The role of blacks on Brazilian television: The continuation of secondary roles, stereotypes and invisibility

“The Black on Brazilian Television”

Note from BW of Brazil: The time is far passed due. For decades, many writers, professors, activists, etc. have pointed out and denounced the image of black people in the mainstream media. Yes, this blog should be included in this group as we have long sought to expose the situation of Afro-Brazilians in the media to the world outside of Brazil that doesn’t speak Portuguese. But this and only this has been the principle reason for exposing the situation. I personally don’t expect that Brazil’s media will be changing its programming or the persons featured in this programming any time soon. Brazil’s media is and has been controlled by persons who consider themselves white and/or see the world from a European mindset since its inception. And as Brazil’s economy and political environment is also controlled by persons who consider themselves white and/or have a Eurocentric mindset, they use such power of control and influence to promote their ideals and ideologies to the population upon which they have such a massive impact. This writer is one who doesn’t believe that things happen simply by chance and as such, I prefer to analyze the reasons for which things happen the way that they do.

When speaking of the blatant Eurocentrism evident in Brazil’s media, we must consider the nation’s past and its view toward its black population. After the ending of about 350 years of slavery, the Afro-Brazilian population was simply thrown to the streets and basically left to its own resources. Black cultural practices such as samba, capoeira and Candomblé were either frowned upon, restricted, repressed or outright outlawed. These practices were seen as practices of vagrants and horrible reminders of Brazil’s connection to Africa that should be disregarded if Brazil were to build itself into a powerful, respectable country to the rest of the world. In fact, before slavery actually came to an end, elites came to a conclusion about what to do with its huge population of African descent. As this group was seen (and blamed) as a constant reminder of the nation’s backwardness, it was believed that for the nation to move forward, this population should disappear and be replaced with a more European-looking group. And rather than sending unwanted blacks back to Africa or direct mass genocide, miscegenation was accepted as the best mechanism for the slow disappearance of the black race.

Regular readers of this have no doubt read about this policy of embranquecimento (whitening) in numerous previous posts, but understanding this policy is of absolute importance to comprehending how Afro-Brazilians are seen and dealt with to this day. Afro-Brazilian youth are 77% of the young people murdered every day across the country and are four times likely to be murdered than white youth. Black Brazilians are nearly invisible in politics, executive positions in businesses that run the country and nearly non-existent in school textbooks that tell the history of the country. This representation of the Afro-Brazilian continues in the realm of the media, the means by which most in the country receive information and with which they form opinions on subjects in relation to the Brazilian experience. When visible descendants of Africa are constantly presented in secondary/supporting roles, servants and vagabonds, what opinion of this group will the population at large form?

We also see that in novelas, when black characters are featured in romantic settings, they are consistently paired with white partners. White characters, that are the vast majority in these fictional series, are overwhelmingly paired with white partners. What is the message there? What I get from these negative, secondary and near invisible images are simply a continuation of the desire to eliminate the black element from not only the social imagination but from existence. In many ways, the media represents not only how the society sees itself but also how it wishes to see itself. For these reasons, this writer has long stopped expecting the media to make any sort of change in relation to depictions of Afro-Brazilians. It is expressing exactly what Brazil itself has thought and wanted since at least the late 19th century. As such, the objective of reports here are simply to inform our readers of the situation.

With that said, here is Kelly Souza’s view on the role of blacks on Brazilian television.

The role of blacks on Brazilian television

By Kelly Souza

In times in which we continue to see black women and men only in “vintage” novelas (soap operas) representing slave, I always wonder, for how long?

Days after Record network debuted another novela with the plot focused on slaves. Entitled Escrava Mãe (Slave Mother), the novela tells the story of the mother of the slave Isaura (the white slave, educated in the casa grande – big house – and of noble character, but suffered the constant harassment of her master.)

Parte do elenco da novela 'Escrava mãe'. Duas atrizes negras.
Nayara Justino, far right, is one of the black actresses cast in the Record TV series ‘Escrava Mãe’

I watched the first chapter to have an opinion and had a little hope of seeing something new. I was disappointed once again.

I usually don’t watch novelas as the focus tends to be on the whites of the plot and blacks only appear to suffer. But was it what was happening at that moment in history? Yes. It was worse.

The biggest problem is not putting it on the screen, really because we all watched 12 anos de escravidão (12 Years a Slave) and realized that it was something very well done. And in the US blacks are on TV. The question is: we have novelas throughout the history of Brazilian teledramas, in which there was not even one black who was not used to serve whites. Usually blacks in novelas don’t have a formed family, are never are successful, are never protagonists and carry the great stereotypes of being vagabonds and lazy.

In 1969, when we had a prominent black actress, the dear Ruth de Souza, in a novela with big audience – A cabana do pai Tomás, we also had blackface. They simply painted a white man black. In 1976, Escrava Isaura (Slave Isaura), had a slave as the protagonist, but this one was as white like the one mentioned above. Both were successful novelas.

Ruth de Souza e Sérgio Cardoso, pintado de preto.
Ruth de Souza and Sérgio Cardoso, in blackface.

In an interview with the Observatório de Direito à Comunicação (Observatory of Right to Communication), the advertiser and executive director of the Instituto Mídia Étnica (Ethnic Media Institute) Paulo Rogério Nunes says there is still enormous racism in Brazilian TV and American TV has more blacks acting, than in Brazil, a majority black country.

“To make a reflection, let’s remember who Mussum was. A drunken black man, a stereotype of a ragged black man, a vagabond, with no perspective. At various times in television dramas and other productions of Brazilian TV, there is a very large load of stereotypes and prejudices. There is a deliberate action to, besides under-representing, placing black men and women on a level of level of inequality, of inferiority. And that is detrimental to whoever watches.”

Não é novela, mas não poderia deixar de lembrar
‘It’s not a novela, but I couldn’t help remembering it’ – The controversial series ‘Sexo e as Negas’ outraged many in the black community that called for the end of the series.

And who watches these novelas? For young blacks or even children in the process of the formation of their identity, the black will always carry that stereotype that TV delimits. TV often reaffirms every kind of racism that we see in society.

A television network that shows an extremely whitened Egypt, with only one (light-skinned) black woman is the same network that bragged and made a question of showing the entire cast of black people that interpret the slaves of the new novela.

There are a bunch of extremely competent black actors, but that have no space on TV, cinema and not even in Brazilian theater. Is it because the media is racist? Yes. Is it because the Brazilian people, lovers  of telenovelas, are racist? That too.

Brazil is a racist country and this is no different when it comes to media. Check out this wonderful interview (in Portuguese) with filmmaker, researcher and writer from Minas Gerais, Joel Zito Araújo, author of the book and documentary A negação do Brasil (released in English as Denying Brazil)

Joel Zito
Filmmaker and critic Joel Zito Araújo has been very critical of the role of Afro-Brazilians in the media

You probably remember when Taís Araújo was the protagonist in a certain Globo network novela and she was highly criticized. The script was not favorable to the black woman occupying a role (Helena) hitherto occupied only by mulheres brancas (white women). The public reacted and it was not little. The actress herself said she thought her career would end there.

Tais Araujo na novela 'Viver a vida'
Actress Taís Araújo in the novela ‘Viver a Vida’

Until when will blacks not have space on Brazilian TV? Until when will we have to watch novelas in which blacks always carry stereotypes and karmas that are integrated into society? How long will we be the supporting cast?

I don’t judge the actors and actresses who accept stereotyped roles on TV, no one lives on light, the ones who should be held responsible are the television networks. But we need positioning.

In recent years we have seen some highlights for black actors, but always those who have a certain standard and that are accepted by the media. I’ve already said and I repeat, that my dream is to still to watch something on TV where we have a black actress, with dark skin, in the style of Lupita N’yongo. But every day I lose more hope. There is still much to be done. Both in film and on TV, blacks are not performing as they should be.

Lázaro Ramos foi o primeiro ator negro protagonista de uma novela, que foi ao ar em 2012.
Lázaro Ramos was the first black male protagonist of a novela, which aired in 2012.

I prefer not to watch or follow these novelas. They don’t represent me, so I don’t watch them. But we must discuss them, as most Brazilians end up forming their opinion from these dramas. And if we keep living in the past century, our people will never be recognized.

Source: Beleza Black Power

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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