Filhas do Vento – The challenges and triumph
Note: This is the third and final part of this three part series; see part 1 and part 2
Directing a cast full of well-known black actors, among them, Milton Gonçalves, Ruth de Souza, Léa Garcia, Taís Araújo, Thalma de Freitas, Rocco Pitanga, Maria Ceiça, Zózimo Bumbul, Daniela Ornelas, Cadu Carneiro and Jonas Bloch, the first six having captured along with the director, no less than eight Kikitos (statuette given to winners) of the Gramado Film Festival. Before shining in front of the Brazilian film community, director Joel Zito Araújo surprised critics and audiences in the United States.
The cast of Filhas do Vento watch a screening of the film
Filhas do Vento, after winning at the exhibition Premiere Brazil, a collaboration between the Museum of Modern Art and the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival promoted by the MoMA, and landing in Brazil, spent a week in the commercial circuit receiving good reviews from critics and public. “The film left New York with high appraisal. The critique of The New York Times, which says little about Brazilian cinema, places it among the best films of the year. We’re next to Steven Spielberg”, Joel Zito proudly remembered.
Joel Zito took up the challenge of literally removing from the screen black characters audiences are accustomed to seeing on Brazilian cinema and television screens: the slave, the Samba musician, the marginal, the domestic servant and the hot mulata woman.
In focus was a black family, with rich and complex characters that came to the general public through a lot of dedication, talent and multiple sponsorships of Brazilian companies such as Petrobras, Eletrobrás and Unimed, among other institutions.
Filhas do Vento was produced with a budget of 1 million and 200 thousand dollars, a paltry sum by film standards. “I suffered a lot to get this done. It’s very difficult to get financing. Sponsorship grants are aimed at producers who see Brazil as a multiracial society without any problems of a racial nature. Whoever insists on the racial question is met with some restriction”, evaluates Zito. But the filmmaker who has recorded more than 20 documentaries, many of which speak to the racial question, is accustomed to fighting.
Milton Gonçalves, who won the award for best actor in the Gramado Film Festival, was thrilled with the film. “I think the film is a strong stimulus to the construction of our self-esteem. And we must reward competence. I played the family patriarch, a role that I enjoyed. It is a family that functions as a mirror for anyone”, says Milton, for whom Zito’s film goes against the spectacle of violence currently involving black characters in movies.
Milton Gonçalves and Taís Araújo in a scene from Filhas do Vento
“I think there is nothing like it in the cinema. An all black cast, with a black director telling a universal story, of drama, love and redemption that takes place in a common black family”, adds actress Maria Ceiça. Another that doesn’t contain her emotion is Ruth de Souza. I’m glad to see my dream come true”, added Ruth, a winner along with Léa Garcia, of the best actress award of the Gramado Festival. “It was an achievement and it’s worth it”, says Garcia. On the fourth night of the Gramado Festival, when Filhas do Vento began to be shown, it was predicted that the film cast would take home awards.
From left to right, actresses Maria Ceiça, Ruth de Souza and Léa Garcia
Filhas do Vento – The Fallout
The cast of the film Filhas do Vento by director Joel Zito Araújo, turned down the eight Kikito awards it received at the 32nd Gramado Festival. The attitude was prompted by statements by the president of the selection panel, the film critic Rubens Ewald Filho.
In an interview with the Jornal do Brazil, Ewald Filho said that the choice of winners was based not only on film criteria. According to him, it was not by chance that the awards were given to “six black actors in a state like Rio Grande do Sul*, which has always been accused of discrediting blacks.”
A statement issued by the cast of the film claimed that the critic’s claim was a disgrace. “To say that the awards were planned and to give the understanding that Filhas do Vento was awarded by concession is a dishonor!”
So, there you have it. From the effort it took get a film with a black majority cast made to the difficulty of attaining the capital and finally the national and international acclaim that the film garnered, Filhas do Vento, a film that should be considered a landmark in Brazilian cinematic history, became another victim of the contradictory racial politics that are at the country’s very core. Of course no one would claim that a film with a 90% white cast could only win an award as concession because, in Brazil, a 90% white cast is the norm. On the other hand, if Brazil is to become the racial democracy that it once claimed itself to be, more people should be asking where the black presence is in the Brazilian media.
At the root of this issue of race and representation in is the difference that exist in the particular brand of racism that exist in multiracial societies such as the US and Brazil. In the US, where strict, legalized segregation occurred in the American south, black businesses, products, leaders, radio and TV filled in the gaping, evident cracks in the racialized facade of the American creed of equal opportunity. In Brazil, on the other hand, a lack of legally sanctioned racial segregation and a denial of the very existence of racism for all intents and purposes denied Afro-Brazilians a blatant, invisible problem to galvanize themselves around. Thus, in the face of very real racism, exclusion and white supremacy, there is no Afro-Brazilian radio or TV and most black Brazilians are more familiar with African-American heroes and historical figures than their own leaders who fought to expose the brutality of Brazilian-styled racism. When black Brazilians DO manage to create or attempt to create things specifically targeted at the Afro-Brazilian population, cries of reverse racism and the importation of segregated American tactics are heard loud and clear.
So the ultimate question is, where to, Brazil? You pride yourself on not having specifically black or white segregated society but you also insist on hiding a huge population of color which, in some ways, denies its very existence. If the powers that be really wanted to do the right thing, they would started portraying the face of Brazil as it really is so that the making of a film with a 90% black cast and the subsequent reaction of such a thing wouldn’t be so shocking.
* – Although Brazil is known for being a multiracial society where mixing and blending of races and cultures has been going on for five centuries, the country’s most southern states, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, where the film festival took place, and Paraná were heavily populated by European immigrants in the period between 1870 and 1940 when the Brazilian government initiated its policy of whitening the Brazilian population which at the time consisted primarily of people of color. Today, these three states are said have the highest influence of European culture and largest percentages of persons that self-identify themselves as white with the population of Santa Catarina being 85.7% white, Rio Grande do Sul, 81.4% white and Paraná, 71.3% white. Historically, these states, particularly Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul have been accused of disrespecting or in some cases, attempting to erase the history of African descendants in these regions.
Source: Raça Brasil, Folha de S.Paulo
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