Novelas portray a white image of Brazil, says Mozambican writer
“For us, Mozambicans, Brazil’s image is that of a white country, or at best, mixed. The only black Brazilian successful that we recognize as such is Pele.”
“We are afraid of Brazil.” This was the unexpected statement of Mozambican novelist Paulina Chiziane that drew the attention of the public during the seminar, Contemporary African Literature, which includes the programming of the 1st Book and Reading Exhibition (Bienal do Livro e da Leitura), in the capital city/Federal District of Brasília. She was referring to the effects of the presence in Mozambique, of Brazilian churches and temples and cultural products such as soap operas (novelas) that transmitted, in her opinion, a false image of the country.
Not only are Brazilian novelas immensely popular within the country’s borders, its most popular and most powerful television network, Globo, sells its scandal filled novelas to more than 130 countries around the world, which in turn also sells a certain image of the country around the world. Although the 2010 census revealed what many have proclaimed for many years, that Brazil is a majority non-white country (51% of 200 million people), one would not believe it by watching its television productions. In the words of filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo, who studied the image and presence of Afro-Brazilians in Brazil’s novelas, “there are more blacks on Danish television than Brazilian television.” Araújo’s opinion is echoed in the words of Chiziane, whose country, Mozambique, shares with Brazil the same national language, Portuguese.
“For us, Mozambicans, Brazil’s image is that of a white country, or at best, mixed. The only successful black Brazilian that we recognize as such is (soccer legend) Pelé. In soap operas, which are responsible for defining the image we have of Brazil, we only see blacks as porters or as domestic servants. At the top [of the social representation] are whites. This is the image that Brazil is selling to the world”, criticized the author, noting that these representations help to perpetuate racial and social inequalities that exist in her country.
“From seeing this so much in the novelas, whites giving orders and black sweeping and carrying, Mozambicans see such a situation as apparently normal”, Paulina maintains, pointing to the same social organization in her country.
The presence of Brazilian churches in Mozambique also has negative impacts on the country’s culture, in the writer’s assessment. “When one or more churches come and tell us that our way of believing is not correct, that the best is the belief that they bring, it means destroying a cultural identity. There is no respect for local beliefs. In African culture, a healer is not only a traditional healer, but also the holder of a part of history and popular culture,” she points out, criticizing the governments of both countries that allow the intervention of these institutions.
In regards to the representation on Brazilian television stations, novelas are not the only type of programming where Afro-Brazilians are immensely underrepresented. Let’s first consider what the numbers tell us about black actors in Brazil’s novelas and then take a look at a few other areas. According Araújo’s analysis of 98 Brazilian novelas produced by the Globo Network in a period of 34 years from 1963 to 1997, excluding those that based in the slavery era, black Brazilians were completely absent from one-third of all of the novelas and in the other two-thirds, black actors never made up more than 10% of the casts. Although Brazil has always proclaimed its pride in its mixed race population, on public as well as privately owned television channels, one can’t help but note an overrepresentation of blonds and those with a purely European appearance.
In another study by Araújo entitled, “Where is the negro on public TV?”, we find the following statistics:
- Only 4.1% of programming highlighted black Brazilian culture as its focus
- In 13.9% of programming, there were only quick references to Afro-Brazilian or Afro-Diasporic elements
- On talk shows of one channel, TVE Brasil, studied in a chosen period, 71 of 84 (84.5%) guests were white. While on another, TV Nacional, 95 of 105 (90.4%) were white.
- Afro-Brazilians didn’t fare much better as journalists or hosts of these programs: 86% of television hosts and 93% of journalists were also white
Many media experts have expressed the opinion that the media represents how a society sees itself or influences how a society sees itself. If this is the case, what do these numbers tell us about Brazil? Sociologist Daniel Martins cites a study in which black and white Brazilian youngsters were asked how they saw themselves at the age of 30. The white youngsters said they would be lawyers, engineers and doctors. The black youth said they would be secretaries, doormen and bus drivers. Could this be because when television does show black people on television, these are usually the roles they play?
Blogger Diego Damasceno did his own test. He asked people to identify the Afro-Brazilian actors in the top box below and then asked them to identify the white Brazilian actors in the lower box. His results? He has yet to meet someone who can name more than four black actors and actresses while he has yet to meet anyone who gets more than four white actors and actresses wrong.
Over the years, Brazil’s media, its conservative side of academia and even much of the population have insisted on pointing to the US as an example of a racist nation while completely ignoring the existent racial inequalities and black invisibility in many sectors of Brazilian society. No one denies that the US certainly has a race problem, but Brazilians need to ask themselves why they don’t see anything wrong with the invisibility of their own black people.
Source: Agência Brasil – EBC