Sementes: Documentary explores the rise of black women in politics
Note from BBT: Brazil has always been a country that has reserved some of its most cruel treatment to its black population, descendants of Africans who were shipped to the country that most used African labor during the slavery era. We were all reminded that this cruelty is still very present in Brazilian society today when we all heard the news that Rio city councilwoman Marielle Franco had been brutally assassinated in a professional hit back in March of 2018.
The savage murder made world headlines and still remains unsolved to this day. But in her life and also in her death, Franco was a symbol of a new black Brazilian woman that we’ve seen emerged in the 21st century. Brazil’s black woman has always been a fighter simply because she had to be to survive the realities thrust upon the black population as a whole. This new black Brazilian woman refuses to be relegated to the kitchen or the bedroom, or gyrating her body during the Carnaval season.
The new black Brazilian woman boldly questions/rejects the “place” in which society wants to maintain her and demands representation in all areas of Brazilian society. The new black Brazilian woman marches, protests, denounces, organizes and builds, doing all of this while proudly rocking the kinks and curls that her country always told her to cover or straighten.
With the untimely demise of Franco, a number of black women have risen in the political realm to put society on notice that they will be heard, demanding their proper place at the table. Just a few years ago, it was pretty rare to see black women occupying positions in Brazilian politics, and generally, this still holds true. But there is strong evidence that this will soon change. Marielle’s life, trajectory and existence planted the seeds that would soon mature and bear fruit. Seeds in Portuguese is sementes, which is the title of a new documentary that I first learned about last year. Get the details about this powerful new documentary in the piece below.
“Sementes (Seeds): Black Women in Power’ documentary explores the rise of black women in politics
By Camila Marins and Maria do Rosário Caetano
“Because it was a matter of either/or,” summarized Beverly Smith, a member of the Combahee River, a group of black women, lesbians and American feminists, in the late 1970s. In this interview, Beverly talks about the precariousness to which black women are subjected. Many of us, black women, were born and live in this “either/or” policy: either work or starve to death. Either save on snacks or save on bus fare. You either walk or pay for the book. You either leave your children with the neighbor or you don’t have the money at the end of the month. The premiere of the documentary Sementes: mulheres pretas no poder, on Monday (9/7) on YouTube, not only affirmed many of our common trajectories, but also formulated a note, an enchantment for the future. As state deputy Mônica Francisco (PSOL-RJ) says: “they will either do it with us or they won’t do it”.
The opening of Sementes: Mulheres Pretas no Poder (Seeds: Black Women in Power), which the distributor Embaúba made available – online and, for a month, free of charge – is impressive. Afro-Brazilian women have their faces drawn in strong lines, in black, white, and gray. (Sementes: Documentary explores the rise of black women in politics)
Another image will show two black women mourning the death of Rio city councilor Marielle Franco, murdered along with her driver Anderson Gomes, in a militia ambush, more than two and a half years ago.
The credits of the film will show, next, that Sementes is a documentary directed by Éthel Oliveira and Júlia Mariano, interested in registering the electoral campaign of six Rio candidates to the Rio Legislative Assembly and to the National Congress. In the same year and election in which the dispute for the state executive would be won by Wilson Witzel and, at the federal level, by Jair Bolsonaro. The contextualization of this historic moment will be present in the film with vigorous registers of the “Ele não!”, meaning “Not him!” campaign. Many fought, as much as they could, against the Bolsonaro triumph. They were defeated.
All candidates, with black skin, accompanied by Sementes, are defenders of progressive platforms and affiliated with leftist parties. They proposed, if elected, to carry out parliamentary work similar to that performed by Marielle Franco in the City Council of the capital of Rio de Janeiro.
The original idea of the documentary was born, as well as the candidacies of the six women, as a “response to Marielle’s execution”. During the 2018 elections, a significant (and never seen) number of black women decided to register candidates in all Brazilian states.
The film follows the journey of six black women in the electoral process in Rio de Janeiro that followed the brutal execution of Franco (PSOL) on March 14, 2018. The group is made up of PSOL candidates (professors Talíria Petrone and Rose Cipriano, evangelical pastor and former adviser to Marielle, Mônica Francisco, and journalist Renata Souza, current candidate for the mayor of Rio), one of the PT (Workers’ Party) (trans teacher Jaqueline Gomes) and one from PCdoB (architect Tainá de Paula). They are women crossed by coexistence and political construction with Marielle.
During the election campaign, many people said in a tone of indignation and disbelief at so many black candidates (and there were not so many in relation to the number of white candidates): “or one or the other. It is impossible for them all to be elected.” This type of thinking expresses the racism present not only in society but also in party structures and in the Legislative, Judiciary and Executive branches. Not all of them were elected, but we voted with expressive votes for black women in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro and in other parliaments throughout Brazil.
The statistics, which were insignificant, rose exponentially (4,398 black candidates registered with the TSE (Electoral Superior Court), which meant a 93% increase over previous elections). Of course, few Afro-Brazilians were elected. The film does not hide this reality. They know that the challenge remains immense, that parliaments, both municipal, state and federal, continue to be dominated by white men, coming in most of the highest strata of the social pyramid.
The directors – without hiding the difficulties – are proud to have registered “the biggest political upheaval led by black women that Brazil has ever seen”. The result is yet another contemporary Brazilian documentary – as well as O Caso do Homem Errado, by Camila de Moraes, A Ultima Abolição, by Alice Gomez, and Dentro da minha Pele, by Toni Venturi and Val Gomes – which come to show and reflect on a crucial issue of our time. In this case, structural racism, responsible for almost four centuries, for the marginalization of the majority of the Afro-Brazilian population.
The characters of Sementes – such as Éthel and Júlia recall – “showed, in their campaigns, that it is possible to exercise a new way of doing politics in Brazil, transforming mourning into the struggle”. The pain of the loss of Marielle served as a stimulus to the political struggle, fomented the desire to occupy space historically dominated by white men.
The directors (Éthel is black, and Júlia, white) knew how to construct a film full of life and movement, with strong characters and with a lot to say and propose. The images are not at all precarious and the documentary, although it lasts almost two hours, shows itself with immense interest, in addition to being a mandatory program in an election year. After all, new mayors and councilors will be elected in November.
As our steps come from afar, let us revisit the story of Lélia Gonzalez, who was one of the first, among the members of the National Executive Committee of the Unified Black Movement, to stand for an elective position, running for the federal deputy for the PT in Rio de Janeiro in 1982, according to an article by Luiza Bairros. Lélia, author of the concepts “pretoguês” and “Améfrica Ladina”, inscribed other aesthetics, other languages and other ethics in her way of doing politics.
On her walks in the electoral process, she distributed yellow flowers in honor of (the orixá) Oxum. Instead of talking, Lélia sang. Just as our elected black women parliamentarians also construct other ways of doing politics, whether with Mônica Francisco, a deputy in Touro, evoking ancestry in the recipes of their food directly from their kitchen; or even Renata Souza, who, just as Marielle had done, chose funk as a jingle and rhythm to command her campaign. The colorful clothes worn by federal deputy Talíria Petrone on the day of the inauguration questioned the sober costumes of white men and women from that institution who, together with the evident racism, made her barred and questioned numerous times in those corridors. Or even Dani Monteiro (PSOL-RJ), our young parliamentarian who also causes gaps in aesthetics and brings clothes, colored hair and other grammars. We also see in the documentary Rose Cipriano chatting in a garage at home, Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus wrapped in the trans flag towards the LGBTI Parade in Niterói and Tainá de Paula, with courage, wearing a red blouse and saying: “we communists with our stickers and symbols”.
As black women, we know what it’s like to deal with the expulsion from spaces. Expulsion from parties, expulsion from the city, expulsion from the countryside, expulsion from education, expulsion from the labor market and expulsion from politics. In her exit letter from the Workers’ Party, Lélia states: “because I disagree with the practices developed by PT-RJ (…), especially with regard to the narrowing of spaces for a policy aimed at the so-called minorities, I ask for my exit from the PT”.
Later, she applied for the PDT, whose cover of the pamphlet stamped: “The woman in the Assembly”, in which she continued to defend “agrarian and urban reform, free organization of the working classes, rights of the black people, women and homosexuals”. Today, we have two black women who are running for mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Benedita da Silva (PT) and Renata Souza.
Again, we are in an election year in Brazil and the questions presented by Lélia remain current. We cannot be afraid to question the democracy that many political groups and leaders defend. After all, what kind of democracy is it that doesn’t arrive in the favelas, in the peripheries, in the quilombos, in the hinterlands, in the villages? More than that, we cannot fall into the trap of a “new” policy. There is no new or old policy. What exists is politics and facing the discourse of denial of politics.
What the powerful and wealthiest want is our distance from politics. They want us far and we, the black people, are the working class, we are the most exploited by this capitalist system. We are thousands who still live in the “either/or” survival policy, deepened with Covid-19. You either wash your hand or save the water for dinner. You either isolate yourself or starve to death. It must be said that we are not going to give up politics, the politics we do in the kitchen, in parliament, with our neighbors, our family farms, our religiosities, our sexualities, our voices, our poetry, with our solidarity, with our cries and our songs. Our urgency is for life.
With the advancement of conservatism, hatred of women, the black, quilombola, riverside, indigenous and LGBTI populations, the film Sementes: mulheres pretas no poder points to an answer for the future and as filmmaker Éthel says: “Sementes is a collective ebó (see note one) against the biggest colonial cargo in Brazil, which is racism”.
Ebó, (from Yoruba ẹbọ, offering or offering) is an offering of the Afro-Brazilian religions dedicated to some orixá, and may or may not involve animal sacrifice. “Ebó” is derived from the Yoruba term egbó, which means “root”. Ebó is nothing more than a spiritual cleansing containing various types of ritual food. As some say, it is a cleansing of a person’s aura, of a house, of a place of commerce. The evil energy that is in the person or in the place is transferred to the food, with the help of Exu and the orixás.