Note from BW of Brazil: Brazilian novelas are an important cultural phenomenon for which to analyze the society. It’s almost impossible to really know Brazil without knowing a little about its ever popular, highly stylized, dramatic soap operas. Analysis of the Brazilian novela on this blog concerns the casting and characters or lack thereof featuring black actors. The only black person seen on Record TVs last novela was the street sweeper who happily danced with his broom during the intro theme of the series. In other words, no black characters. The Record network followed that series up with the current running Pecado Mortal, meaning “mortal sin”, which does feature a few black characters. But as we’ve questioned in previous posts, simply having black characters on a show doesn’t necessarily represent an advance in the way black representation is presented in the media. This novela is a throwback to the 1970s and its intro theme, like countless other songs and soundtracks of Brazilian novelas, features a well-known American song, this time the classic 1979 Crusaders hit “Street Life”.
Pecado Mortal Intro
So before delving into the black characters/actors of Rede Record’s latest novela, let’s get a brief background and description of the overall plot.
1970s Brazil. This is the background of the first novela by writer Carlos Lombardi.
This is a phase of a very special moment in the history of Rio de Janeiro and a new wave which changed the profile of crime in Brazil. It speaks of “innocence” lost when drug consumption spreads through society by changing the power structure and the values of criminal lifestyles. If before the owners of the piece were the kingpins of the jogo do bicho (illegal lottery/numbers game), now they compete for every inch of territory as the new kings of crime: traffickers. It was the end of the so-called “Brazilian miracle”, an era season of economic growth and promise of a better tomorrow that cocaine, that before was exclusive expense of the rich, spreads to the middle class in a new landscape that changed the face of the night by combining light, glitter and dance music: the disco.
It’s in this context that we follow the life of the Vêneto family. When Michele Vêneto (pronounced Mi-ke-le) (Henrique Guimarães/Luiz Guilherme) came to Brazil to escape trouble with the police and the financial difficulties of wartime Europe, the bookies were still masters of underprivileged areas. It was a patriarchal power where the bicheiro (jogo do bicho boss) was both benefactor of community, samba school owner and arbiter of local justice. There was awe and respect for the figure of the bicheiro, but a climate of terror that the posterior domain of traffickers imposed didn’t exist. Much of what one sees today was consolidated at that time.
The serial shows how drug use spread through society, changing the power structure of the crime. If before the bosses were the famous kingpins of the numbers game, from that moment on traffickers would share the status of kings of crime.
Parallel to this, items like bell bottom pants, mustaches and goatees, colorful clothes and black power hairstyles (afros) dictated fashion. And Rio society began to live the era of easy sex with one-night stands and virginity becoming less and less taboo. All this just a few years before the discovery of AIDS, that would end the joy of many.
In this scenario, people were still getting married, having children, acquiring debt and forming families. And some of these families became synonymous with wealth and power. The surname went on to become very important, especially in the world of crime.
Djalma, played by André Luiz Miranda is Joana’s son and Antonia’s brother. He is love with the Silvia de Almeida, the character played by Lua Blanco but lacks the courage to declare his love for her. Not good at either soccer or samba, but insists on participating in both.
Urana Torres, played by Roberta Santiago, is black police officer who doesn’t like her new boss. A good and honest professional, she does an important job by infiltrating the underworld of trafficking and prostitution.
Joana da Costa, played by Aline Borges is a widow and has two grown children, Djalma and Antonia. She works as a cook for the Vêneto family. In her bosses’ home she is discrete. She falls in love with Bernardo, played by Gero Pestalozzi. Her children don’t approve of her relationship with Bernardo and this is a conflict for her Bernardo also faces prejudice because of being a white man involved with a black woman.
Antônia, played by Gabriela Moreyra, is described as a passista (Carnaval dancer) and a periguete, who knows she has a nice body, and thus loves to go up and down the hill to exercise her power over men. She uses her charm to get what she wants and will become a luxury prostitute who has as an objective to unravel the world of bookies.
The character Jeferson Carneiro, better known as Mineral, is played by André Ramiro. He is known as a “soldier” of the “jogo de bicho”, the illegal lottery racket, second only to Vegetal, another character. He likes to talk tough with residents of the morro (hill/slum/favela) to show who has authority. He believes he is fully capable of occupying Vegetal’s position and will spare no effort to reach his goal. He has a troubled relationship with Tonia, who he claims is his girlriend. Throughout the novela, the Mineral character is involved in a number of unscrupulous deeds including orders to hurt and kidnap, attempted rape, a brutal beating and setting an oven explosion that would lead to injury and death of other characters.
Note from BW of Brazil: So first things first. According to critic/director Joel Zito Araújo‘s 34-year study of Brazilian novelas, Afro-Brazilian actors never made up more than 10% of the cast of non-slavery based novelas. In Pecado Mortal there are a total of 55 actors employed in the cast, 5 of which are of visible African ancestry which is about 9%. In other words, same ole, same ole. In terms of character descriptions, there is nothing shocking about the Djalma character. On the stereotype meter of black characters scale, there is an attempt to connect him with samba and soccer, both of which he doesn’t do very well in. But the tried and true connection between blacks, sports and music remains. The Urana Torres character also doesn’t seem to tie directly into an particular stereotype.
Then we have Joana da Costa, who is a cook, and Antônia, described as a passista, a piriguete (somewhat similar to a “hoochie”), and prostitute who uses her body to attract attention and get what she wants. Both the Joana and Antônia characters fit well into tried and true stereotypes of black women in the kitchen and the sensuous figure connected to the hyper-sexualized image of the Brazilian “mulata”. For those not familiar, the long-time Brazilian saying goes: “White woman for marriage, mulata for fornication and negra for the work.” Needless to say, they Pecado Mortal fulfilled both in these two roles.
Perhaps the most problematic figure of the novela would have to be the character Mineral, portrayed by actor André Ramiro of Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) fame. Mineral fits into a long line of criminal/malandro (hustler) and/or violent types of black men featured throughout the history of novelas. Thus it is fair to say that Rede Record’s latest offering does nothing to advance the cause of changing the image of the black Brazilian in the media. But then again, are you surprised?
Just for the sake of numbers, below are the rest f the cast members. One photo is missing.