Spike Lee: If you see Brazilian TV, you "will think that all Brazilians are blond with blue eyes"

afro brazilians
Lee said that the film must be released before the 2014 World Cup

Spike Lee interviews 30 Brazilian personalities for documentary

In his voyage to the country the filmmaker examines Brazilian society.
Based on original article by Eliária Andrade of AGÊNCIA O GLOBO
São Paulo – After an entire week of traveling, filming and interviews with Brazilian personalities for the documentary “Go Brazil Go”, filmmaker Spike Lee, 55, said he was surprised with the first of his findings: the absence of blacks in the Brazilian media. For the director, who plans to release the film before the World Cup 2014, the United States is 20 years ahead of Brazil when it comes to ending racism.
“My ancestors were freed in 1865 and in Brazil slavery was abolished in 1888. It is a small difference, but if we compare the evolution of African-Americans and Afro-Brazilians, we are 20 years ahead”, Lee said in a press conference yesterday in São Paulo.
The filmmaker dodged attempts to define his new film, but made it clear that racism will be highlighted, although not the only theme of the project, which also relies on the consultation of writer Fernando Morais.
“Between 50% and 60% of the population is black. I was surprised to learn”, said Lee, who visited the country last in 1995, when he directed the video for “They Don’t Care About Us”, of Michael Jackson, in Morro Dona Marta, in Rio, and in the Pelourinho area of Salvador, Bahia, in the country’s northeast.
Echoing previous reports from Black Women of Brazil, Lee spoke of his first impression of Brazil 25 years ago. “The first time I was here in 1987, I was shocked to see that on TV, in magazines, there were no blacks. It’s improved somewhat. But there is a lot to do. Whoever never comes to Brazil and sees the Brazilian TV via satellite will think that all Brazilians are blond with blue eyes”, he said.
Spike Lee interviews filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo (1)
The filmmaker arrived in Brazil last Monday and returned to the US yesterday. He went to Rio, Brasília and São Paulo, interviewing about 30 people. After visiting the musical/cultural group AfroReggae on Friday, Lee attended a luncheon with the actors Lázaro Ramos (2) and Wagner Moura on Saturday afternoon.
“He seemed more interested in investigating, understanding and discovering Brazil and the people than objectively making a movie about something”, Ramos said.
On the same day, Lee visited the Central African Film Carioca (Centro Afro Carioca de Cinema) in Lapa (neighborhood in Rio), where he interviewed its founder, Zózimo Bulbul, and met with black artists.
“The lack of blacks in the media made him restless, so he wanted to know about the place of blacks in society and the position of the Center in black film of Brazil”, Bulbul said.
Spike Lee meets one of Brazil’s most important black actors and filmmakers, Zózimo Bulbul (3)
Politicians such as former football player and current federal deputy Romário, musicians like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, as well as artists like Os Gemeos were also interviewed.
Lee with former soccer great and current federal deputy Romário
“A documentary is as good as the people you interview”, said Lee. “Without the right people, there is nothing to be done, no matter how good a filmmaker you are. The selection of interviewees is a large crop of Brazilian society. I have not yet interviewed (former president) Lula and (current president) Rousseff, but I hope to interview them when I return.”
The director received as a good sign the fact of having arrived in Brasilia last Wednesday, when the Supreme Court began the trial on the constitutionality of racial quotas inuniversities. With a camera in hand, he mingled with the people protesting for and against, and the next day to interview the Justice (Minister or Ministro) Joaquim Barbosa.
“I believe in destiny. Few things in life are coincidental”, he said, celebrating the decision in favor of the quota policy. “I say, let’s not stop there. Let’s take it to the media, the labor market. There is worldwide a misinterpretation of the quota system. Some believe that they will be occupied by people with no qualifications. It’s nothing like that. Qualified persons will be selected to go to the university. Without affirmative action the United States would not have advanced so much in the racial question.”
Lee recieved an autographed jersey from soccer superstar Neymar
New visit in July
Lee joked that the film was not commissioned by Congress, therefore, he does not intend to hide the Brazilian blemishes or praising the qualities of the country.
“It will be a balanced film. But I notice that people are very optimistic about the future in Brazil. They want that economic growth to bring social mobility and that the distance between rich and poor, which is still horrible in the US decreases here.
Lee also took the time to go back to Morro Dona Marta, where he posed beside a statue of Michael Jackson. His next trip to Brazil will be in July, and he plans to include anonymous testimonials.
Lee poses with statue of Jackson in same slum where he directed one of the singer’s videos
“When people see the film, they will have as good an understanding as possible”, he said. “I will be working, because I don’t know how to show a country, this country at this particular moment in its history, in only two hours.”

1. Araújo is Brazil’s most prolific black filmmaker having produced 26 films, 1 full-length movie and 25 documentaries. His most important work is A Negação do Brasil. Both a book and documentary, the work analyzes the of presence of Afro-Brazilians in more than 30 years of Brazilian soap operas (novelas). Araújo’s documentary and book, A Negação do Brasil, is an excellent resource to back up Lee’s observation of the underrepresentation of black people in the Brazilians media as it documents 35 years of Afro-Brazilian actors in Brazil’s ever popular soap operas (novelas). Some of Araújo’s work is featured on the Black Women of Brazil website. See here.

2. Having appeared in a number of films, novelas, TV series and theater productions, Lázaro Ramos is arguably the most prominent and popular Afro-Brazilian actor of the present time. He is also married to actress Taís Araújo, who is arguably the most successful Afro-Brazilian actress of all-time.

3. Bulbul became the first black protagonist of a Brazilian soap opera and directed one of the most important documentaries to deal with the plight of black Brazilians in his film Abolição, a poster of which he presents to Spike in the photo.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. “Between 50% and 60% of the population is black.'Whenever I see these data find funny, add the "pardos, mixed with the Indians, the person may appear to be calcasiano but if she does not have white skin is not black but "pardo", "brown", had to be American because they always ignore the multiracial, has no way to label the Brazilians into "races" as in america.

  2. “The US is 20 years ahead of Brazil when it comes to ending racism” – ARE YOU SERIOUS? I am from Brazil and have been living in the US for three years, and I can tell you that this place is MESSED UP when it comes to racism, from both sides! Black people have their own neighborhoods, areas, schools, stores and even their accent is different. In Brazil we all live together and I have honestly never seen an explicit act of racism, while in my few years here I have seen A LOT. I am sorry, but this guy does not know what he is talking about.

    • I live in Brazil.Stop bringing up segregation in the U.S. as if that only happens there.Segregation exist in Brazil as well..Who do you mostly see in luxury hotels,apartments and restaurants in Brazil?You hardly even see Black Brazilians driving cars.Who mostly lives in the Favela?Stop blaming Black Americans for “segregation” in the U.S. you moron.It was White Americans who started this whole concept in the first place..The reason Black Americans are so different from White America is because White America has excluded Black people from main stream culture thus resulting in Black Americans creating their own culture.

  3. Having learned in class the social and economic disparities between whites and blacks that are prevalent in Brazil and how everyone is aware that this happening but is not really talked about is something that this post makes a point of. Spike Lee’s remark on how the U.S. is twenty years ahead when it comes to race relations is fairly interesting considering how economic and social disparities still exist in the U.S. today. One thing that I have noticed that differentiates the U.S. and Brazil is that people in the U.S. are more willing to to talk about race and class, and even celebrities are vocal on their opinions. In Brazil it seems like people are more hush about it, and it is quite evident through the fact that their media portrays people of lighter complexion, considering that the large majority of their population does not look like those people that parade around on TV.

  4. The lack of Afro-brazilians in media goes hand and hand with the racial disparities throughout the country. While I do not fully agree with Lee’s US is 20 years ahead in race relations in Brazil, racial disparities are not much better in the US. I will agree that black people in US media have more visibility (Lee is an example of this visibility). I feel that Brazil’s history with Racial Democracy has played a role in hindering and de-legitimizing black and minority movements. Brazil viewed mixing as a source of pride, so when racial groups protest about inequalities, the government can say these groups are threatening Brazil’s “peaceful” Racial Democracy, like “black racism”. I feel that to increase blacks representation in; not only media, but also in all of Brazilian society (politics). The idea of Racial Democracy needs to be exposed for the falsehood it actually is.

  5. The twenty years behind comparison is ludicrous, but perhaps not so surprising coming from Spike Lee. He directed a Kelly Rowland music video, entitled Pixote’s Game, for the PepsiCo sponsored “Beats of the Beautiful Game” album released in the run up to the 2014 World Cup, inspired by Hector Babenco’s 1980 masterpiece, Pixotle. Lee treats his protagonist much more optimistically than either Babenco or the child actor who played the film’s title character, Fernando Santos da Silva, who was gunned down by police in abject poverty at the age of 19.

    The resurrected figure appearing in Lee’s short film spends 5 minutes searching for his lost soccer ball, all the way to the Maracanã, where he strikes an impressive shot past a lone keeper. For Lee, it’s a story of pride and redemption: from obscurity to prominence. Which is fine and well, unless you consider the fact that it’s the same guy who’s main concern (at least in this article) seems to be depictions and portrayals of the poor and marginalized, black or otherwise.

    It seems we may be diagnosing the wrong side of the issue. The problem’s not the lack itself of afro-representation in media and entertainment, but instead the structural lack of access to opportunity which would land more Afro-Brazilians in the driver’s seat of the cultural narrative. To borrow from the Michael Jackson song,
    “Tell me what has become of my rights / Am I invisible because you ignore me?” – to argue that increased media visibility (curated by Afro-Brazilians) will guarantee rights to the historically ignored might be asking too much. And so Spike Lee should know better – and not just because he directed the apropos “They Don’t Really Care About Us” – but because despite the emergence (and dominance) of black entertainment and black personalities in the U.S., he’s documented absent correlation which supposedly translates such visibility into truly equal-opportunity status.

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