Note from BW of Brazil: The representation of the experience of being a Brazilian citizen is one that is often determined by one’s social class and race. And although the latest official Brazilian census showed that 50.7% of the country’s population consists of persons who defined themselves as não-branca, meaning non-white, one wouldn’t know it by representations in the media. Non-Brazilians such as long-time African-Americans such as long-time activist Angela Davis, filmmaker Spike Lee, Mozambican writer Paulina Chiziane, and numerous Brazilians such as journalist Luciana Barreto, filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo and vice executive director of the Patrícia Galvão Institute, Mara Vidal, among others have pointed this out. It’s as if one doesn’t look white and belong to the middle/upper classes, they don’t exist, or would that mean that they simply aren’t the representatives of the Brazil that elites want? A report recently confirmed this showing that black women represent only 4.4% of film casts. And while this news may be depressing it also represents a great opportunity for talented Afro-Brazilians who want fill this gap and present the black Brazilian experience in their own way.
Last year we saw independent films created by black women gain recognition from the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and we’ve also seen Afro-Brazilian performers bringing representation to the stage as well. Thus the old adage seems to apply here: If you want to see something done, you have to do it yourself! Which is exactly Yasmin Thayná and a group of black women that came together in Rio are doing! We presented this exciting new project a few months back and this is a follow-up report.
Yasmin Thayná (KBELA): “The black is the only individual in Brazil who has to assume his race/ethnicity.”
By Sabrinah Giampá
Can you imagine watching a movie where the lead actress is black, lives in Baixada Fluminense (region of Rio) and underwent a process of ‘embranquecimento’ (whitening)’ throughout her life, but that still decided to free herself, assuming her natural cabelo crespo (curly/kinky hair) and going against all the imposed social standards and against racism itself? Have you identified yourself? If you are a black woman, probably yes. This film is about to become real, the expected release is now August, has a script written and directed by Yasmin Thayná who talked to me about this wonderful project which is KBELA.
Sabrinah Giampá – Talk about the film KBELA film, how was it conceived?
Yasmim Thayná- KBELA began to be drawn from the tale of MC K_bela, which tells the story of a black girl, a resident of the Baixada Fluminense (region of Rio), that underwent a process of embranquecimento (whitening) throughout her life, and decided to liberate herself leaving her hair natural without any chemical interference. That was the way she found to feel beautiful, she could look at herself without any estrangement. The text was published by Aeroplano. In addition, an actress and a theater director of Rio called me asking to adapt the story to a monologue. I accepted, of course, and they presented the monologue at the Home Theater theater festival and in other theater festivals. The actress and director who performed the monologue took the opportunity of the Home Theatre festival, which presents theater in people’s homes, and made exclusive presentations in houses in Rio de Janeiro. People called them and they went to the person’s home to present it to housewives and guests. There were over 30 houses!
The KBELA began to be drawn from the tale Mc K_bela, which tells the story of a black girl, a resident of downloaded Fluminense, which underwent a process of whitening during his life, and decided to release leaving your natural hair, no type of chemical interference. That was the way she used to feel beautiful, could look at each other without any estrangement.
And still more about the film: Early in the year 2013, I, Debora Dantas, Erica Magni, Luana Dias, Saulo Martins, Felipe Drehmer and Bruno F. Duarte decided to make the film. We made a public call on the Internet inviting black actresses and non-actresses to participate in a video inspired by my story. The criteria were: accept participating in an independent production – read: no money – and having a story similar to the KBELA to tell. In three days, more than 100 women from all over Brazil responded to the call telling their stories and expressing interest in participating in the film.
With heart in hand, and without a penny in the budget sheet, we left out of the selection all those living outside of Rio de Janeiro. We talked and we proposed scenic challenges for future KBELAS. We chose seven amazing women, among actresses and non-actresses, who are with us on the mission to carry out this short film that seeks to reflect on the place of black women in contemporary society, the current standards of beauty, expression, self-image and identity.
Sabrinah Giampá- How was the meeting with the KBELAS?
Yasmim Thayná – When they arrived, we saw the necessity of making a movie, full-bodied and everything. The meeting was magical, as the majority of the meetings were among black women. It’s a lot of history. And at that moment I saw how necessary it was to write a script. After the casting session, a script was developed from a collectively done image search. I gathered these images and wrote a screenplay. Seven girls were with us from this cast, many of them had to leave the project because of other work and inconsistent times. But today, KBELA has a cast of nine.
“We chose seven amazing women, among actresses and non-actresses, who are with us on the mission to carry out this short film that seeks to reflect on the place of black women in contemporary society, the current standards of beauty, expression, self-image and identity.”
Sabrinah Giampá – What was your inspiration for writing this movie?
Yasmim Thayná- KBELA is a film inspired by the film Alma no Olho, by the great and important black Brazilian filmmaker Zozimo Bulbul. When I saw that movie I freaked out, the guy did what he did in the film when I wasn’t even born. Zozimo was a great inventor, a great articulator of cinematic language. He had already hacked even before the internet reached Brazil. He was a real hacker, in the sense of combining things, reinventing, of really hacking caretão cinema, you know?
A considerable and important number of women who are seeing their hair grow naturally for the first time and exposing this, which I believe takes encouragement, a stimulus. This process is not easy for any of us. We need each other’s strength, either by YouTube, or in other spheres of life.
Sabrinah Giampá- Do you believe that there is already a strong movement of the appreciation of crespo natural (naturally kinky/curly hair) in Brazil?
Yasmim Thayná- Yes. There is a great movement on the Internet through blogs and pages, and even ventures to help this movement. A considerable and important number of women who are seeing their hair grow naturally for the first time and exposing this, which I believe takes encouragement, a stimulus. This process is not easy for any of us. We need each other’s strength, either by YouTube, or in other spheres of life.
Sabrinah Giampá – Do you believe that there is a culture of a standard of beauty that worships long, straight hair? How does it affect the self-esteem of black women and children and contributes to the enslavement of straightening?
Yasmim Thayná- There is, because the media (mainly the TV), especially the communications, substantiates our social relationships, our tastes and directs our consumption, our mood and our preferences. We grow up being fed Barbie and Ken during childhood, adolescence arrives and we’re envisioning the collyrium of the magazine Capricho, all blonds with blue eyes and whites, as well as the girls who appear in commercials, contributing in everything for you to be straight (haired), blonde, the weaknesses of the shampoo they adorn: high fashion is to have the least voluminous hair, high fashion is to have straight hair. I guess that explains it, right?
“The black is the only individual in Brazil who has to assume his race/ethnicity. He is the only individual who goes through a time in which he ‘discovers himself’ as black. That doesn’t exist for white people because they never had their culture taken. Their privileges are given from birth.”
Sabrinah Giampá- Assuming cabelo crespo a political act, why?
Yasmim Thayná – It’s political because of everything I wrote above and especially because you choose to rescue a story that was taken from you. It has to do with reconstruction of identity. The black is the only individual in Brazil who has to assume his race/ethnicity. He is the only individual who goes through a time in which he ‘discovers himself’ as black. That doesn’t exist for white people because they never had their culture taken. Their privileges are given from birth. To like being black in a society that denies using State tools (the police, for example), using public tools of communication and representing the black as submissive, with low self-esteem, as servile, of course this is a completely political act.
I had contact with women in depression because their boyfriends dumped them when they took off her hair piece. It’s a cancellation, right? Can you imagine being abandoned because of your hair? In a way the episode is also repeated when it comes to a job interview and whoever interviews you tells you that you cannot work there with ‘esse cabelo’ (that hair).
Sabrinah Giampá – How does prejudice affect the lives of these women and the empowerment generated by assuming natural hair and race itself can help them overcome these adversities?
Yasmim Thayná – I had contact with women in depression because their boyfriends dumped them when they took off her hair piece. It’s a cancellation, right? Can you imagine being abandoned because of your hair? In a way the episode is also repeated when it comes to a job interview and whoever interviews you tells you that you cannot work there with ‘esse cabelo’ (that hair) or even when you are not invited to participate in meetings and presentations, while your colleagues all participate, and you only fulfill tasks and only run around. This is also a process of annulment. People are really bothered. The black is a force of nature, it’s exuberance, it’s beauty that flows on all sides. A smile from a pretinho (little black boy) or pretinha (little black girl) is capable of knocking down structures (laughs), it’s a beautiful thing. The black body bothers (people). Today I see an interesting movement that is breaking and it is precisely this movement that has made many blacks like to be black, because the liking involves several factors. You come to think that you are capable of doing things, to speak of your place, to write, to go to college, to have a better life, you feel more secure. I think it helps in this also, and of course in an anti-racist struggle. Every time a person gets up to cancel a racist he/she is contributing to the fight against racism with his/her body, with his/her voice. Going through a situation of racism in the classroom and saying this on the Internet is important. The case of Gabi Monteiro (1), for example, the fashion student at PUC-RJ, who went and spoke, and got some press on the case. Today I notice how professors there are noticing that no one will remain quiet anymore. That people are talking and are being heard.
Source: Cachos e Fatos
1. Gabi Monteiro made headlines and earned support from social network users in late February after she went through three different experiences with racism, all related to her hair, at the PUC-Rio de Janeiro university.