Ignored in their own country’s film industry, the work of black Brazilian filmmakers is being recognized by numerous international film festivals

black cinema capa

Note from BW of Brazil: So the big news of the week is that fans of black cinema saw a record number of black people walk away with trophies at the 2019 Oscars. More than 30 years in the film game, director Spike Lee was finally able to walk away with the award. Other African-American winners included Actress Regina King, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler, actor Mahershala Ali, director Peter Ramsey and screen writer Kevin Willmott. Needless to say, in some ways, the Oscars seemed to wanted to pay a debt its owed to black people in film for many years. After all, it was just 2016 when there were calls for a boycott of the Oscars ceremony due to the lack of black participants. So what does all of this Oscars talk have to do with Brazil. Nothing really, except for the fact that it exposes yet another area in which Brazilians have to admit, black Americans, even still being on the bottom of American society in many ways, are still light years ahead of the progress of black Brazilians.

As I’ve argued for some time now, BOTH countries are clearly racist, but of the two, which country’s racism is more effective? Well, consider the topic of film. Even though it’s been a long time coming, in the past few decades, African-Americans have been recognized numerous times for their contributions in the American film industry, at one of the most prestigious award ceremonies of the all, the Oscars. In contrast, here it is 2019, and Afro-Brazilian filmmakers still can’t even get recognized by the own country for their accomplishments. And this is ridiculous because, increasingly, the international film community have been recognizing the works of these talented people. In a previous post, “About Necropoetics and Black Cinema“, we saw that a number of Afro-Brazilians have had their works recognized in international and well as Brazilian film festivals, so the question would be, why aren’t these films being shown in Brazil’s movie theaters? If I were to walk the streets and ask everyday Brazilians to name an Afro-Brazilian filmmaker, chances are, most wouldn’t know what to say. Well, again, allow the Black Women of Brazil blog introduce you to a few of them. 

black filmmakers
Black Brazilian filmmakers: Clockwise from top left, André Novais, Glenda Nicácio, Yasmin Thayná, Zózimo Bulbul and Joel Zito Araújo

Threatened by cuts in culture, black Brazilian cinema is recognized outside of the country

Film showcase starring and directed by blacks was featured at the Rotterdam Festival

By Bruna Caetano

Alma no Eye (1973), is the debut film by Brazilian director Zózimo Bulbul

Made invisible and often ignored by the Brazilian festivals, cinema negro (black cinema) plays a role of re-deeming Afro-Brazilian culture and resists amid the lack of incentives, something that can intensify with the government of Jair Bolsonaro. In contrast to the cuts, films starring and directed by blacks have earned recognition in shows and festivals such as Rotterdam.

Also during his campaign, Jair Bolsonaro had promised to transform the Ministry of Culture into a branch of the Ministry of Citizenship, which came to fruition after his election. With the demise of the ministry, Ancine came under the command of Osmar Terra (MDB), leaving the artistic class helpless and with no prospect of new affirmative policies, which adds to other anti-government decisions such as the re-assessment of sponsorship incentives to cultural production of Petrobras.

“I recognize the value of culture and the need to encourage it, but this should not be the responsibility of a state oil company,” Bolsonaro said in his Twitter. According to him, the state has higher priorities.

In 2016, the year the Agência Nacional do Cinema (National Film Agency or Ancine) began recording race data in the area of audiovisual, no black women directed or wrote any of the 142 Brazilian feature films released, and only 2.1% of the features were directed by black men. In 2017, only 16% of the 160 films released were directed exclusively by women, and none by a black woman. In Brazil, where 54% of the population is black (preto/black + pardo/brown), of the films released in 2016, only 13.3% of the cast was black.

Café com Canela
‘Café com Canela’ (2017) by Glenda Nicácio and Ary Rosa

Exceptions are the feature length and short films directed and carried out by black people that gain greater prominence in national showcases. An example is the Bahian movie Café com Canela (2017) by Glenda Nicácio and Ary Rosa, who participated in the Rotterdam Festival in 2018. The film also won through the popular jury the category of Best Film, of the 50th Festival de Brasília do Cinema Brasileiro (Brazilian Film Festival of Brasilia), which earned the Prêmio Petrobras de Cinema (Petrobras Film Prize) and its distribution in the national circuit.

In the festival, cinema negro was contemplated by a greater number of inscriptions in 2018 and of an award destined to the black theme: the Prêmio Zózimo Bulbul (Zózimo Bulbul Award). Even so, only 11% of the films in the edition were directed by blacks.

zozimo - contemp black braz
Taken from the 48th Rotterdam Festival website

The Soul in the Eye showcase – Zózimo Bulbul’s legacy and the contemporary black Brazilian cinema was highlighted at the 48th Rotterdam Festival, which took place between January 23 and February 3, and took black Brazilian cinema to the Dutch public.

Building on the legacy of Zózimo Bulbul – actor, filmmaker, producer, screenwriter and one of the greatest names in black cinema – the Festival has shown films such as Abolição (1988), by Bulbul, Ilha (2018), by Ary Rosa and Glenda Nicácio, Meu amigo Fela (2019), by Joel Zito Araújo and Temporada (2018), by André Novais, winner of the Festival de Brasília in 2018. The show, mixing classics with current productions, also featured 22 short films, such as Alma no Olho (1973), Bulbul’s pioneering production, and K’bela (2015) by Yasmin Thayná.


The Festival of Rotterdam, one of the largest in Europe, sought in this edition to expand the dissemination of invisible productions, according to Janaína Oliveira, curator of the showcase. She explains that the event sought to support black Brazilian contemporary cinema productions through projections in crowded Dutch movie theaters, putting the work of black men and black women in front of and behind the cameras in the spotlight and, consequently, discussion of the racial issues addressed in her works. But she points out that contemporary production goes beyond the portrait of socioeconomic problems, considering the possible solutions.

“Festivals like Rotterdam are important because they create possibilities for new circuits for the exhibition and circulation of films. The feature length films end up entering the industry, and the short ones, on a smaller scale, also have that possibility of projection, circulating in other spaces and being seen by other people,” she said.

In addition to putting the films in evidence, the show was also an opportunity for creators to have contact with the international film industry.

The idea of the showcase came from programmers Tessa Boerman and Peter Van Hoof after learning of Bulbul’s work and contacting Yasmin Thayná, director of the short film K’bela, and Bruno F. Duarte, director of communication for the film. The short brings a sensitive look on the daily racism suffered by black women and portrays the ancestral strength of cabelos crespos (kinky/curly hair), but was ignored and rejected by national festivals. Later, it was discovered on the internet by Rotterdam Festival programmer Tessa Boerman, who, impacted, invited Yasmin to the Black Rebels program in 2017, and was surprised by the film taken by the director: Alma no Olho, by Zózimo Bulbul.


The reality of Brazilian audiovisual production is fraught with difficulties, especially when it comes to blackness. According to data from Ancine, audiences of national filma were almost ten times less than that of foreign films in 2017 – 17,358,513 versus 163,867,894 people. In the year, only 34.56% of the films that debuted were national.

Racism in cinema also reverberates in international production, as shown by research conducted by the Multidisciplinary Affirmative Action Study Group (GEMAA), which showed that of the 218 films with the highest box office between 2002 and 2014, 45% of the protagonists were white men, followed by 35% white women, 15% black men and only 5% black women.

There are few commercial films that can break through this barrier and bring the racial cause to the cinema screens. Black Panther (2018) is an example of this, and grossed $ 1.3 billion with a predominantly black cast and an anti-racist plot. Moonlight (2017) also surpassed that line, and also with black cast and director, reached $65.3 million profit with a plot about the life of a black gay man.

For the curator, the current scenario is one of apprehension. “Brazilian cinema is made mostly from public resources such as tax incentives. What made it possible, in part, for this generation of black filmmakers who are gaining prominence on the national scene, were global education policies.”

She emphasizes that most of the filmmakers come from peripheral regions, and had access to universities and culture through access and permanence policies, as well as the calls for  incentive edicts and funding for the Brazilian audiovisual industry.

Editing: Mauro Ramos

Source: Brasil de Fato

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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