Meet Adélia Sampaio: the first black woman to have ever directed a full feature Brazilian film!



Note from BW of Brazil: Exactly the type of story that we like to share here, especially during this, November, the Month of Black Consciousness in Brazil. In the past few years, we’ve brought you a number of reports featuring the rise of what could be called the ‘Cinema Negro’ (Black Cinema) movement that is slowly developing. It is a movement in which, if not being led outright by Afro-Brazilian women, they are making significant contributions to the genre. And with this rise of black woman filmmaker, earlier this year a number of sites dedicated posts to a black woman who is not a well-known name among average movie goers or even fans of Brazilian Cinema, but nevertheless, whose accomplishments deserve full recognition. Believe it not, I’ve been wanting to post this story since about January of this year (where did the year go?) but one month turned into another and yet another and here we are little more than a month before we bring in yet another new year.

Another reason why I finally got around to posting this article about today’s subject is due to the fact that she was recently involved in a recent unfortunate event that put her name in headlines and brought her name back to mainstream media for something that had nothing to do with her film-making talents. We’ll get to that in an upcoming post, but for now, meet the director who became part of Brazilian history when she became the first black women to direct a full feature film!


Yes. We have black women filmmakers, yes sir: Adélia Sampaio.

By Flávio Leandro de Souza *

The history of Brazilian cinema is rich in content, struggle and a lot of creativity. In this context, the figure of the woman has undisputed protagonism, not only in front of the cameras, but also behind them.

São Paulo native Cléo de Verberena took the first step in 1930, becoming the first Brazilian woman to direct a feature film: O Mistério do Dominó Negro (The Mystery of the Black Dominoe). But certainly, the one that made history was Gilda de Abreu directing, in 1946, the classic O Ébrio (The Drunken). A movie that until the mid 70s was the highest grossing film of Brazilian cinema.

Then a legion of female filmmakers emerged in the history of Brazilian cinema: Carmem Santos, Zélia Costa, Helena Solberg, Ana Carolina, Lenita Perroy, Suzana Amaral, Teresa Trautman, Adélia Sampaio, among others.

Adélia Sampaio? Yes!


Adélia Sampaio was born in Belo Horizonte in 1944. At 12 years old, she moved to the city of Rio de Janeiro. Adélia Sampaio is one of the few women that get into the direction of feature films in the 1980s, ie, before the Cinema da Retomada – a period from the 90s, when there was a boom of female filmmakers.

Her early film career was in Difilm in 1967, distributor of names linked to Cinema Novo (New Cinema), such as Luiz Carlos Barreto and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade. Adélia Sampaio was the telephone receptionist of Difilm, and in parallel she organized sessions in 16mm for cineclubistas (film club). At the time, she was even a victim of the military dictatorship – her husband, a journalist, was a political prisoner, and she even came to be arrested and beaten by the perpetrators.

Adélia Sampaio was taken to Difilm by her sister, Eliana Cobett, at the time married to filmmaker William Cobett. As they left the Difilm, the two made a partnership in production and produced his films – O monstro de santa teresa (1975); and O grande palhaço (1980). In these productions, Adélia acted on several fronts, she was a producer, executive producer, continuist, makeup artist.


Still in the 1970s, Adélia Sampaio was working on producing three major films. The first was O segredo da rosa (The Secret Rose), directed by Vanja Orico in 1974 – this film she executive produced and was one of the writers. In 1977 he produced the last film by Luiz de Barros, the legendary Lulu de Barros: Ele, ela, quem? (He, she, who?). Finally, she produced with Geraldo Santos Pereira, the film O Seminarista (the seminarian) in 1977 directed by him.

In the 1980s, Adélia Sampaio took a leap in her career. After producing the important Parceiros da Aventura (partners of the adventure) (1980), of José Medeiros, and Um menino…uma mulher (a boy, a woman) (1980) of Roberto Mauro, and directing several short films, she got into directing feature films.

The short directed by Adélia Sampaio in the 1970s and 1980s are Denúncia vaziaAgora um deus dança em mimAdulto não brinca Na poeira das ruas.

In 1984 Adélia Sampaio would direct Amor maldito, a film with female homosexual theme based on real history. Incidentally, Adélia Sampaio is a pioneering name in the direction of feature films directed by women focused on the theme. Amor maldito has as protagonists actresses Monique Lafond and Wilma Dias – the latter, died prematurely in 1991.


In 1987 Adélia Sampaio would direct the documentary Fugindo do passado: um drink para tetéia e história banal about dictatorship memories. In 2004, she co-directed with Paul Markum, for television, AI-5 – o dia que não existiu (AI-5 – the day that didn’t exist).

The historiographers, researchers and scholars of the Brazilian cinema insist on omitting, from the compendiums of Brazilian cinema history, the name of who was the first black filmmaker of our cinema.

A certain woman by the name of Dandara, who directed no one knows what, exhibited somewhere, uses social pages proclaiming herself the first black Brazilian female filmmaker. Small talk!

This mission was entrusted to Adélia Sampaio, who in 1984 directed the feature Amor Maldito (Cursed Love). In the 80s and 90s, Adélia was one of the Directors of Production and Executive Producers of the principal Brazilian films of those decades.

Adélia Sampaio also had the privilege of being the producer of Ele, Ela, Quem?, the last film directed by legendary filmmaker Luis de Barros, who didn’t assume his blackness, but was a mulatto. But that’s another story.

To the historians, researchers and scholars of the Brazilian cinema here I leave a tip: when you are writing about women, directors of Brazilian cinema, please do serious research; you will certainly find the name of Adélia Sampaio. And please do not omit that she is black!

In research and surveys they don’t need to delve too deep to also become aware of the existence of Sabrina Fidalgo (I ended up knowing the daughter of the legendary Ubirajara Fidalgo and the beautiful Alzira Fidalgo) who, in 2008, directed the beautiful and delicious Black Berlim.

Here is my contribution to correcting a damaging omission and a folkloric untruth; an untruth that has caused a great injustice and mistake in the history of Brazilian cinema.

The first black woman director of Brazilian cinema is the Adélia Sampaio. This is historic!

And see that I and Adélia Sampaio, for incompatibility of spirits, never sat at the same table; we always refuse to drink coffee at the same counter of the bar in Beco, in Cinelândia (1). Also, we didn’t exchange a single word, not even with each other when we met at some cinema event.

But I never failed to recognize the professional and human value of this pioneering woman.

*Flávio Leandro is a filmmaker and audiovisual theatre production professor)

Source: História do Cinema Brasileiro


  1. Cinelândia is the popular name for the region around Praça Floriano (Floriano Square), in downtown Rio de Janeiro, encompassing the area from Rio Branco Avenue to Senador Dantas Street and from Evaristo da Veiga to Praça Mahatma Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi Square), where once stood the Palácio Monroe (Monroe Palace).
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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