Note from BW of Brazil: Why does Brazil reject black films? A very good question but only another piece in the Brazilian puzzle of black exclusion that is rampant throughout many areas of the country. We featured the sleeper short film at the Cannes Film Festival, O Dia de Jerusa, a few months ago and its good to see that a major news outlet is approaching the reason why a Brazilian film, directed by a black woman and a black film production company, was totally ignored in the nation’s media and its film festivals, but managed to capture the attention of one of the most important film festival in the world. In reality, the issue touches on the reality of black Brazilians in not only film but television as well. Afro-Brazilians are severely under-represented on the small and big screens in front of the camera and when they are featured they are regularly portrayed as long-time stereotypes or one could argue as caricatures.
This dilemma is at the heart of the controversy of the current television series Sexo e as negas on the Globo TV network. But invisibility of Afro-Brazilians could be considered even worse in Brazilian Cinema where a recent report showed that black women are protagonists of only 4.4% of films. So if the problem for Afro-Brazilian actors is bad, one can imagine that access to film directing is infinitely worse. A decade ago, the busiest Afro-Brazilian filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo, who is mostly known for his media critiques and documentaries, released his first feature length film Filhas do Vento. Although the film won a number of awards, distribution of the movie was meager and critics questioned the idea of releasing a film with a 90% black cast. This attitude in fact represents how Brazil’s elites look at the Afro-Brazilian population in general. In nearly every realm of society, there is no problem with the presentation of a 53% non-white Brazil as being an extension of Europe in the tropics in its mass media.
In the United States, a country that most Brazilians consider to be most racist in the world, it is common to see films with primarily black casts with black directors. To be clear, American films in general are also overwhelmingly white and when an African-American star is cast in a mainstream movie that is not considered a “black film”, often times the actor is the only or one of the few black actors in the film (1). Granted the situation of African-Americans in American cinema leaves much to be desired; yearly, there are few “black film” releases and they are usually relegated to a style of comedy that often borders on buffoonery. But again, the situation is infinitely worse in Brazil where “black film” remains unheard of, and as the Araújo example demonstrates, it is still considered an outlandish idea. Sure there have been blockbuster films such as 2002’s Cidade de Deus, 2003’s Carandiru and 2007’s Tropa de Elite, all featuring many/some Afro-Brazilian actors, but these films are not “black films” as they don’t focus on concepts of Afro-Brazilian issues and race is not even approached.
Brazil is often proclaimed to have the “largest population of African descendants outside of Africa”, second only to Nigeria, and the Nigerian film industry offers a sharp contrast to the situation of black actors/filmmakers in Brazil. Nigeria’s film industry, known as “Nollywood” is second only to India and ahead of the third place US in the number of films produced per year. The country’s film industry employs about one million people and is second only to the agriculture business in terms of how many people it employs. Because of their low production costs, these films are very popular and the content of such movies feature indigenous issues that are relevant to a mass audience. With Afro-Brazilian-oriented events and products growing in production and profits, Brazil may want to consider how costly it is to continue ignoring such a large portion of its population.
Why does Brazil reject black movies?
by Mariana Queen Nwabasili
Neither the 38ª Mostra Internacional de Cinema de São Paulo (38th International Film Festival of São Paulo) nor the Festival do Rio (Rio Film Festival) nor the 42º Festival de Cinema de Gramado (42nd Film Festival Lawn) recognized the film.
The short film O Dia de Jerusa (Jerusa’s Day), a directed by a black woman from the state of Bahia, Viviane Ferreira, with lead roles also featuring actresses who are black, Léa Garcia and Débora Marçal, was not selected for the national film festivals this year.
However, the foreign recognition was surprising: the work was one which featured during the programming of the “Short Film Corner” (showing of short films) for the 7th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, held in May this year in France.
Debate at USP
In a debate earlier this month at the Department of Law at USP (Universidade de São Paulo), Viviane mentioned that among the reasons for the refusal of the Brazilian film festivals was the estrangement (or would it be preposterousness?) – with the fact that the cast is composed entirely of black actors.
“The movies that I am disposed to make permeate my daily observations and experiences, so it’s cinema that I know very well, that I reflect in the shine of my hair strands. But, in Brazil, there is a scenario of total aggression on black subjectivities. Therefore, we cannot stop producing ever, and male and female black directors have resisted. The day that we abandon our stories, our aesthetics and subjectivities, it means that racism has prevailed,” Viviane said in an interview for this blog.
The choice of the director for exclusively black representation on the screen, as well as in the script, is also related to the proposal from the film’s producer. Odun Formação e Produção (Odun Training and Production) works with productions (film, theater, dance and music) and training (workshops, lectures, courses) on cultural assets, prioritizing issues related to Afro-Brazilian culture.
20 minutes long, O Dia de Jerusa stands as a tribute to the black oral tradition passed down through stories of elders. The story exposes the ancestral memory of Jerusa (Léa Garcia), a lady who lives in a two-story house in the Bexiga neighborhood in São Paulo. While doing an interview for a survey, done by Silvia (Débora Marçal) about the use of soap powder, Jerusa begins to expose memories of a lifetime.
If in Brazil the plot and cast were not gratified, outside of the country what was rightly gratified was the focus on a story that took place with the resident black amid a neighborhood inhabited by blacks – like so many in Brazil, in the peripheries and quilombos.
Help at Cannes
But not everything was a party in Cannes. For the newspaper A Tarde, one of the few media outlets that registered the feat, director Ferreira said that in order to stay during the festival she had help from various institutions and friends.
She adds that the producer Odun will continue to send the film to other international and national festivals that take place until March 2015. Negotiations with TV channels are also among the plans.
“I went to Cannes with the peace of mind that the glamour of the spotlight that drives me to make films, but conscious that this drive is important for us to shine light on the uneven reality that the audiovisual industry submits black Brazilian filmmakers.”
1. This norm can be noted in a long line of blockbuster films starring African-American actors such as Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman or Eddie Murphy.
2. Moudio, Rebecca. “Nigeria’s film industry: a potential gold mine?” Africa Renewal website. May 2014. Accessed October 26, 2014.