Recognition through art: Is there a place for blacks in theater? Group in Belo Horizonte brings black representation to the stage and streets

cena de rolezinho cena dirigida por alexandre de sena
cena de rolezinho cena dirigida por alexandre de sena
Cena de 'Rolezinho', cena dirigida por Alexandre de Sena
Scene from ‘Rolezinho’ directed by Alexandre de Sena

Note from BW of Brazil: Theater is one of the areas where artists are bringing black stories, black culture and the black aesthetic into the realm of performance. And with this black perspective sorely missing in the mainstream media, theater stages can be utilized as a genre to, if not fill the gap, at least render this gap a little narrower. This idea of ‘black theater‘ is something that has been popping up from time to time on this blog (see yesterday’s piece for example), but even as we recognize the rise of the genre and the increase in representation, there is still much room for representation for black actors and actresses. Today, we bring you yet another of these groups attempting to fill a void, this one from the city of Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais state. 

Reconhecimento pela arte
Quests of black women are also subjects of the meetings, of which several artists from Belo Horizonte participated

Is there a place for blacks in theater?

By Miguel Arcanjo Prado

The theater is connected to life and reflects what is happening in society. So, in a country where racism structures relations and blacks are relegated to a condition of invisibility, the stages are not an oasis of inclusion.

As well as a lack of space for blacks on the public scene – the environment of debate and making decisions in democratic life – there is a lack of space for blacks in the theater scene.

Dubbed the rolezinho, the scene is the result of a collective construction inspired by events that left the hair of the middle class standing up in 2013 and 2014: young people from the periphery occupied malls by the hundreds in different capital cities, creating discomfort among shoppers and shopkeepers, that came to lower their doors earlier claiming fear of riots and cases of violence.

At the time, rolezinhos came under the media spotlight and ended up drawing attention to racial segregation and class tensions in a society that for over 500 years has preserved very clear boundaries separating few Casa Grandes (Big House) from the very many Senzalas (slave quarters).

Leitura terá direção de Adyr Assumpção (no centro) e produção de Aline Vila Real
Adyr Assumpção (third from left) and Aline Vila Real (at right)

While acknowledging that important figures such as Adyr Assumpção and Benjamin Abras contributed to constructing a new space of visibility for black theater, actor Alexandre de Sena believes that blackness is still underrepresented on the scene. “It is common that we occupy technical positions, but there is still a lack of black bodies on stage,” says the actor.

Benjamin Abras
Benjamin Abras

As occurred in the case of rolezinhos, he expects his group’s work will stimulate debate on the places of blacks in today’s Brazil.

Reconhecimento pela arte - Rolezinho na praça da Savassi, em BH - diretor Alexandre de Sena (de preto, ao centro, de frente) leva performance para o 16º Festival de Cenas Curtas Galpão Cine Horto
Rolezinho in Savassi square in Belo Horizonte – director Alexandre de Sena (in black, middle) takes performance to the 16th Festival of Cenas Curtas Galpão Cine Horto

Recognition for art

Debates and performing creations around black issues are part of the creative process of the theatrical scene


Rolezinhos that bring together artists and people around the discussion of black issues have served as a motto for the creation of “Rolezinhos – Nome Provisório” (Rolezinhos – Interim Name) a work being developed by Alexandre de Sena for the Festival de Cenas Curtas do Galpão Cine Horto (Festival of Short Scenes of the  Galpão Cine Horto). “We are still thinking about the format of the presentation, but our message is already defined. We need to make clear to people that we need to review the presence of blacks in society because the trend is that this exclusion is disregarded, taken as a natural process. The discussions are many, but we’re doing it from (the perspective) of art to think about the forms of blacks representing themselves, to talk about their experiences,” says the actor.

The work also has as a precipitant discussions on black theater. “The rolezinhos are ways of thinking about the construction of contemporary theater, what is our way of rehearsing and choose the topics to be discussed. We try to talk about what we experience and what we desire to change. Usually, we find few spaces of expression to expose our work and, when we find them, we scream of all the historical weight of what it is to be black. With rolezinhos, moreover, we have also concerned with an aesthetic construction, with its own language developed from black artists,” he explains. “But it is important also to think that many people before us, have initiated this question, such as Abdias Nascimento, in the 1960s, Gil Amâncio and Rui Moreira, more recently. This struggle is not new, it’s becoming stronger and gaining spaces of reflection.”

Reconhecimento pela arte (3)
Actor/director Alexandre de Sena

For Aline Vila Real, cultural producer, the artistic inclination of the proposal is a differential of the rolezinhos. “Discussions of blackness have gained more space in the city. But the idea of ​​bringing together people who identify with the proposal to meet in public spaces, think of the experience of blackness in the city and link our conversations artistically opens other forms of positioning,” she says.

Women. The themes of the meetings are many, but for Aline, one subject becomes recurring. “The fact that most people who participate in the meetings are female ends up bringing discussions about black women in the society. What we sense is that black women have sought to place themselves more and more. We are women of different realities and experiences, but with a great need to talk about the specificity of being a woman within this group of black people. There is a desire for a leading role, both in society and in the art that each one develops.”

But as a heterogeneous group, the concern is that the discussions come to a theme for everyone, as proposed in one of the rolezinhos provoked by Aline alongside actress Soraya Martins. “We thought about a study that would redeem the memory of black men and women artists in Brazil. When we think of black artists, we feel a lack of knowledge of an artistic legacy. Some complain that these people are not remembered in the performing arts courses, for example, some say that we have to seek those references. With that in mind, we study the history of the lives of these persons, merging with our own lives, make a presentation about these artists talking about them in the first person, to present these stories through us,” says Aline, who chose Clementina de Jesus as the artist that she will represent.

“We went through a colonization of the body and thought that is cruel and when we start to think about it, we pass to adopt activist options. Letting cabelo crespo (kinly/curly hair) loose or wearing colorful clothes inspired by African motifs is a place of resistance. We will not be touch on all these forms of struggle, but the very presence of black bodies on the scene, each with its own particularities, is a great opening for reflection,” says Alexandre.

After all, as stated by the artist, the title of the scene “ROLEZINHO – Nome Provisório” is not random. “We no longer want to do a rolezinho. We want visibility and recognition,” he concludes.

Source: O Tempo, Miguel Arcanjo Prado

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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