Note from BW of Brazil: For a number of years there has been a discussion as to why it seems that descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States have made more social advancements than their brothers and sisters in Brazil. In analyzing the two situations, many come to the conclusion that, in many ways, Afro-Brazilians are about 50 years behind their African-American counterparts. The discussion is quite intriguing but the answers to these questions are not as simple as differences in one or two things but would rather require an entire thesis or dissertation to come to a definitive conclusion. But whatever the conclusions, Afro-Brazilians have been increasingly asking themselves the question over the years and a few recent incidents in the United States brought this question to the front and center once again.
The first was a few weeks ago when director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith called for a boycott of the 2016 Oscar Awards ceremony due to a lack of black representation. The second was a recent performance at the Super Bowl by music superstar Beyoncé and why there is no Brazilian equivalent of the diva. A third incident has recently provoked yet another Afro-Brazilian to address the issue, which we will bring to you in a future post. First, let’s take a look at one writer’s views on reactions to comments made by comedian Chris Rock as he hosted the Oscars ceremony and differences in what African-Americans have achieved compared to Afro-Brazilians and some of the possible reasons for such contrasts.
The role of the black Brazilian at the Oscars
Courtesy of Todos Negros do Mundo
I didn’t want to write a big text about Chris Rock’s opening at the Oscars because I felt lazy. I felt lazy because many black Brazilians were throwing fire on Facebook, criticizing the guy’s presentation. But I can’t help myself.
Unfortunately, I have to talk about some black people I know who are into audiovisual, but who had the courage to criticize the guy’s posture, besides not having enough intelligence, or historical knowledge to understand the acidity of his jokes. Blacks who say filmmakers in Brazil can criticize the guy and even feel ashamed or disgusted by his words and his jokes, but can’t see a palm in front of their eyes.
Funny that some are black “filmmakers”, who consider themselves the goads of galaxies for making films that nobody saw (family doesn’t count), but are still hostages of the incentive laws to get do even more “films” with no relevance and that no one will see. Of course, some. We have some black filmmakers who care about the cause. They use the cause as a theme, help and encourage others who wish to follow the same path.
But unfortunately we have some black Brazilians that, so that they can make movies that nobody sees, automatically go up on a pedestal, to deify themselves and love being deified as being the most different of the race, who managed to make “movies”. They forget that we have huge problems in this area, because as I’ve already said here, our problems are much greater because we have no space. Black Americans make fun of their situation, it is a form of protest, they have the microphone in their hand. They can get up on stage and give each one a slap in the face in the main ceremony of the industry. The cameras are pointed at them, they can speak to all of Hollywood and over 800 million people around the world.
Beyoncé did her protest, dancing, swaying and singing her protest lyrics. Why didn’t anybody complain? Everyone thought it was incredible and it was. The woman is a goddess. But one thing is fact, the majority of blacks who find success in the US, are down for the cause. Some do participate in the songs of others, give money, help push careers into gear and so on. Each uses his or her weapon, his or her form of protest to protest.
Chris Rock is a star, well-respected and rich. He’s an actor, director, producer, comedian and does what he wants with his career, including having the courage to get on the Oscar stage and say what he wanted. For example, have the courage to say in front of Sylvester Stallone that Star Wars is more credible that his film, Creed.
And us, what can we do? What have we achieved? Do one or two edicts even scratch the production of blacks? How many blacks are able to access the college of performing arts, production or cinema? What makes us think we are in a position to criticize black Americans?
We never had a de facto leader. In Brazil, when blacks get some space, instead of helping, they cheer so that you can never rise, so that they are not “overshadowed”. Overshadowed in that? By making horrible movies that no one will see? Not wanting to miss out on the “incredible” character in the novela (soap opera), such as the malandro do morro (hustler/trickster on the hill/in the ‘hood) who betrayed his woman with the whole community? That is the vagabond, the drunkard of the novela. They do not want to lose the stereotypical roles they get.
Man, they had a black man presenting the Oscars, the president of the academy is black. There were many blacks in the audience and many others presenting awards. If nothing else, the ceremony was also boycotted by other black actors and directors. On top of this, many other blacks were at the door of the Dolby Theatre, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, wanting even more space. What do they want, to conquer the Universe? Yes!!
Chris Rock said in his opening speech that maybe not they hadn’t demanded space in cinema only in the 60s, becsause they had more important things to worry about; such as grandmother hanging from a tree, for example.
And we here, what are we doing? Here, a black man comes to success and never touches the subject of racism, because they are afraid of losing his job, his little room in the casa grande (big house/slave house). The guys are silent, don’t talk about it, don’t touch on the subject and don’t even bother to take advantage of the space they managed to get to open the doors for others who would like to have the opportunity.
Black Americans, with everything they’ve already achieved, are still asking for opportunities. They still think that they don’t work enough. Really, it will never be enough to make up for what all we all suffered around the world and suffer today.
There, they are owners of movie studios, film production, music labels, publishers and even TV. Oprah Winfrey owns a television channel. One of the richest women in the world, with assets of 6 billion dollars. You know what she does with all that money? She becomes the producer of films like Selma. Builds schools for African girls to become leaders.
Those guys, have and has had several leaders who fought for civil rights and others struggle up to today for rights and opportunities. We never had. Those guys have managed to elect a black president and for two terms. This will never happen in Brazil. Here, we see, the already few black filmmakers who had the opportunity to do great circuit movies, and could put black actors in their films, but didn’t. In other words, black Brazilians are not united, don’t help each other. The black Brazilian doesn’t work on TV, cinema or advertising, he is still fighting in order for his cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair) be accepted. Really?!
When the TV deals with the “racism” theme, it’s often connected only to being called a macaco (monkey) or because someone suffered racism for having cabelo crespo.
Here, blacks only appear during Carnival for 5 days, showing their beautiful white teeth in vignettes of Globo TV, and the rebolado (hip shaking) of the Globeleza mulata standard, tipo exportação (of the exportation type). Carnival operates as a national quota, for blacks to appear on television. I’ve already heard this. They tell me that we appeared for 5 consecutive days during Carnival, what more do we want?
The problem here is much greater. It will take 500 years to get close to the level of those guys. I won’t see it. My children won’t see this day come.
Let’s act with more intelligence, black people in Brazil. We are not in a position to criticize. If you think it’s really cool to get an edict arranged, and raised 50,000 reais to do a shitty short film that no one will see, you don’t have the same condition to criticize black American millionaires. Those guys are fighting for Oscars. The black Brazilian is still trying not to be called a macaco. When you do a role on TV or film it’s to show your ass, wretchedness and shaking your hips. The periods in which black Brazilians most worked in the audiovisual of Brazil was when they did Carandirú or Cidade de Deus (City of God). I’ve seen black actors celebrate because the TV will write another novela about slavery, so all black actors will be hired. Then, it’s exactly what happened when they freed the slaves. They all go out into the street, without a scarf or documents, with one hand in front and one behind. They will cheer so that soon they make another novela about slavery so they can work again. That is, we are still hanging from trees and tomando chibatas (taking the whip). The worst is that some find themselves privileged to be hung in trees larger than the others. They feel superior because they are hanging from an apple tree, where every now and then he has the right to eat an apple. A right that the other doesn’t have!
Note from BW of Brazil: The piece above exemplifies very well the realization of many black Brazilians who look to their brothers and sisters in North America, often from the perspective that African-Americans were treated much worse than Afro-Brazilians, and perceive that perhaps they’ve been deceived about the two situations. After all, again, as most have been taught, the United States is by far the more racist of the two countries, right? But as the debate raged on, somewhere along the way, people started to stop, look and think. “Wait a minute – if they’re treated so much worse than we, why have they achieved so much more than we? Why do they have so many prominent people in a wide range of fields? Many more than one could ever dream of for Afro-Brazilians?” Perhaps the whole ‘United States is more racist than Brazil’ argument is a bit flawed. Or perhaps it’s a huge fraud.
The fact is that the depths of racial discrimination and institutional racism cannot be measured simply by the existence or non-existence of laws of racial segregation, lynchings or bans on interracial marriages. The fact is that Brazil’s brand of racism, while often times similar to that in the US, spins the practice in a method that often leaves its targeted victims deceived, unsuspecting and disarmed to fight against it. And its methods of exclusion are far more effective than Jim Crow era in the United States. For as absurd as it might seem to separate people according to their race, on the one side where this segregation existed, black people were able to place representatives of their race into various areas of the society as the best within their group, while in the other, where this segregation didn’t exist (at least legally), the racial ideology arranges the racial groups into a hierarchy in which one group has little access to anything. One side says, separate and unequal but both sides are allowed to have their respective best. The other says, “we are all equal” but maintains one group at the bottom at all times. At least with one side, the divided hierarchy allows the discriminated against group to construct its own. For this reason, in the United States, there are black movies, black radio, black TV shows, etc. that gives exposure and a base to a black audience.
Let me also make it clear that the description of the African-American community in the above piece, while partially true, is not quite as accurate as the author would have us believe. The “crabs in the barrel” mentality the author described has also done quite a bit of damage to African-Americans, as somewhere during the experience in North America, black Americans adapted a ‘Big Willie’ syndrome where every individual dreams of amassing a fortune so that they can ‘floss’ and be recognized and adored by the rest of his or her group. It is also true that other groups have been much more successful in practicing a sort of group economics while most of the $1 trillion in African-American buying power ends up in the hands of non-black groups. It should also be understood that this is not entirely the fault of African-Americans as ‘hidden forces’ have long used its power to allow other groups to financially exploit the black community while simultaneously making it difficult, if not impossible, for black people to get into and thrive in the game efficiently.
Yes, the situation in Afro-Brazil is quite worse, but all is not well in African-America as that black population remains vulnerable to all sorts of pitfalls woven into the system of white supremacy. In 2015, the African-American rate of unemployment remained double that of whites and those are just official numbers. African-American ownership of television is only about 1% and during the economic meltdown of 2008, research revealed that black families were unfairly targeted for sub-prime mortgage loans on unequal terms and continuously ‘redlined’ into primarily black neighborhoods. I would also suggest that while recognizing the success of media moguls such as Oprah Winfrey or rappers-turned businessmen such as Jay-Z, there is more to these stories than meets the eye. Yes, many African-Americans they have been able amass tremendous fortunes, but these success stories don’t reveal hidden glass ceilings that affect even them. For example, many black rappers such as the aforementioned Jay-Z, P. Diddy Combs, Dr. Dre and others have earned hundreds of millions of dollars with their own record labels, but African-Americans remain frozen out of the music distribution market, which is where the true power lies.
Todos Negros do Mundo also misses a bit of reality when they make reference to ‘leaders’ such as Al Sharpton being “at the door of the Dolby Theatre…wanting even more space.” Sharpton’s position as a ‘leader’ of the African-American community has come under suspicion of fraud since the time he came upon the scene. Sharpton and other well-known African-American civil rights personalities have long been accused by many of people of being fakers who are only out to line their pockets individually while appearing to be fighting for justice for the whole group. A lawsuit by African-American businessman Byron Allen against Sharpton, his and other civil rights organizations serves as just one such example of this. Allen accused Sharpton, the Urban League and the NAACP of accepting payments by cable TV giant Comcast to remain silent and not take any sort of action against Comcast’s discriminatory practices against him, other black producers and cable programming providers. The case was originally thrown out but then only two weeks later re-opened. Not exactly the type of accusation that provides legitimacy for groups that are supposedly working in the interest of African-Americans as a whole. These types of accusations have dogged African-American civil rights organizations for years.
From the perspective of this writer, Afro-Brazilians and African-Americans are in fact in similar positions in terms of overall power although the situation of the latter is by far better than the former. There are reasons for this. One, due to the position of the United States as the dominant economic, political and military power in the world, even in a position of ‘trickle-down’ economics, African-Americans have far more opportunities than their counterparts in Brazil. Two, the history of the United States is one that has openly declared itself as several nations within one thus paving the way for entirely separate structures of success within its various communities while Brazil has defined itself as one nation in which all are simply Brazilians while simultaneously making opportunities, for the most part, available only to its whiter citizens. Three, even as Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in the period of the 1950s to the 1970s came up far short of granting full equality to African-Americans, the gains that came out of these struggles elevated a parcel of this group into prominence even while leaving its masses in basically the same position (and in some ways worse) than before the beginning of these movements. Similar movements never happened for Afro-Brazilians and only in perhaps the past two decades have they been able to make any recognizable social advancements.
Both groups continue to suffer from police brutality that claims the lives of countless black citizens, both are under-represented in many areas of society (media, politics, banking, etc.) and both have faced institutional racism leading to vast inequalities in quality of life indicators (wealth, health, education, etc).
But this writer has seen definite signs of what Todos Negros do Mundo (TNM) pointed out in the article above. Upon close analysis, it often seems that Afro-Brazilians as a whole are willing to accept the scraps that fall off of the tables of their former slave masters. How else can one explain the continual existence of so many modern novelas (soap operas) based in the slavery-era? Or television series that continue to present the very stereotypes that Afro-Brazilians are supposed to be fighting against? This writer was more than a bit disappointed a few years ago when so many prominent Afro-Brazilians came out in support of the television series Sexo e as Negas when momentum for cancelling this latest program loaded with stereotypes about black women was mounting. Although people have the right to their own opinions, I felt that there had to be a little pressure going on behind the scenes that may have jeopardized the careers of those who didn’t come out in support of the program.
Another example supporting TNM’s analysis is being constructed as the words in the article are being written. The Record TV channel is currently preparing a novela called Escrava Mãe, meaning ‘slave mother’, that will feature a large cast of Afro-Brazilian actors. The series will be the acting debut of former Globeleza dancer Nayara Justino, who spoke with pride of the importance of this role in her career. One can’t really blame Justino for her happiness in attaining such a role considering the humiliation she faced after being summarily dismissed from a position she won fair and square in a popular vote. But Justino’s ordeal is so representative of the precarious position of Afro-Brazilians as a whole. Having been treated in such a hostile manner that led to a bout of depression, Justino is clearly happy just to get an opportunity, even if it is playing a role so reminiscent of the Afro-Brazilian experience for 350 years.
This writer saw a hint of this same stance a few years ago during the November festivities of the annual Month of Black Consciousness. During one of the events, I had a brief conversation with a well-known Afro-Brazilian writer who informed me that his latest project would be on an upcoming TV series set in the slavery era. When I inquired as to why there must be yet another series based in the era of human bondage, he simply shrugged his shoulders and casually walked away. He was in essence saying, “hey, at least I’m working”.
Source: Todos Negros do Mundo