Note from BW of Brazil: Get ready! Today’s piece is one of those long articles in which you must read every word in order to get the full significance. The rapper known as Emicida is perhaps the most popular rapper in Brazil right now and his star continues to rise. Last year, the rapper released the video for his song “Boa Esperança”, one of the most discussed music videos of last year and for good reason and you will no doubt agree.
The video takes on the realities of race and class in modern day Brazilian society that date back all the way to the colonial era; a colonial era in which masses of Brazilian Indians were massacred and millions of imported Africans were forced to endure unthinkable conditions of cruelty, exploitation and death. As we have seen in numerous posts in the past, many black Brazilians still make references to the Casa Grande (big house/slave master’s home) to describe race relations in modern day Brazil, even as the institution of slavery officially ended in 1888, making Brazil the last country in the Western world to abolish this practice.
But what does a video by a popular rapper have to do with modern day race relations in Brazil? Since most of our readers, no doubt, have never seen the video, let’s first take a look at it and see how the video was described when it debuted last June.
Emicida the most courageous video of the year
In the video, employers mistreat them and employees revolt; “The favela is still the senzala,” the song says
Directed by Kátia Lund and João Wainer, the new Emicida clip, “Boa Esperança” (meaning ‘good hope’ is a slap in the face. And this slap, friends, has been coming for a long time.
A slap that started with Rosa Parks sitting where she couldn’t. A slap represented by black arms of a Panther such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos. A slap that passed through Brazil in the voices of (soul man) Tim Maia, (rappers) Thaíde and DJ Hum and Racionais MCs. A slap sung by Pavilhão 9: “The bomb will explode.” A revolt well remembered by Yuka: “Todo Camburão Tem Um Pouco de Navio Negreiro” (Every Police Van Has A Little Bit of the Black Slave Ship). It’s hard to remember a thwack as strong as that of Emicida. Perhaps the rap group Facção Central staining the Espaço Rap (Rap Space) 105 FM with blood? Perhaps.
In times of discussions flourishing so much on social themes, Emicida’s video, in fact, is not a slap. It’s a warning. “Cês diz que nosso pau é grande. Espera até ver nosso ódio” (You all say our dicks are big. Wait until you see our hatred). Amen.
At seven minutes long, the video covers topics such as racism, prejudice, social injustice and employees revolting against their bosses.
Directed by Kátia Lund (Cidade de Deus – City of God) and João Wainer (Pixo), the video shows a normal day in a house of a wealthy family, until the badly treated employees strike back and start a riot.
Emicida appears in the role of security. Domenica and Jorge Dias, children of Racionais MCs rapper Mano Brown, and model Michelli Provensi, play employees in the mansion, as well as Divina Cunha and Raquel Guimarães Dutra, Mauá residents of the occupation in downtown São Paulo, and Jacira, the musician’s mother. The three have already exercised the profession in real life.
It was there, in fact, where the script was born. According to the producer, the story came from “a collective process after talks with the rapper and directors with maids in the occupation.”
The lyrics, composed by Emicida and Nave, cover topics such as racism and social injustice. “Favela (slum) is still the senzala (slave quarters), Jão. A time-bomb about to explode,” says a line sung by Emicida and J Ghetto.
The track was named after a slave ship quoted in the book A Rainha Ginga by José Eduardo Agualusa. “The song mentions this paradox of a horrible thing having an inviting name,” says Emicida.
The production is by Laboratório Fantasma in partnership with bigBonsai.
Emicida releases mini-documentary on the video ‘Boa Esperança’
Film directed by Kátia Lund and João Wainer is a kind of ‘making of’ that discusses racism, prejudice and lack of respect for domestic workers
by Xandra Stefanel
Clip and documentary by Emicida questions the effects that slavery still brings to Brazilian society
Almost a month after releasing the video of the song ‘Boa Esperança’, Emicida presents a mini-documentary showing behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew on racism and segregation. The song is the first single from the album Sobre Crianças, Quadris, Pesadelos e Lições de Casa (meaning About Children, Hips, Nightmares and Homework), which should be released in August. The lyrics deals with a group of domestic servants of a mansion, after suffering all kinds of humiliation, rebel against the bosses and incite a revolution across the country.
“I think that there’s a very crazy subject that we need to discuss: one is slavery and the other is the modus operandi of slavery, which is present to this day in the Brazilian reality. A person pays you for a service does not mean that that person, in any instance, owns you, that they have power to make any requirement other than that service they are paying you for. And this should be done in a respectful way because it is a relationship between two human beings. Within this stew, we put in racial spice because we are a country that is racially divided, has a stark segregation and most afrodescendentes (African descendants) are in this kind of condition. This is the most urgent and most difficult challenge we propose to Brazil with this video,” says Emicida in the opening of the film, which is available on line at the rapper’s YouTube channel.
The short film directed by Kátia Lund and João Wainer brings statements by actresses in the video, who have suffered many humiliations while working as maids in real life. This is the case of Divina Cunha: “Many places where I worked, I could not eat. In Pacaembu (neighborhood in São Paulo) itself there was a house where we could not walk, it was only them. I’m not lying, I’m serious! And this is normal in the lives of very rich people,” she says.
Emicida’s mother, Jacira Oliveira, who also participated in the clip recalls the time she worked as a maid, “I needed money. It was not long that I worked as a maid, no. I’m crazy! I’ve dropped a lot of woman with chairs with the legs up, ‘Screw you! You’ll do it, aren’t you good?’ And I’m leaving.”
In addition to showing the behind the scenes of the filming of the clip, which the mini-documentary does, in fact, is deepening the discussion on racism in a society that still says its cordial and unprejudiced. “At the moment that Brazil is experiencing today, discussing the position of domestic servants, the rights of domestic workers – that is a job mostly done by black women and men until today in our country – makes us look at our time and question our time, of how much we still bring from slavery to the present day,” critiques Emicida at the end of the video.
Emicida – Boa Esperança (official video)
Note from BW of Brazil: Now let’s take a look an analysis of the video by Willians Santos.
Emicida and interracial relations in his video for “Boa Esperança”
A production that values negritude
By Willians Santos
The rapper Emicida released a new video clip that was widely commented on on the Internet.
The direction this time is by Katia Lund – director, screenwriter that was part of the Cidade de Deus (City of God) film team and the documentary Notícias de uma Guerra Particular – and also by João Weiner (photographer of the Folha de São Paulo newspaper) – producer along with Roberto T. Oliveira of the excellent documentary Pixo.
The photography of the film and the script do not require comment. Watch it, it’s movie thing. If it had been released as a feature film it certainly would complement the contemporary crop addressing race relations in Brazil, such as the newly produced Branco Sai, Preto Fica directed by Adirley queirós. In this aspect the film hits depends on black actors as protagonists of the plot. Although the characters representing the plot have to emerge in the already criticized portrait of the woman and black man servants and after emerging as insurgents, a place and representation where Globo TV novelas or films do not place them.
I really think the video is a good starting point for future development of an ingenious audiovisual work, feeding the current political debate on racism. I even think that if directors and producers believe in the material, it can be a good starting point to contribute to the game changer in the ideological debate that the country experiences, art becoming political, bringing aesthetic discourse and sophisticated, direct and sensitive politics. What debate? On violence that is expressed in acts of lynching, for example, or in acts of freedom and the debate between inequalities between people of color in Brazil that holds unequal political and economic power.
Racism among the distinct social positions
To think about this debate I affirm that I am coming from the film itself, what it presents to us visually and in narrative form, and not from what the characters could or should be from our political ethical point of view. Also I affirm that I will approach the aspects that interest me. This means that you the reader can find other critical aspects negatively or positively.
The video refers to two political groups of the Brazilian reality and that plays a leading role in many historical conflicts in the country. And within these groups a plurality of working positions and sexuality. The acting of the characters refers to these groups and, therefore, refers to the historical relationship of classes, and between men and women, if you will. A relationship of points of view, different worlds, different trajectories and memories and distinct corporeality.
The film, oops, the music video, creates in a narrative form a poetic profundity of what should happen: revolt, freedom to break from the norm, within the relationship between two social groups. Within this process also occurs a conflict between generations and between corporeality, within each group there are different ages and bodies that play a leading role in this conflict.
On the one hand there is the group of maids and domestic servants – white women and black men and women, young and not so young – who revolt after constant humiliations on the part of the other group – white men and women, young and not young. This first group, in the video, supports up to a certain point the violence that they suffer and gradually creates strategies to return the contempt and dislike, organizing themselves to the finale of a revolt. We know that they are employees are by their work clothes and for the fact of being those who must cook or park the car of visitors to the house.
The clothes and attitudes present in the clip are referring to a reality that historically modifies the place of service, but not the inferiorized position within the social relations of work. This position remains, several scholars have already criticized it as constituting an apartheid. It is the status of the woman and the black men as servants of the casa grande (big house), apartment, markets, etc.
The other groups are the employers and their visitors. These are described as a group of people homogenised by their skin color, their similar profile of dress, and the fact that they are being served by (the) employees. They practice attitudes of contempt and physical violence, sexual harassment, provocations. We understand that they are the employers. And these employers are violent and racist.
As the story develops we realize that this relationship deals with a racial-political conflict. In what sense? Political because, though, it all happens in a house, both, there, have no kinship, no affinity, they are not there for friendship but for a purpose. They are in the same space due to relations between the servers and the served. Their clothes, their work and social identity, for example, refer to the social position of each – and the group as a whole – demarcates labor relations. This working relationship is getting worse, because every member of each group has a skin color – there is the game of choice of actors for one or another social position – this “adversarial relationship” is a relationship of racial conflict immersed in labor relations.
We see there relationships of contractees and contractors, professional, political and racial. A fact widely known is that races do not exist. People with certain light or dark skin tone do not behave in ways determined by skin color. But worldwide and in Brazil, especially, there are racialized relationships like this working relationship (between servants and served) in the house. Persons are hierarchical, excluded, segregated or prevented from attending certain places because their skin color, their form of dress, their hair, and ultimately, their corporeality is stigmatized and politically persecuted. We can say, therefore, that the video deals with racism in Brazil.
These race relations are corporal because it is by the body that a subject will violate the body of the other, or the coporal identity that the other has. And the body is also the vehicle of definition of identity: coporal identity, sociocultural identity, political identity. From this violence, these viciously racist actions are what ultimately will culminate to a breach of order, a necessary break, because it breaks from violent relationships.
Racism, psyche and conflict of generation
The trigger of these unequal and violent racial, political and corporal relations in the clip occur, mainly after the symbolic and physical violence that a young black woman suffers from from a woman, a white adult. Symbolic violence occurs when this woman projects a disapproving look at the hair of the young woman. Meaning, taking advantage of having your power of employer take a disapproving look at the girl’s hair in the act of labor, repressing her and creating the situation for another maid suggests that the young woman stop leaving her hair visible, wearing a white cap.
In other words, the old woman represses the corporal identity that the young woman permits to herself. A permission, we can now imagine, with the power of words and the assumption of supporting her desire and her position as an individual endowed with a body, her blackness. The young woman authorizes herself the right to be a person and a black person, exercising her position while being manifested in her hair, but that was suppressed by the white, older women so that she doesn’t “be”, so that she does not exist, that invisibilizes herself, whitens herself with the cap.
The second violence no less worse, this physical, however, occurs when the adult woman forces the young woman to take the red lipstick off of her mouth, wiping a napkin on her mouth, which makes her cry. And crying is a corporal expression of the violation that she is required to bear.
Hair and lipstick are the symbols of corporal and generational identity of the young woman, as the video visually describes, but now, unauthorized and violated. There is a racial conflict there, expressed in subjective and physical conflict between generations and between employers and employees, where the employer represses the expression of the young woman to sustain her desire, or her desire to be, and being a person who has negritude, as well as her femininity as a black woman, it appears to me.
End of genocide or miscegenation as a possible realization of freedom?
As stated previously, the video seeks to narrate a revolt. This revolt is planned and justified by the constant racial and classist violations that employees would suffer, being illustrated by the violation to the identity of the young woman.
Some people might say that it is a condition of resentment. The resentful according to (psychoanalyst) Maria Rita Kehl would be that that complains because one sees herself victimized by another person’s action. Sensitive that the resentment detains a constellation of feelings such as anger, hurt, the desire for revenge. Narcissistic the resentful shows itself as victim, wronged, it shows itself as someone who seeks revenge for this evil that was committed against her. The feeling of resentment is a hurt that is not overcome, that one doesn’t forget and that one doesn’t want to forget. However, the one who revolts, warns the psychoanalyst, against injustice, against oppression, against an adverse state can not be considered resentful.
Revolt is precisely the desire to express survival under the language of violence that seeks its survival that is being threatened. The revolt is vital, it is active and intends to politically modify the condition of injustice, oppression, etc., longing for rights. While resentment is the opposite, it is a-political, passive, victimizes itself.
Resentment is submission, revolt is insubordination, it allows injustice, offense, abuse, rebellion breaks injustice and seeks rights, dignity and security. Sometimes submission is due to the power of domination, of course, be it military, ideological, etc., but even in this case the unruly groups will create new forms of disobedience to try to break these rules, either by cultural or ideological means, etc., as seems to be the case of the maids when they spit in the food that will be served after the violence of the white woman against the black young woman violating their socio-cultural identity manifested with her hair.
During the revolt described in the video, articulately this group initiates its political action giving back the political, contempt, violence, restriction of identity currency (well illustrated by the young black woman cutting the white employer’s hair with scissors), setting fire to clothing, the house, etc., later establishing the Quilombo (an historical form of rebellion and insubordination of black slaves against the slave system), where the rules are dictated by insurgents now insurgents.
The quilombo of the domestics generates other quilombos throughout the country. The clip mounts that this process of liberation is not only black men and women and poor white women of other individuals engaged in the same circle of violence. One of them is a young white woman “freed” from the imposition of forced marriage, the reason for the meeting of the employers, it seems to me.
Her freedom, however, is estranged. Her liberation is exercised from the possibility of violence of her body on the part of the young man, also, a domestic against her, on the verge of her possible murder by using a broken bottle. He does not. He kisses her. And this kiss, according to the video, is liberating her. We see the couple kissing and then both burning the wedding dress.
I will not fall into the common sense of the video piece. I believe that the audiovisual has these things. We are excited by the image and sound, with what is happening, and getting involved, we create expectations, but our expectations are not always met. Particularly I expected something else. My question is, will it be the liberation of the black man in his revolt process will take place with an interracial relationship? Could it be that the black man has the power (or duty) to “liberate” the white woman from the oppression of patriarchy and sexual repression? Incidentally, would any black woman and the white woman (be she rich or not) depend on this black man to attain their own freedom? And finally, why this choice of the directors, endorsed by the rapper, who also appears in the clip, in constructing an epic finale of black and white Romeo and Juliet, visually described in the interracial relationship between the young worker and the rich young woman and, for example, not from this young black an with the black maid of the same social origin, same corporeality (?), more in the style of Django Unchained (2012, released as Django Livre in Brazil) by Quentin Tarantino.
I want to think that this is not a “fatalism”, in other words, that there are relationships and individuals who “should” marry because they have some form of similarity: skin color, social origin, etc. It is the violence of relations that determines the segregation that the clip seems to question. However, searching for a narrative in which this character go to relate with the young white, rich woman, and not with the white woman that works, much less with the young black woman is the problem, it seems to me; and a problem in ideological-visual level. Ideological because political, although it is intended against hegemonic partition of hegemonic thinking that reproduces its own race relations in Brazil, or at least under the direction of the utopia of the Brazil mestiço (person of mixed race). And visual because it is a visual narrative which aims to question this ideological aspect.
It would be fitting an effort to look at race relations present in this video clip and bring them the relations in our lived reality. If we do, we will remember data and reflections of racism in Brazil is structural, institutionalized and routinely denied but can be seen publicly expressed both in the policies of public security as much as distribution of income, for example. It is the black population that has more of its peers murdered and imprisoned in proportion to the development of security strategies based on ostensible rounds, the call for the capacity of punishment and revenge of incarceration as a solution to resolve conflicts. This together with the proportionality with that many are in precarious jobs; the persecution of religions of African origin.
This condition of genocide of the black population in Brazil has its ideological aspect also presented in political discourses, for example, of being a nação miscigenada (mixed-race nation), although there is in practice a constant censorship of cultural manifestation whose reference is African and/or black Brazilian as shown in the clip with the rebuke of the young woman showing her hair. The appeal to the Brazilianness of the official discourse of state institutions (and RAP itself has questioned this since its inception) is used most of the time as a way of making black people invisible when the institutions themselves do not create policies of physical extermination, as we currently see in the “war on drugs.” The discourse of miscegenation is the ideological strategy to embranquecer (whiten) the society, it says that we are not a black territory, but a “mixed” territory, although the material and symbolic basis of the state itself, its wealth and culture is itself hegemonically produced by black men and women or have these references as basic support.
And that’s where the clip locks, in my view. It advances and shows the violence of racism in labor relations and quilombismo as a means of political revolt. Its end, however, shares the ideal of miscegenation represented by the relationship between the young black male and white young woman. In other words, this is not to idealize a free and monochromatic society, but to problematize the visuality of the video it appeals to the imagination of miscegenation as an exit for blacks and whites in the Brazil violated by the elite (which is not anything mixed) fed and feeder of slavist sentiment.
The video itself partitions and visually verbalizes this ideal of Brazilian racism, in this particular point of the relationship between interracial couples. The ideological discourse of miscegenation is whoever says that there are “mixed” couples as the foundation of national kinship when in fact the black men and women continue to be excluded and punished by the contempt of the elite. The film could value forms of kinship that is diversified among the poor not appealing to the miscegenation that in practice does not occur or occurs very little. And Brazilian elite actually does not mix itself, this is their ideal of traditional Brazilian family, a racist family and that craves the embranquecimento (whitening) of the country.
Black men and women continue to mostly relate to each other and are mostly at the same time forced to take lower jobs and substandard housing, such as the favelas (slums), which, as stated in the film is a time bomb to explode. What poor whites and blacks have in common and that is where I see the political unity of both, deals with the contempt that the (non-black) elite has in relation to the black and the poor (black or not).
In my view not the revolt of those that sustain the country, mostly black, doesn’t depend on a “miscegenation” for the construction of its revolt, its freedom or its ideological discourse of belonging, rights, etc. The video could have gone this way, as it was, from the political freedom through solidarity between interracial women, or inter-gender of man with women against racist and violent men and women, and, finally, of the man – or could be a woman – black (man and woman) and woman – or it could be man – white – or homosexual, trans couples, etc., solidarity between them for the abolition of forced relations like the arranged wedding. And not the call for sexual freedom by miscegenation, aka embranquecimento do negro (whitening of the black), as if this were to solve the problem, including own sexual repression itself, being whoever.
Note from BW of Brazil: I must say that Santos’s analysis of the video is on point! Picking up on some of the points in his piece, I would add the following. The video very much represents the idea of race and place that we so often discuss on this blog. The era of this video could just as well have been set in colonial Brazil or modern day Brazil. In either, beliefs about the haves and have nots, and the racial hierarchy that posits white Brazilians at the top while maintaining pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) at the base in positions of inferiority and subservience continues.
Although current protests and calls for the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff are not specifically about race, many have pointed to the underlying issue of race and a backlash against the gains that the poor and mostly Afro-Brazilian underclass have made in the fourteen year rule of the PT (Workers’ Party). No one wants to admit it, but the images presented in the video are very much a part of the Brazilian reality. We see it in the ways Brazilians sometimes express nostalgia for the slavery era. We see it when black Brazilians are always accused of theft, when they are constantly mistaken for security or ‘the help’. We see it when white Brazilians express a certain discomfort or resentment when they see black people occupying areas formerly reserved only for them and their children.
Yes, the Emicida video is genius in how its depiction of the haves and have nots, the masters and the slaves, could be applied to any period in Brazil’s history. Certain scenes of the video reminded me of the 2012 American film Django Unchained, as the author mentioned, but the solidarity, revolt in their humanity being disregarded and unified action of the maids also owes a nod to 2011 film The Help (released as Vidas Cruzadas in Brazil). I can only imagine how much more this concept could have been developed within the framework of a 90-minute feature film. But of course, the idea of a group consisting mostly of Afro-Brazilians revolting against their oppression could probably never be made in Brazil. Wouldn’t want the sleeping masses to suddenly ‘wake up’ and get ideas now would we? Of course the Brazilian media has no problem presenting blacks as slaves even in current novelas such as Globo TV’s Liberdade Liberdade, as it portrays an era that most view as the distant past. But black people rising up against the white power structure, setting things ablaze and chaining up their oppressors? No, this scenario could only play out in the US!
The problem that I had with this video should be pretty obvious, that is if you’ve read any of our posts dealing interracial relationships. In some ways, this aspect of the video seems to be very representative of the position the white woman holds as a ‘status symbol’ for Afro-Brazilian men. As we’ve repeatedly pointed out, it is indeed very difficult to find any/many Afro-Brazilian man of prominent status married to a black woman. This stark reality speaks volumes when presented in such a powerful music video by Brazil’s most popular rapper. Fed up with disrespect, revolted with an oppressive power structure represented by white wealth and social status, the black help finally revolts and decides to burn the whole piece down. But the moment one of the black men oppressed by the white power structure stands up, strikes back and incites revolution against said structure, he immediately unites himself with a white woman who, regardless of her actual status, is the face of the very oppression of which he is enraged.
Question: What part of the revolutionary game is that?
One could argue that the white woman is also a victim of oppression in the story line due to her being in an arranged marriage, but in what situation is any white woman in an inferior position in comparison to a similarly situated black woman? The very fact that this woman was even in a position to marry into a rich, white elite family speaks to the privilege that her white skin represents. How many times in the history of Brazilian society has there been a scenario in which a black woman actually has more education, income and social status than a white woman standing next to her but it is she who is thought to be ‘the help’ or of lower social status than the white woman at her side? There’s no way to answer this question, but it has surely happened and there are surely plenty of black women of whom visitors have requested to see ‘the lady of the house’ at the front door of a middle class home because it was automatically assumed that she was ‘the help’.
The contrast with the images and plot in the film Django Unchained is a perfect example of the difference between how the concept of racial unity works in the United States and in Brazil. In Django, the Jamie Foxx lead character’s ultimate objective is the liberation of his still enslaved black wife. In Brazil, like the ideal of embranquecimento (whitening) has taught millions of black men, ascension in life must be rewarded with the hand of the white woman. It is a lesson that Brazil’s black militants still seem to have not been able to unlearn. As such, the only question about this facet of the video is whether art is imitating life or life is imitating art. It doesn’t really matter; in Brazil today it seems to be true either way you look at it.