How Brazil’s soap operas maintain the passive image of Afro-Brazilians while avoiding a real discussion about racism

novela babilc3b4nia racismo na infc3a2ncia nc3a3o c3a9 romance
novela babilc3b4nia racismo na infc3a2ncia nc3a3o c3a9 romance
'Babilônia' novela scene with the characters Júlia and Regina
‘Babilônia’ novela scene with the characters Júlia and Regina

Note from BW of Brazil: It’s an old complaint from organizations of the Movimento Negro (black rights organizations). The Brazilian media, and Globo TV in particular, often creates weak, passive and stereotypical characters of Afro-Brazilians in its productions. The list of problematic black characters is too long to list here, but here are just a few that have been featured on this blog. We’ve seen black characters in Sexo e as negas and Em Família (both in 2014) that seem to need white people to come to their rescue to protect and stand up for them in moments in which they’ve been confronted by racism. In 2009, the novela (soap opera) Viver a Vida was celebrated by many because Taís Araújo became the first black actress to be featured as a protagonist in a prime time novela. This celebration was brought into question when Araújo’s character was shown falling to her knees and receiving a vicious slap in the face by a white character. And in 1994 we saw perhaps the worst example of these passive characters.

In the novela Pátria Minha there was scene in which a white boss went into a rage wrongly accusing his black gardener Kennedy (played by Alexandre Moreno) of stealing jewelry. In a scene of more than six minutes, we see the Pelegrini character (played by Tarcísio Meira) aggressively scream at the black youth, grab him and insult him. “Black bastard, insolent black;  you all, if don’t you shit when you come in, you shit went you leave,” (1) the white boss screams as he terrorizes his young employee. (See scene in video below)

Controversial scene from 1994 novela 'Pátria Minha'
Controversial scene from 1994 novela ‘Pátria Minha’

Among a host of other insults, Pelegrini also tells Kennedy that he isn’t capable of learning anything. And worst of all, the look on the face of the Kennedy character is of absolute fear and horror. The character doesn’t react and doesn’t defend himself, a very problematic interaction considering the position of blacks in Brazilian society and a 350 year relationship between the white master and his black slave that, in many ways, hasn’t changed much even today. Black organizations such as Geledés of São Paulo, went to the courts claiming that the novela spurred racial prejudice. Other groups sent protest letters to the network and the press.

It is with this history that we must keep in mind as we consider the latest offering in the form of a Globo TV novela. The question we must ask here would be: Are the soap operas and TV series indoctrinating Afro-Brazilians to accept a passive role in relation to white people or is it simply a portrayal of the real aggressor/victim historical relationship between whites and blacks? Although these views don’t reflect the full history, Afro-Brazilians have long been stereotyped as passive, cordial, subservient, irrational and dependent (Afolabi 2009, Oliveira 1999) so one must wonder what message Globo is trying the divulge knowing full well how influential images are on its audience. Of course there will be those who will argue that these types of situations unfortunately exist in the real world and as such, they should be shown. But sometimes the detriment of such portrayals outweigh the necessity of authenticity. And as we’ve seen in numerous protests, a rising Afro-Brazilian activism is questioning, protesting and outright rejecting such depictions of their experience. Which brings us to today’s piece…

The novela Babilônia: racism in childhood is not a romance

By Thiane Neves Barros

Regina (Camila Pitanga) and her daughter Julia (Sabrina Nonata) in 'Babilônia'
Regina (Camila Pitanga) and her daughter Julia (Sabrina Nonata) in ‘Babilônia’

Sorry if I miss the romanticism in these times, but when I saw the scene from the Globo TV novela (soap opera) Babilônia, which aired on May 30th, with the dialogue between the characters Júlia (Sabrina Nonata) and Regina (Camila Pitanga) I burst into tears. It wasn’t from emotion, but with indignation and pain.

That text lost in the middle of a soap opera that lasts 8-9 months being said by a black child, when black children are almost always criminalized in Brazil, and forcing her to say things like “meu cabelo é ruim” (my hair is bad), “o cabelo dela é liso” (her hair is straight), “o moço foi preso porque era negro” (the young man was arrested because he was black)… and transform that pain into “beauty” is not representative, it is not a denouncement, it doesn’t promote the reflection that black children need, it doesn’t strengthens us. It’s not resolving to tell a black child suffering from racism: “ela tem é inveja de você” (she is jealous of you) (or something like this) when the motivation is not envy, but racism.

There is no romance in racism. And racism in childhood should outrage Brazilians. It is a child we’re talking about.

The scene was very soft. Of a nonexistent softness when it comes to institutional racism, for example, as what happens in the school environment. Where is the criminalization? The debate in school? The demands towards the school and the child’s family who did the racist act? Is this demanding too much from a novela? Then it doesn’t demand much from me. You see that that child who committed the act doesn’t even have a face. It remains in the realm of the imagination. A completely misplaced scene.

Using the voice of a child to earn an audience is ugly, Gilberto Braga (writer of Babilônia). This is not debate, it’s welfare. And such cruelty to put that text in the mouth of a black child. The matter was dealt with, as always, in the private. The family that comes to undo the child’s trauma and just a handful of optimistic words, a look in the mirror and that’s it, the child is already recovered, racism has been debated, Globo TV is in the times of their charitable obligations. (2)

I know, and as I know that many black children go through this racism unable to denounce it. And I know that the scene having been aired on a Saturday is strategic. I’ve been a black child, today I am a black woman and also work in advertising and have a Master’s in communication, I don’t have a naive relationship with the hegemonic media. By the same token I never stop demanding.

I will repeat: I’m sorry if I didn’t romanticize the scene, if I don’t feel supported and am wanting a lot from the entertainment industry, but I’ve seen Globo use an entire novela to discuss cancer, drugs, alcoholism, life after death, trafficking of women and everything else. And it cedes to us, black people, cedes to black children, a scene of 2 minutes and 58 seconds?

The same station nowadays takes to the air a series that maintains stereotypes about black women; and did a sordid campaign trying to discredit us as protagonists of ourselves because we are not satisfied with the series. A station that mulatacizes black women every year in Carnival. The same station puts black men on almost always as bandits and black women almost always dancing samba in heels or in the kitchens of white madams.

No, wait. I wasn’t happy, no.

Will I never be? Yes, of course! On the day in which the debate is actually deepened rather than exotifying and restricted to conquering an audience. Why after all, do the makers of television novelas still condition us to the products, we aren’t producers nor consumers. And when we protest, they take up stereotyping!

It’s worth it to write much more only about the last battles of the novela in question to get an audience through “political correctness” – in time: who invented this expression? – With a pseudo debate on racism, but using a child? No…that messed with my equilibrium.

And there will be those who ask me: don’t you know the trajectory of Gilberto Braga? Don’t you know who he’s inserting the racial debate in his telenovelas?

There will always be those who tell us that we do not know what we’re talking about, because the black woman doesn’t understand novelas, theater, or art or anything, she only understands how to (dance) the samba, right? For they know that I also know that the same author has a habit of drawing us as passive. Just as in the context of the scene. It’s not only him, it’s true. There is not one novela in which I see real representation of diverse black people. Do you know why? Because for the national television drama, we are objects of study.

In this country the black infant mortality is “second only” to the indigenous infant mortality. Black children are the most sexually exploited. Black children are the most affected by child labor. Black children are the most used by the true owners of drug trafficking. Black children are the least adopted. Finally, black children do not suffer from racism because of envy.

That scene between Júlia and Regina is so clearly conceived by a white person that the scene was beautiful rather than painful. Passive women. Regina’s character is the one that screams the most during the whole novela, is the one that stands the most for the righteous among all the characters, and is affectionate with her entire clan…and in the moment in which injustice affects her daughter, her flesh, her blood … the scene is romantic? Human inconsistency.

Cut. Smile. Finish with the racism in childhood. Let’s return to the Brazilian racial democracy. And so I say: no white author will be able to empower a black girl. I said it.

Source: Blogueiras Negras, Folha de S.Paulo. Afolabi, Niyi. “Two Faces of Racial Democracy” in Afro-Brazilians: Cultural Production in a Racial Democracy. University of Rochester Press, 2009. Oliveira, Cloves Luiz Pereira. Struggling For a Place: Race, Gender and Class in Political Elections in Brazil. In Reichmann, Rebecca. Race in Contemporary Brazil: From Indifference to Inequality. Penn State University Press, 1999.


1. One of numerous popular racist sayings in Brazil.

2. What is basically the modus operandi of Globo TV. In numerous incidents over the years, the network has either completely avoided a real discussion of racism or approached it in a manner which seems to be purposely ineffective. More examples here and here.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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