Note from BBT: By now, most of you have probably already heard all of the hoopla surrounding the new Viola Davis film The Woman King. Let me first say that I have yet to watch this film although I have read and heard numerous reviews about the film. As I haven’t seen this film and don’t know if I plan to watch it before the month is out, I wanted to only focus on one thing that most of the American media is probably not discussing and that is that Davis recently traveled to Brazil for the first time to promote the film.
Now why would Davis go to Brazil to promote this film, you might ask. Well, I don’t know the exact reason, but I can take a few educated guesses as to why the star is in Brazil. First, there has been much chatter over the past few decades about Brazil having one of the largest, if not the largest populations of African descent in the Americas provoking the interest of tens of thousands of people in visiting the country. Second, with the rise of black consciousness politics in recent years, Afro-Brazilians are starving for representation in the media.
Brazilians of various colors, races and social classes consume a lot of American media including films and television series and specifically speaking of black Brazilians, feeling neglected in their own media, they often look to American media that features black Americans in prominent roles.
Third, black Brazilians have been receiving all sorts of recognition in recent years in a myriad of ways. Afro-Brazilians are regularly named some of the most influential black people in the world by the directors of MIPAD, meaning the Most Influential People of African Descent, a global civil society initiative in support of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. Several Afro-Brazilians have been nominated in recent editions of the BET Awards and BET Hip Hop Awards and a number of Afro-Brazilian music artists have been prominently featured in digital displays in New York’s famed Times Square.
Fourth, while Brazil doesn’t figure prominently in The Woman King film, it is part of the backdrop in the story as many of the enslaved Africans sent to Brazil came from the Dahomey tribe featured in the film. A bit of Portuguese is even heard spoken in the film.
Fifth, Davis herself is apparently impressed with Brazil as she formed a friendship with one of the country’s top black actresses, Taís Araújo, when Araújo came to the United States in 2019 and participated in the 47th American Film Lifetime Achievement gala honoring actor Denzel Washington. Davis invited Araújo to her home in Beverly Hills and two have been ‘sisters’ ever since. Last year, Davis also shared a post by a young Afro-Brazilian woman who caught her eye by posting a video of herself showing the diversity of hairstyles that afro-textured hair can be made into.
If this were all of the connections between Davis and Brazil, that would be enough, but there’s still more.
Number six. The 20th season of Brazil’s ever popular Big Brother Brasil reality show was historic when anesthesiologist, digital influencer, samba school dancer, television host and YouTuber Thelma Assis took the prize. Davis declared her support for Thelma after learning about the reality show.
On Twitter, Viola shared a post by Tais Araújo defending that Thelma Assis should be the champion of the reality show for the sake of representation. Impressed with the American actress’ attitude, Tais Araújo posted: “When Viola Davis ‘retweets’ you on the final day of Big Brother Brasil, what do you do, Brazil?
Seventh, on Twitter, when a Brazilian fan wrote in English asking for the actress to send a message to Brazil adding, “We love you very much”, Davis not only replied to the post, but she surprised Brazilians when she wrote her response in Portuguese: “Oi Brazil, tudo bem?’’, she wrote. The actress even added two hearts with the colors of the national flag – one green and one yellow.
Thelma Assis, again, the champion of “BBB 20”, answered the actress’ question: “Hi, Viola Davis. Despite all the difficulties brought on by the virus, we are doing well.”
Number eight, Davis seems to appreciate Brazil’s art. According to sources, in the actress and producer, along with her husband Julius Tennon, expressed interest in adapting the Brazilian play “O Beijo no Asfalto”, by Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues. The project will be produced in the United States with Wise Entertainment, a company co-founded by the playwright’s grandson, Mauricio Mota. The adaptations are expected to be made in the theater, in the cinema, and also on television.
And ninth, as the #EleNão hashtag, meaning ‘not him’ was trending on Twitter, as soon as Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazil’s presidential election in 2018, Davis showed that she was in the know about what was happening politically in Brazil. She posted on her Instagram account an image with an illustration of five people hugging – a woman, a representative of the LGBTQ+ community, a black man, a Northeasterner, and an indigenous man – with the following phrase: “Stay united and strong”. In the caption, she added: “Brazil, I am with you.”
From everything I’ve read, both on the positive side and the negative, I will eventually have to see this film just to come to my own conclusion, but if what some people are saying is true, I almost feel as though I need to save my money to send a message to Hollywood of the types of film depicting black people that we will and will not accept.
So, as I said, this report will not go into aspects of the film itself, but simply report on Davis’ activities since she arrived in Brazil, I would say, some time during the third week of September.
For the first time in Brazil, Viola Davis learns Afro-Brazilian history, visits a samba school and records an interview to promote ‘The Woman King’ film
Courtesy of O Liberal, Yahoo Notícias, Update Charts
Viola Davis is in Brazil to promote her movie The Woman King, in which she plays Nanisca, the general of the Amazons of Dahomey. Sunday, September 18, the actress stopped in Rio de Janeiro and visited important places in the history of black Brazilians.
She went to the Cais do Valongo, meaning the Valongo Pier, in the Museu da Historia e da Cultura Afro-Brasileira (Afro-Brazilian History And Culture Museum or Muhcab) for an event entitled “The impact of women in Afro-Brazilian culture”, inspired by the feature film directed by filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood. Davis was accompanied by her husband, Julius Tenon.
“The Woman King” had a preview at the Copacabana Palace on Monday the 19 but wasn’t to be released until Thursday in Brazil under the title A Mulher Rei, an exact translation in Portuguese. In the United States, the title brought in $19 million at the box office in its first weekend, surpassing Sony’s own expectations, which expected a return of US$12 million.
The $50 million production was filmed in Africa, with black protagonists, and from the perspective of the Agojie, warriors from ancient Dahomey, in 1823. Located in present-day Benin, in West Africa, the kingdom was marked by centuries of enslavement of black people, most of them destined to Brazilian ports. Two characters (played by the Brits Jordan Bolger and Hero Fiennes Tiffin) speak Portuguese and traffic slaves to Brazil. Again, we must remember that Brazil was the recipient of the largest number of enslaved Africans sent to the Americas. Between 10-15 times more Africans were shipped to Brazil than to the United States.
Davis and her husband Julius Tennon (who is an associate producer on the film) were welcomed by director Leandro Santanna and museologist Larissa Machado. The event was shared on the museum’s website, where the exhibit will be on display until October 1st. Among the items on display are photos of scenes from the feature film, original costumes and production information inspired by African culture and the relationship with Afro-Brazilian culture.
The Cais do Valongo is located in the port zone of Rio de Janeiro, in the downtown area of the city. As it is the only material trace of the arrival of enslaved Africans on the American continent, it was awarded the title of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2017. It was the largest receiving port of slaves on the planet. It is part of the Historical and Archaeological Circuit of the Celebration of African Heritage, along with 5 other places located in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
Constructed in 1811, Cais do Valongo became a site for the arrival and trade of enslaved Africans until 1831, when the Transatlantic Slave Trade was officially prohibited. During the twenty years of its operation, it is estimated that somewhere between a half a million and one million enslaved Africans entered Brazil through Valongo.
Between 1850 and 1920, the area around the Valongo became an area occupied by those enslaved in Brazil or blacks who had been freed. The area became so associated with black people and culture that Heitor dos Prazeres, one of original creators of Brazil’s most popular music style, samba, nicknamed the region Pequena África, meaning Little Africa. Elements of Rio’s Little Africa community were featured in the 2021 Globo TV novela, Nos Tempos do Imperador.
Davis also checked out a rehearsal at the famed Estação Primeira da Mangueira samba school, in the northern zone of the city. The last Carnaval title won by the school was in 2019, entitled “História pra ninar gente grande”, meaning ‘Bedtime story for grown-ups’, in which it talked about those marginalized by the history of Brazil and it became one of the most popular sambas of Rio’s Carnival, in its chorus it quotes: “Hail the caboclos of July / Who were made of steel in the years of lead / Brazil, the time has come / To listen to the Marias, Mahins, Marielles, Malês”.
Note from BBT: Allow me explain what some of these lyrics mean. The word caboclo is a term used to define Native Brazilians. ‘Anos de chumbo’, or ‘years of the lead’ refers to the hardest years of Brazil’s 21-year dictatorship between 1964 and 1985 when there were numerous clashes between the military government and left-wing revolutionaries that lead to the disappearance and torture of thousands of Brazilians.
Maria refers to Maria Felipa who was known as the “Black Heroine of Independence”, a woman that played a important role in the clashes with the Portuguese during the Independence war in the state of Bahia, from February 1822 to July 1823.
Mahin refers to Luíza Mahin, the mother of famed abolitionist Luis Gama, Mahin was a former slave and played a instrumental role in the black uprisings that took place, also in the state of Bahia in the 19th century, the most well known being that 1835 Malês Revolt of black Muslims.
Marielle refers to Marielle Franco, the Rio-based city councilwoman denounced atrocities committed against residents of poor, mostly black communities. Black and bisexual, Franco stood for LGBT rights, racial equality, and human rights. Marielle was murdered in a brutal, still unsolved assassination in 2018 that made headlines around the world.
The previously mentioned Malês were a group of Muslims that led one of the most infamous slave revolts in Salvador, Bahia, in the country’s northeast, in 1835.
Besides visiting the exhibition and the rehearsal of the samba school, the actress gave an interview to journalist Maria Júlia Coutinho, which was shown on on Globo TV’s Sunday evening news journal Fantástico. Coutinho is one of Brazil’s most well-known journalist as she has worked her way up to hosting the popular Sunday evening news program years after being the target of a spectacle of racist comments upon assuming the role of weather girl on the television station’s top daily evening news program.
Davis also continued her friendship with actress Taís Araújo who invited her to her home for a special meeting with a number of prominent Afro-Brazilian entertainers. Among those present to greet Davis were Araújo’s husband, actor Lázaro Ramos, singer Iza, actress-dancer Dandara Mariana, actor Ícaro Silva, philosopher Djamila Ribeiro, actress Zezé Motta and actor-singer Seu Jorge. Araújo defined the meet and greet as ‘a more than special night’
On social media, Taís shared a sequence of photos alongside the artists, including videos of the event. “Receiving friends. Beautiful and more than special night,” she said.
In 2019, during a passage through the United States to represent Brazil in an award ceremony honoring Denzel Washington, Taís visited Viola Davis’ house and also recorded the moment. “Having this time with you and talking about the life of a mother, actress, producer…. It was great! Thank you Viola Davis and Julius for receiving me in your home and in your hearts and for being so kind,” Taís said at the time. Viola released a video and called the Brazilian ‘sister’.
The super-production, estimated to cost $50 million, is directed by and has a cast of black protagonists. The narrative is told from the perspective of the agojie warriors, from ancient Dahome, in the year 1823. Located in present-day Benin, in West Africa, the kingdom was marked by centuries of enslavement of black people, most of them destined to Brazilian ports. Two characters even speak Portuguese and traffic slaves to Brazil.
“Brazil and the Portuguese are an important part of the film,” Viola points out. “What I feel is this connection between all of us, between black people. We are only one port away. There is this impression that we are distant, but in reality we are not,” she added.
Note from BBT: By the time this story is posted, the Davis film will have finally been released in Brazil. As I wrote above, today’s post wasn’t meant to discuss the actual film, but I am curious to know how Brazil’s black media will address the film. Preliminary articles have all praised the film due to its majority black cast, black director and a story taken directly from African history. I’ve long argued that the presence of black people doesn’t always mean we should support something, and given the controversy surrounding the true and fictional elements of this film, its writers and other issues, I do hope Brazil’s black media gives an honest review about this film.