The representation of black women in Brazil’s novelas (soap operas)

black women Brazil

Aparecida Petrowki (left) and Camila Pitanga
Taís Araújo (left) and Maria Ceiça

By Rosa Estrada

I have just under three decades of existence, and, because of this, I don’t have a very extensive memory about the representation black women in novelas (soap operas). However, very early on, some scenes broadcasted on television marked me deeply. For example, when the Mexican version of the (children’s) novela Carrossel came on for the first time, I was very young, but I remember very well how the cautious and passive Cirilo was badly treated by the rich and spoiled Maria Joaquina. The only scene that I remember with any clarity is when Cirilo got an ointment that, he believed, had the power to make him white and more presentable to Maria Joaquina. A representation according to which all blacks want to be more accepted by whites.

Actress Maria Ceiça

I was growing up and seeing how much the novelas continued in their representation of black women in a disrespectful manner: some more explicitly, others more concealed. I was about eleven when the “Vênus Platinada (Platinum Venus, nickname of Globo TV)”, put on the air the series Por Amor (1997-1998). In the plot, the character of Maria Ceiça, Márcia, was abandoned during her pregnancy by her husband (Wilson), played by Paulo César Grande because he did not want to have a black child and made no question of hiding it. However, the guy tried to reconnect after discovering that his daughter was born with blue-eyes and blonde hair, like him.

Initially, Márcia dismissed the ex-husband, rightly so, because it was very clear to her that Wilson had changed his mind only because his daughter was not black. However, with time Márcia gave in and in the end, she and Wilson ended up together and lived happily ever after, and the plot of the drama allowed for the character of Paulo César Grande to redeem himself. But it is very easy to say that he redeemed himself from his racism since his daughter with a black woman was not born with dark skin and curly hair.

(Below is the scene from Por Amor. See translated text of the scene under the video starting at 0:20)


Por Amor

Wilson: Where is my checkbook?

Márcia: I’m not talking and I’m not talking to you before you talk to me about the baby. This has to be the first subject between the two of us, not the garbage about your checkbook. 

Wilson: I don’t have nothing to do with this damned baby. I already told you.

Márcia: Damned baby?!? Damn the time that I knew you really. You know why you don’t want it, you want to know why?

Wilson: Because I don’t want to have children, only this. I never wanted (them).

Márcia: That’s a lie, that’s a lie. You wanted them with you first wife. That bleach blonde that lived here on the side. You really told me (this) is a day that you were drunk, you don’t remember, do you?

Wilson: What’s this? You’re delirious…

Márcia: It was her who didn’t want it…She fooled you and left you the first chance she got.

Wilson: Shut up

Márcia: But she was white, wasn’t she?

Wilson: Yeah…What kind of bullshit are you talking about now?

Márcia: Bullshit no, it’s true. With her, you wanted (children), didn’t you? Because she was white.

Wilson: Stop screaming

Márcia: You are prejudiced

Wilson: Prejudiced? Me? Racist? If I’ve been with you for four years? Don’t I go out with you all the time at my side?

Márcia: Ahhh! I know…A beautiful, sexy crioula that every man wants. Now a black child is another thing. To walk around with a little crioulo in the street! Taking him to school!! Accepting that he’s your son, that is what you don’t want. Racist, racist, racist!!!

Preta and Paco in Da Cor do Pecado

A more recent memory I have is of the novela Da Cor do Pecado (Of the Color of Sin). Besides the horrendous title, the plot also features demonstrations of blatant racism. The love story between Preta (which means black, played by Taís Araújo) and Paco (Reynaldo Gianechini) is not well seen by the girl’s mother, Lita (Solange Couto), for the simple fact of Paco being white. In this sense, the novela presents a discourse according to which racism is something that is currently part of the blacks themselves, ignoring a history of exploitation and a culture that routinely attacks the self-esteem of an entire ethnic group. This novela had a scene that bordered on nonsense, in which Paco (Gianechini) and Ulisses (Leonardo Brício) arrive at a bar in São Luís (capital city of northeastern state Maranhão) and are attacked by a group of natives, simply because they were tourists from “the South”. Meaning, people of the northeast have the least education and civility, according to the author of the novela (1).

Sandra and Bené in Viver a Vida

Viver a Vida was the first primetime novela whose protagonist was black, again played by Taís Araújo. The Helen character of Taís Araújo was rich and successful, but had a sister (Sandra, played by Aparecida Petrowki) who goes to live with her gangster boyfriend, also black, on the morro (hill, slum, favela), invariably. I find it amazing that in these novelas black characters seem to have uncontrollable impulses, which inevitably end up making them to assume the behaviors that a racist culture expects of them. Sandra’s boyfriend, Bené (Marcelo Melo, along with Sandra) is black, live on the morro and, following the script, is a criminal. Only I don’t remember what the crimes were that he committed. Seriously. I just remember Bené running back and forth, fleeing, and the characters around him all the time mentioning how dangerous he was, despite the guy’s offenses not having been made clear to the viewer. I remember, of course, his overtly tragic end, brutally murdered in front of his girlfriend.

Taís Araújo as Helena in Viver a Vida

But back to Helena, she is black, rich, successful, but I believe it was a trick of the author, since at no time did Taís Araújo really star in this novela. After all, the character didn’t even have a consistent story that gave impetus to the plot. Thus, it was easy for Aline Moraes to obscure Taís Araújo with her Luciana character, the girl who is quadriplegic due to an accident. After all, the whole story was driven to thrill the viewer with the trajectory of the overcoming of the little, rich white girl, loved by parents (at the expense of her sisters, a horror), leaving Helena totally erased in the series. Viver a Vida also had an unfortunate scene in which the character of Taís Araújo felt guilty for Luciana’s accident, kneels in front of her mother (Lília Cabral), asking for forgiveness, and receives a slap in the face (scene below).

Viver a Vida

I consider this scene completely expendable in the story because what happened in the novela, in short, was as follows: Helena and Luciana were models and were doing work together in some part of the world. Then Helena fights with Luciana orders her to go somewhere by bus, instead of allowing the girl to accompany her in her car. Only that, in this bus, Luciana suffers an accident that leaves her quadriplegic. My question is: how could Helena have guessed that Luciana would suffer the accident? Thus, it seems obvious that Helena would have no guilt, right? Wrong, according to Tereza, a white snob who is Luciana’s mother. So, Tereza goes to Helena’s house to throw in her face the responsibility for what happened to her daughter. If I were Helena, I would regret the accident, but make it clear that I didn’t have a crystal ball and I could never imagine that such a misfortune would happen to Luciana. Then I would send Tereza go pick coconuts, and even call the police if was necessary. But no. All that Helena does is assume a position of inherent subservience to her colorand ask for forgiveness on her knees. In return, she gets a slap in the face. A very clear message that black women who “don’t know their place” leads to the misfortunes of rich whites, these angelic beings of blue blood who lived very happily until black women had the audacity to occupy spaces in the world beyond which were previously dedicated to them (the kitchen, the brothel, the prisons) (2).

Penha (Taís Araújo) in Cheias de Charme

Recently, Taís Araújo starred in another novela, Cheias de Charme. However, among empreguetes (3), she was the only black woman, the only one who spoke incorrectly and that had no other ambition in life but to continue living her life as an empreguete. Rosário de Leandra Leal wanted to be a singer, Cida de Isabelle Drummond planned to study journalism. However, Araújo’s Penha didn’t have a dream, didn’t envision any other perspective on life that was not continuing serving some, “charitable”, white boss.

(The recent novela) Lado a Lado presents some merit for having a much larger number of black characters than usual, composing various profiles. However, it still sins by showing whites as black saviors. Isabel, played by Camila Pitanga, has some very interesting characteristics: she’s honest, determined, strong and captivating. However, she only manages to stabilize her life thanks to the approval of white women: Madame Besançon (Beatriz Segall), Diva (Maria Padilha), Laura (Marjorie Estiano) and Madame Dorléac (Maria Fernanda Cândido). It’s clear that gender unites them, but the outline of race and class has specific characteristics that can’t be disregarded in any way. We must bear in mind that all the advances that social movements have had, whether women, blacks, etc. were achieved through struggle and pressure on society, and not due to the generosity of some nice representative of the dominant groups.

Camila Pitanga as Isabel in Lado a Lado

Despite its qualities, Lado a Lado is still a very shy advancement towards combating depreciation of black women in the media, especially since the Globo TV network insists on keeping on the air as characters like Adelaide of Zorra Total, whose sole function is to make  various socially discriminated groups look ridiculous in one stroke: the poor, female and black.

1. The northeast and south regions of Brazil also have racial, social and economic meaning attached to them. While the northeast is considered the more impoverished region of the country, stereotyped as “backward”with a large percentage of African descendants and people of color in general, the economies and standards of living are significantly higher in the south, a region of the country that is stereotyped as being more “advanced” and with a much higher percentages of persons who identify themselves as white. The populations of the three most southern states of the country, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná are 85.7, 81.4 and 71.3% white respectively. The populations of north and northeastern states such as Pará, Maranhão and Bahia are 76.2-76.7% Afro-Brazilian.

2. The fact that the slap of Taís Araújo’s Helena character occurred in November, Brazil’s National Month of Black Consciousness, was also not lost on several activists of Movimento Negro organizations. The Belezas Negras blog, the A Tarde newspaper and Maria Júlia Nogueira, the secretary of the Combat of Racism of the national labor union CUT and others all mentioned the timing of this scene in the novela. Maria Júlia Nogueira’s article was entitled “A Globo humilha os negros no mês da consciência negra (Globo humiliates blacks in the Month of Black Consciousness)” while Belezas Negras posted a piece entitled “Tapa na cara da Helena negra em Viver a vida na Semana da Consciência Negra (Slap in black Helena’s face on Viver a vida in the week of Black Consciousness).”

3. The term “empreguete” is a combination of two terms: empregada and periguete. Empregada means domestic or maid. In Brazilian slang, a “periguete” is defined as a “woman that goes to the dances to enjoy herself, dance, drink and get with various guys at the same time; she is vulgar in how she dresses, how she speaks, walks and acts.” The type of woman known in African-American communities as a “hoochie”.

Source: Erres Errantes

Notes: Black Women of Brazil

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


  1. PLEASE believe me when I tell you that 'Da Cor Do Pecado' had a much different effect on me, especially since the 'villain' turned out to be a white person (pardon me if this sounds racist but I'm sick and tired of blacks always being the ones doing such despicable and rotten things), with quite a few screws loose who should have seen a shrink a long time ago.I looked at this novela from a much different angle in that despite all of the horrible things that had been thrown at Preta and her son (and in some cases her mom), they plowed on and won in more ways than expected even if she'd never gotten together with or married Paco. The fact that he fought for Preta and his son in spite of their circumstances, rich or not, said a lot for me to even if he was white. There were a few bumps in the road and Paco should have used his head better in certain cases, but it still matters to me that he truly loved Preta and his son enough to fight for them "no matter what". P.S. I look forward to the day when Tais will do roles that have real 'teeth' to them, such as a 'doctor, lawyer, or some other high powered or important role'. It can be done but will 'Globo' finally let her do it (or Adriana Lessa or any other Afro Brazilian actress)?

  2. This is nothing to be proud of! Univision and telemundo need to start showing people of other races on these shows!! Its shocking how AL those actores we see seem oblivious to this fact! Sad to see mexican people ok with this

    • Yoshi it’s NOT just up to the tv networks, it’s the latino audiences who MUST step up too, as very sadly it seems the majority of them could care less about latinos of color (especially the medium to darker skinned ones) speaking up for them. Telemundo, Univision, Azteca nor the rest seem willing to touch this very IMPORTANT issue all these years later. A true disgrace in this day and time.

      P.S. in Telemundo’s recent fake biopic of singer Celia Cruz, the actress who played the character Lola seems to have gotten more air times, and a few choice roles than the women who played Celia. Very sad.

  3. I don’t even bother looking up those ‘studies’ and ‘researches’. some of the countries they listed as the ‘happiest places on earth’ have skyrocketing rates of suicide. Besides, as someone who’s lived in Brazil and abroad, I can say Brazilians (especially Black ones) are much happier than Scandinavians on average.

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