the 2013 Prix Jeunesse Iberoamericano and 2014 Prix Jeunesse International awards. Included in her film credits are the short films Aquém das Nuvens and Sem Asas, which she wrote and directed. She also coordinated the development of the series Rua Nove as well as the the 1st Encounter of Black Women of Audiovisual. If all of this weren’t enough, she also writes for the Globo TV novela (soap opera) Malhação – Viva a Diferença, which won an Emmy Kids Internacional award.
Nicácio is founder of Rosza Filmes, an independent production company in the Bahia’s Recôncavo region. In the Quadro a Quadro project, she participates in cinematographic workshops and film club activities in public schools in the region. Her award-winning film Café com Canela was shown in nine states across Brazil and was part of the Rotterdam International Film Festival as well as winning Best Film honors at the 50th annual Festival de Brasília do Cinema Brasileiro. With her victory at the Prêmio Petrobras de Cinema (Petrobras Cinema Award), the film would earn another distribution deal, which is another major hurdle for black filmakers in Brazil. Canela opened the 21st Mostra Tiradentes, was part of the 41st Mostra Internacional de Cinema de São Paulo and earned awards at the XIII Panorama Internacional Coisa de Cinema as well as the 9th Semana dos Realizadores.
Camila is the director of the 2017 documentary O Caso do Homem Errado (The Case of the Wrong Man), which tells the story of Júlio César de Melo Pinto, a black man who was executed by police in the of Porto Alegre in 1987. The film was pre-selected for an Oscar and with its release, she became first black woman in 34 years to get her film shown in a commercial theater. Her latest production is the series “Nós Somos Pares”
Vicente is a director, producer and founder of Preta Portê Filmes. She studied cinema at the Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado (FAAP) and EICTV in Cuba. Her films have also been shown in several festivals, such as the Berlin Film Festival and the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. Her works have won 50 awards, including a 2015 co-production award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for the film A Terra e a sombra.
The aforementioned list of filmmakers is by no means expansive. There are simply too many talented Afro-Brazilians that have proven their talents in the world of cinema, which again highlights the difficulties and obstacles that Brazil places at the feet of its black population. So Antonia Pellegrino saying that the Marielle project doesn’t have the involvement of a black director because there are no “Brazilian Spike Lees” shows a few things. One, she must not have done any investigation on the subject. Film festivals all over the world have been honoring black Brazilian filmmakers for years. And two, her not being conscious of these people as an industry insider tells us a few things. One, she is either lying to save face after being called out, two, she doesn’t hold these directors in high regard or three, she is protecting a powerful, white elite of Brazilian cinema that continues to exclude black filmmakers from their circle.
Brazilian cinematic history is dominated by directors such as Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Cacá Diegues and Glauber Rocha. In the current generation of fillmakers, we see names such Walter Salles, Fernando Meirelles, the aforementioned José Padilha, Hector Babenco and João Moreira Salles. It is no coincidence that they are all men and all white. There is no question here that all of these directors are very competent and are capable of making compelling films. But the bottom line here is that, there are numerous potential “Brazilian Spike Lees”. They have already proven their talent as well; all they lack is opportunity and recognition.
With information courtesy of Revista Fórum, Mundo Negro and Hypeness