Note from BW of Brazil: Well, once again it’s on! I first caught wind of the controversy last week and decided, like I often do, to wait a few days to let the dust settle and see the outcome before I weighed in. I hate the battle but love it at the same time for a few reasons. What are those reasons? Well, for starters, it shows that Brazil’s black community has come a long way in the widespread understanding of the various facets of racism in our societies. Many years ago, I imagine that, a woman such as the singer at the center of this debate, Fabiana Cozza, may not have even considered herself a black woman nor would have had so many claiming her as a black woman in a Brazil that, to this day, continues to implant in its people that it’s better to be white. But I love this debate because, once again, it shows that the debate over racial classification is not a done deal.
For many years, black activists have carried out pretty successful campaigns around the issue of racial identity designed to convince many light, brown and even dark-skinned Brazilians of African descent that they are in fact black. But just as the controversy over the issue of who is “black enough” to qualify to get into Brazil’s universities based on the concept of blackness continues, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this case would also spark strong opinions. The debate on quotas? Well, that’s not a done deal either.
You see, in a society that not only indoctrinates its people to whiten themselves both in terms of identity, but also by choosing relationships with light/white people so that their children may partake in the benefits of whiteness, including millions of light-skinned “pardos” (browns/mixed) into the category of negro can also have its drawbacks. For one, some of those light-skinned mestiços, not truly identifying with the black struggle, could very well identify themselves as black simply to get into college, get an education and then marry an even whiter partner and thus continue the process of embranquecimento, or whitening through miscegenation. There is also the very real possibility that Brazilian TV, theater and film producers will cast very light-skinned people as historical figures who had darker skin in real life or fictional works. The issue here goes to the very root of a society that would very much like to delete the history of the African in Brazil.
On this current issue, allow me to first acknowledge that I accept singer Fabiana Cozza as a black woman. Sure, she has light skin, but looking at her face I can instantly recognize that she is a descendant of Africa as I have seen faces similar to hers on numerous black women over the years. I see the trace of Africa in Fabiana’s face much easier than that of the young lady who put together a play about another important dark-skinned black Brazilian woman, writer Carolina de Jesus.
But as I’ve said, the issue here is not so much whether or not Fabiana is a black woman but rather would she be victimized by racism to same degree as a woman of the same skin color as beloved singer/songwriter Dona Ivone Lara, who passed away in April at age 97. After all, we KNOW for fact that light-skinned black people are also victims of a racist society, but sometimes the way they experience racism is a little different than it is for their darker-skinned brothers and sisters. In this scenario, I would propose what I wrote in dealing with the Carolina de Jesus situation.
Talent wise, Fabiana would be an excellent representative of Dona Ivone’s artistic ability, but if she knows the struggle of blackness and the global mechanisms at play that seem to want to erase the history of a people, she should do the right thing and allow Dona Ivone Lara’s image be remembered for what it was. Along the same lines, I think it would be no different if we were to consider a slim person interpreting the role of an overweight person, knowing full well the discrimination that a fat/obese person often endures on a daily basis. In the same manner, if someone were chosen to portray the iconic Marilyn Monroe, it would make complete sense that said person weren’t a redhead or at least knew that to play this part, she would need to become a blond.
For me, the best thing to do in this scenario would be to hire a talented singer with a phenotype that represented the real Dona Ivone, so that we can avoid absurdities such as the one dealing with the portrayal of famed singer Nina Simone. In the piece below, Evandro Fióti weighs in on the controversy.
Court of the internet strips Fabiana Cozza of her deserved honor to interpret Dona Ivone Lara in the theater
By Evandro Fióti
I must confess that I was caught completely by surprise by the controversy that involved the choice of Fabiana Cozza to represent the diva Dona Ivone Lara in the grandeur theater. It was last Thursday night through a post on Facebook that I found out that Fabiana was being questioned, attacked and even boycotted. Fabiana is not a negra de pele retinta (dark-skinned black woman) as Dona Ivone Lara was, and thus won’t represent her in the musical, even having been chosen by Dona Ivone’s daughter in law to be a part of the cast.
The criticisms make sense although in disproportionate tones without taking into consideration the artist who we are attacking. Fabiana é negra (Fabiana is black) (YES!), is a promoter of Afro-Brazilian culture, and she even said in a text on her Instagram profile: “Dormi negra e acordei branca” (I went to bed black and woke up white). It was in this that many Facebook texts transformed its entire trajectory. There are those who say no, but it was what prevailed, unfortunately, because we have lost completely the meaning of what it is to create a bridge and enter into dialog with the next.
There were those who called her dishonest, a farce, hypocritical, one who takes advantage and worse…
Have you ever stopped to think that nobody is born ready nor is 100% deconstructed? At some moment did you analyze that the prejudice suffered by Dona Ivone Lara are in considerable part the same that also directly affect Fabiana? Did you also put yourself in Fabiana’s place to know how difficult it is to make a decision like this? Difficult because of being an honor to receive an invitation of such magnitude, difficult because of the space that is reserved in the market for cantoras negras (black singers) like Fabiana, complex by the relationship in life that Fabiana had with the Dona Ivone Lara and not being able to participate in this moment of a musical that pay homage to her career.
I remember discovering Fabiana’s work in 2005 with the album O Samba é meu Dom (the samba is my gift) and since then I have been following all her work as an assiduous fan of everything she does and even having released impeccable she never took her due place within the phonographic industry that sees her as black, a singer of samba and that makes a type of music that doesn’t deserve attention from the market. It is o racismo nosso de cada dia (our everyday racism) showing its most cruel face up to today.
Therefore, I am sad with the excessive that attacks on the person, work and trajectory of one of the greatest singers that we have in the country. After much reflection, I make a chorus of Fabiana’s choice not to accept the role, the grievances are legitimate though excessive. What I ask is that the trolley from the “likes” help to give visibility to the work of cantoras negras de pele “retinta” e “não retinta” (dark-skinned black singers and “not dark-skinned” like Fabiana, because, in this moment of history, she’s heard the grievances, reflected and opted for non- representation showing that she has character and a side in the struggle, a rare thing…
However, this does not erase the fact of having been seen as a black woman in 42 years of life and 20 in a very well developed artistic trajectory, and the greatest emphasis that her work, as a non-dark-skinned black singer, has ever received was this virtual massacre promoted by us.
We are bridges, not walls, especially with our fellow human beings.