Note from BBT: Feliz Ano Novo to everyone reading this! This first post of 2021 is actually a report from the last week of 2020, but it is another intriguing project demonstrating the idea of doing for self as hopefully, it leads to big success in 2021. Since I began covering issues affecting the Afro-Brazilian community in 2011, one constant theme has been the lack of black representation in Brazil’s mainstream media. Whether in TV or film, black Brazilians were either invisible, very few or when they did appear, they were in minor roles often associated with stereotypes.
For many African-Americans who have followed the Afro-Brazilian experience, it appeared that black Brazilians were about 40-50 years behind in terms of advances of the community in the overall society. In many ways, that still seems to hold true but in other areas, they’ve made considerable advances. I have always noted that black Brazilians lacked a number institutional hallmarks that could contribute to the development of a cohesive black identity that African-Americans have had for so long. In Brazil, you didn’t have historically black colleges and universities or specifically black radio stations that kept the community on the same page.
From what I’ve seen in 21st century thus far, the internet has filled that void in an incredibly fast period of time. In fact, I would argue that without the internet, the advances black Brazilians have made in past decade probably wouldn’t be possible. The social networks and communities formed within those networks have given the Afro-Brazilian community the capability of sharing stories that are important to them as well as dialogue about what these stories mean. Out of these networks, a new collective thought and activism has emerged. A collective thought that was simply not possible as recently as the 1990s.
The internet has also provided a new attitude of, “If you won’t do it, we will” with black Brazilians creating their own initiatives, programs, events, etc. that have specifically black themes. While television has been slow to increase the role of black Brazilians on the small screen, the stage and the internet have in some ways filled that void. Black theater groups are taking Afro-Brazilian themes to the stage and via YouTube, black Brazilian content creators have proven that there is a whole market out there that is interested in what they have to say.
Which leads me to today’s topic, a new streaming service targeting the Afro-Brazilian population and filling the gap of black representation with productions that black Brazilians have wanted for years. In the last few decades, the success of programs featuring primarily African-American casts became extremely popular in Brazil, but also led black Brazilians to question why it was necessary to import black TV series and sitcoms to see black representation when there are so many black people in Brazil and the country is home to one of the largest television viewing audiences in the world.
One of the main people behind Wolo TV is not even Brazilian, but rather Angolan. Licinio Januário has lived in Brazil for over a decade, is an actor and one of the key people behind black Brazilian theater groups and campaigns such as Coletivo Preto and Segunda Black. Januário is a key figure and has made a number of contributions to the Afro-Brazilian struggle for media representation. A platform such as Netflix has already proven to be highly successful in Brazil, so the success of this platform is very much possible. Below, Thais Sena delves into his latest venture, the Wolo TV streaming service.
“Casa da Vó” opens Wolo TV streaming service, the first focused on the black population.
By Thais Sena
I don’t know about you, but today, while Wolo TV is not yet on the air, I suffer looking for black productions on streaming services. Yes, it is true, today the offer is much greater. The teenagers in my neighborhood talk about, for example, (Netflix series) Blood and Water (Sangue e Água in Brazil) and I discuss Insecure with my friends. When I was a teenager, the reference was Eu, A Patroa e as Crianças (My Wife and Kids), Todo Mundo Odeia o Cris (Everybody Hates Chris) and Um Maluco no Pedaço (Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire). Did I forget any?
The supply is much higher, but so is the demand. With each new discovery of Nollywood, with each new production by Spike Lee, we get a taste of “I want more” and we rush to the options for similar titles when a movie or series ends to find out what else we can consume of that type! But the truth is that most of the time, we end up discovering that the productions were not produced by a black team, that most of the people behind the cameras were white or didn’t find something of the same type available.
Before Wolo TV …
I remember watching an interview, if I’m not mistaken, with Michaela Coel, in which she talked about her wish that a black person could take a role in entertainment without necessarily involving a racial issue. Simply because that person is talented. As usually happens with white people. And then, driven by this Christmas wave, I ended up watching the movie Operation Christmas Drop (released as Missão Presente de Natal in Brazil), which stars the actress, singer, model and dancer Kat Graham, which is more or less this idea. Because she works for the American government, occupies an important position, works for another woman (to please a superficial ~ and white ~ perspective of feminism), gets involved in an interracial relationship… And, well, to say the least, the film is bad and reinforces many stereotypes of the wonders of the United States. And I’m saying all this to say that having a black actress as the main character in a production is not enough. We need to be in the processes that precede the performance.
The arrival of Wolo TV
That’s why Wolo.TV is so important! Wolo TV is the first streaming platform with content focused on the black population. Subjects such as urban culture, regional diversity and narratives are part of the exclusive content of Wolo TV.
And that’s not all. Do you remember the controversy surrounding the production Cara Gente Branca (Dear White People), making an offer of a lower salary to black actor Jeremy Tardy than those made to other white actors, falling precisely into the hypocrisy that the series condemns? This and many other cases denounce that this is a structural issue. We need black productions, as is the case with Wolo TV’s first production, but we also need black people leading the streaming services. And this is what happens on Wolo TV.
The importance of a black streaming service
Wolo TV is a technology startup and streaming platform founded by actor and director Licínio Januário in partnership with Leandro Lemos, who has over 20 years of experience in the technology area in Brazil and the United States.
Wolo TV aims to be a streaming platform with the face of Brazil. The country has the largest black population outside Africa, however, the black community is still underrepresented by the Brazilian media. This is what Leandro Lemos, CTO of Wolo TV remembers:
“The black population consumes an average of BRL 1.7 trillion per year, but we still don’t see TV series showing black families in a position of success. That is why we decided to develop an innovative and high quality audiovisual content that represents us as a black population,” he points out.
The first audiovisual production to be launched by Wolo TV is the comedy A Casa da Vó. The five episode series, lasting half an hour each, stars singer Margareth Menezes as the grandmother Teresa, a successful and former public servant, who shelters her 4 grandchildren in her home, in the neighborhood of Jabaquara, to help them to face the world.
The series hasn’t even aired yet and has already caused (or at least is related to) social media movements. Recently, some black influencers have denounced the disparity in engagement between black and non-black people. One of these complaints was related to the number of followers of stars of great importance to Brazilian art, such as the actor, singer, host and entrepreneur Sérgio Loroza, but with an inconsistent number of Instagram followers.
Well, on a date very close to the premiere of Casa da Vó, these influencers came back to question the number of followers of Margareth Menezes. At the beginning of the exhibition, Margareth had 255 thousand followers. With less than 1 day of campaigning, her number of followers has already increased by almost 15 thousand. Do you see the importance of seeing ourselves represented and coming together?
Let’s get back to the series. The comedy features digital influencers Johnny Kleiin, Jessica Cores, DJ Pelé, Sol Menezzes, Kiara Felippe, Jacy Lima, Cadu Libonati, Diego Becker and has special guest appearances by rapper and music producer Rincon Sapiência, actor Wilson Rabelo and digital influencer Dum Ice. There are other well-known names behind the cameras, such as cinematographers Sergio Isidoro and Cris Conceição. Cris recently appeared in M8 – Quando a Morte Socorre a Vida, the Jeferson De feature film competing for the Brazilian place at the Oscar for “Best Foreign Film” in 2021.
Written by the co-founder and CCO of Wolo TV, actor and director Licínio Januário, along with Allex Miranda, Erica Ribeiro and Milena Anjos, the series is part of the initiative to produce positive and representative narratives for the black population in Brazil and worldwide. “In Brazil, a young black man is killed by the police every 23 minutes. This is real. The world doesn’t know that. To change this reality, we need to change politics and the media. We are working with Wolo TV to use technology and the media to change how black people are represented here,”says Januário.
The production was inspired by the American sitcoms Everybody Hates Chris and Fresh Prince of Bel Aire. I’ll take the opportunity to say that, originally, Um Maluco no Pedaço (meaning ‘a crazy one in the piece’) is called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which is something like (in Portuguese) “o mais novo príncipe de Bel-Air”. Do you notice the subtlety in the difference between calling Will Smith a prince in the original name and then distorting him to “just another crazy one” when bringing the series to Brazil? Once again, we see the importance of representativeness beyond acting.
The launch of Casa da Vó was December 25, at 7 pm, on the Wolo TV platform. The first episode was free with the next four to be released with a single payment at a popular price. To watch the series, users will need to access the Wolo TV website on their cell phone, tablet or computer.
And this is just the beginning…. Other Wolo TV productions are already in production! #EstamosAtentos (we are attentive)
Source: Todos Negros do Mundo