News of popular white singer “coming out” with her partner is big news in Brazil; but why are black lesbians shut out of the media?

ellen daniela1
ellen daniela1
Ellen Oléria, far left, with partner; Daniela Mercury, far right, with partner. Magazine caption: "Gay Marriage"
Ellen Oléria, far left, with partner; Daniela Mercury, far right, with partner. Magazine caption: “Gay Marriage”

Note from BW of Brazil: As the controversy and struggle for gay rights, marriage and recognition continues to make headlines and fuel a hotly contested debate, recently in Brazil, a very well known popular female singer “came out” and acknowledged herself as a lesbian and also her marriage to her female partner. When the news broke, the story was everywhere: TV, newspapers and magazines all immediately jumped on the story. OK, so as the issue of gay rights remains a hot topic, this was indeed news. But it also highlighted the lack of coverage of another story pertaining to sexual orientation.

Last week this blog featured a story in which a well-known lesbian singer alleged that she was the victim of discrimination when she and her partner tried to rent an apartment in an upper crust area of the nation’s capital, where the singer is from. The story hardly got a mention in any major media outlets. So, why was that? It’s hard to say, but some in Brazil’s black community see this as another example of how question of race and representation is dealt with in Brazil. You see, the singer who “came out” and received a lot of fanfare is white, as is her partner, while the singer who suffered discrimination and got hardly any coverage is black, as is her partner. Below is how one blogger analyzed the contrast. 

Singers Black Lesbians are invisible in Brazilian Media

by George Oliveira

It’s not fitting for this text to make a defense or accusation at the statement made by singer Daniela Mercury. It’s just to initiate an analysis of the national media attention given to the situation last week. And still the question lingers of what would have happened had this same statement been made by a black artist. Would we have had the same spotlight to the point of appearing among the headlines of the Jornal Nacional, as what occurred on April 3, 2013?

In a statement on a social network, the militant of the Movimento Negro (black movement) and sociologist Vilma Reis made this comment:

“Brazil gets weak in news in what Mino Carta calls “media stuck in the bowels of the big house”, because after a month out of the social networks the ‘news’ is that Daniela Mercury is gay, like many of us. And in this same media does not resonate what another lesbian singer, Ellen Oléria, posted on the same day, another crime of racism in the federal capital, when the owner made the racial inspection and then “backed away” from renting an apartment in a so-called ‘noble’ area of Brasília.”

A testimonial that brings important elements for a good chat about the invisibility of racism and racial (black) issues in Brazil. Although this deals with another of those topics that seem complex to write about. Do we accept a challenge?

According to the Carta Capital website: “Mino Carta is managing editor of Carta Capital. He founded the magazines Quatro Rodas, Veja and Carta Capital. He was director of news rooms of the magazines Senhor and IstoÉ. He created the Edição de Esportes (Sports Edition) of the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper and created and directed the Jornal da Tarde. For Mino Carta, “The country of the future (Brazil) is strangely obsolete and continues to pay dearly for three and a half centuries of slavery.” In his opinion:

The press has an obligation to be honest. That story of it being objective is wrong. You cannot be objective at any moment of life. Imagine writing! You are the subject even when you insert a comma. But there needs to be honesty, you know? To hear who is on one side, and who is on the other. Give the same weight to the statements of both. And then give your opinion, accentuating the difference between what is true and what is factual opinion. The truth is a simple fact. This is a table [he points to the table], this is a glass, I am drinking Coca-Cola. You are young students, my name is Mino. This is the factual truth. The Brazilian press lies the whole time, omits information when it is doesn’t suit their point of view.

Daniela, Ellen and Racism

For those who haven’t heard, (which I find a bit difficult), Daniela Mercury said, over the internet, that she married journalist Malu Verçosa from Bahia. The photos of the couple were published in a social network and had immediate repercussions. She took the opportunity to criticize Deputy Marco Feliciano, because of his stance against homosexuals and for having assumed the chair of the human rights committee of the Chamber of Deputies.

Daniela Mercury and partner Malu Verçosa on the covers of two popular magazines
Daniela Mercury and partner Malu Verçosa on the covers of two popular magazines

As Vilma Reis wrote, in the same week a report brought us the following information: The singer Ellen Oléria denounced on Sunday (April 7) that she allegedly experienced discrimination during a visit to rent an apartment when the owner questioned how she would pay the rent and made a series of questions with a “doubtful tone and inquisitive look” and backed away from renting the property to the singer from the nation’s capital who won The Voice Brazil 2012, the nationally televised talent reality show.

Cover stories of Daniela Mercury's announcement
Cover stories of Daniela Mercury’s announcement

Remembering their respective career histories, as the queen of Axé Music (Mercury) has had a long and solid musical career and Ellen became known to the general public about six months ago, some questions would be fitting: What would be the position of the Brazilian media if Daniela and Malu had gone through the same situation as Ellen and girlfriend Poliana? Would we have millions of social media shares and media space? Or would Daniela not have been an interesting topic and the subject would have worn out?

Headline: "Daniela Mercury assumes relationship with another woman"
Headline: “Daniela Mercury assumes relationship with another woman”

The fact is that the statement made by Ellen had an infinitely less impact than that of Daniela, although that of the first brought out a common crime in Brazil, which is racism. As Vilma said, we follow racism and its various manifestations vigilantly and combatively. Some more subtle and others very explicit, leaving several marks, sometimes irreparable, especially for the black women of our country.

And you, what can you say about black invisibility in the media?

Note from BW of Brazil: So let’s analyze this a bit more. As the article above mentioned, in reality, Daniela Mercury is indeed more popular in the national spotlight than all of the black singers mentioned in the article. Last year this blog posted an essay that highlighted how white singers get far more media exposure and endorsements singing “Axé Music”, a style of Afro-Bahian origin, while the black artists are nearly invisible. Daniela Mercury was one of the artists featured in this article. Thus, again, it appears that Mercury is able to use a privilege that is accorded to persons of a more European phenotype in Brazil. No one can deny that whiteness carries a HUGE benefit in Brazil, but in this scenario, can one say that Mercury’s press appeal was based solely on white privilege? First, let’s consider the careers of the black singers. 

Leci Brandão, whose career as a Samba singer dates back to the mid-1970s, has been a state senator for a few years is recognized more for her political endeavors nowadays. Leci has spoken about her sexual orientation and experiences with discrimination since at least 1978 when she gave an interview to Jornal Lampião da EsquinaShe is well-known and respected as an artist but never garnered the type of media attention that Mercury receives.

Blog post: "Lesbian activism of Leci Brandão"
Blog post: “Lesbian activism of Leci Brandão”

Singing sisters Pepê and Nenem, after having some hits back in the late 90s, disappeared from the spotlight several years ago and experienced a string of financial problems before attempting an unsuccessful musical comeback a few years ago. On a previous post, this blog featured an appearance by the sisters in a televised interview in June 0f 2012 in which they confirmed that they were both lesbians and have been since they were children. That article featured a racist comment made about the sisters by someone who posted a comment about them in social network. Interestingly enough, that post questioned what type of discrimination took precedence when one is black and gay. 

Pepe Nenem - assumida
“The two of us are homosexuals”, reveal Pepê e Neném on TV

Mart’nália, who is the daughter of long-time Samba master Martinho da Vila, has carved out her own successful career as a singer, songwriter and musician having released several CDs and DVDs and recently entered the acting arena in the Globo TV series Pé na Cova, in which she plays a lesbian. But she doesn’t get anywhere near the same press as Mercury. And, as the article pointed out, while Ellen Oléria is a respected singer/songwriter/musician who recently won a very popular televised talent reality show, she is still new on the national scene and not a household name.

Mart'nália - assumir nada
Mart’nália, with father Martinho, discusses her sexuality

Singer/musician Ellen Oléria’s sexual orientation was also openly featured during her various performances on the televised talent reality show, The Voice Brazil, which she would go on to win. During several of Ellen’s performances, the camera often featured audience shots that featured Ellen’s mother as well as her partner, Poliana, with words “mãe (mother)” and “namorada (girlfriend)” of Ellen” prominently displayed under the camera shot. 

Camera shot from "The Voice Brazil" of Ellen Oléria's girlfriend (namorada) and mother (mãe).
Camera shot from “The Voice Brazil” of Ellen Oléria’s girlfriend (namorada) and mother (mãe).

 All of these facts and differences make it nearly impossible to come to an absolute conclusion about this question, which is how much the question of race played into the press coverage Daniela Mercury received when she revealed her relationship. Clearly, none of the aforementioned black singers receive the media exposure that Daniela Mercury receives. In the case of  Pepê e Nenê, June 2012 seems to have been their first public acknowledgement of their sexuality, while all of the others had already admitted their sexuality publicly.

This no doubt also played into the way the media spotlighted Mercury’s announcement.

While there may have been whispers for years about Mercury, because of her status as a media superstar, her public announcement garnered more attention than the others. And while one cannot directly point to the question of race in comparing the media attention given to one at the expense of others due to several differences, one can argue that Mercury’s European appearance has played a major part in her access to media exposure and her success as an artist in a country where the “dictatorship of whiteness” continues to rule.  Thus, all things being unequal in the first place, one can’t say how much coverage Ellen, Mart’nália, Leci, Pepê and Nenê would have received had they had the same stature of the magnitude of a Daniela Mercury. But given Brazil’s history of black exclusion and vast under-representation, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the results. 

Source: Correio Nagô

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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  1. “I love being black!” – Popular white singer Daniela Mercury heavily criticized for honoring legendary Afro-Brazilian singer in blackface and afro wig | Black Women of Brazil

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