Trajectory of the documentary “Raça” features three black personalities in the struggle for racial equality

Poster for "Raça" documentary
Poster for “Raça” documentary

Note from BW of Brazil: The BW of Brazil blog has featured the work and opinions of filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo in a number of posts. He is the the most productive of any black Brazilian filmmaker of the past few decades producing a number of works, the majority of which discuss the issue of race, racism and racial inequality in Brazilian society, particularly in the media. He is the writer and director of the book and documentary A Negação do Brasil – O negro na telenovela brasileira, which explores the representation of Afro-Brazilians in two decades of Brazil’s ever popular novelas (soap operas). The works are considered benchmarks in the study of Afro-Brazilians on television and Araújo is considered an authority on the issue of blacks in the Brazilian media in general. Lázaro Ramos, perhaps Brazil’s most popular black male actor, has hailed Araújo’s latest work, which will be released on May 17th, only 4 days after the recognition of the 125th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil, as the “documentary of the year”. The new documentary, entitled Raça, meaning “race”, comes at a time when the discussion of the topic continues to rise to center stage in Brazilian society. The national release of the film will also be another milestone for Araújo whose important works have been, for the most part, ignored by distributors of Brazilian cinema. Below is a review of the film with comments from the director and the co-director of the film, Megan Mylan as well as the film’s trailer. 

By Anderson Sotero of Correio Nagô

Senator Paulo Paim and the battle for the Estatuto da Igualdade Racial (Statute of Racial Equality). The granddaughter of enslaved Africans, Miúda dos Santos, and the struggle for land. Singer Netinho de Paula and the attempt to consolidate  TV da Gente (Our TV) a television channel focused on Afro-Brazilians. Three different initiatives that Brazilian filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo and American filmmaker Megan Mylan decided to register in the documentary Raça, meaning “race”, which opens on May 17th.

Miúda dos Santos, Paulo Paim and Netinho de Paula: three personalities featured in film
Miúda dos Santos, Paulo Paim and Netinho de Paula: three personalities featured in film

The documentary is a co-production between Brazil and the United States, filmed between 2005 and 2011. In the 104 minute long film, the video records various aspects of the debate on racial issues in the country. All proceeds from the box office of the film will be donated to the Fundo Baobá (Baobab Fund), an entity engaged in the promotion of racial equality (1).

“The film captures the debate about the pursuit of overcoming racial inequality in Brazil. To record this historical moment in which the racial debate became constant in the media and in public discourse, we decided to closely monitor three black personalities that are, each in their own way, at the forefront of this battle for equality,” said filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo in an interview the Portal Correio Nagô website.  Araújo is also the director of the documentary A Negação do Brasil (Denying Brazil) which covers the history of blacks in Brazilian soap operas, and won the award for best documentary at É Tudo Verdade festival, besides having also been awarded at the Festival de Recife in 2001.

Filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo: "film captures the debate about the pursuit of overcoming racial inequality in Brazil"
Filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo: “film captures the debate about the pursuit of overcoming racial inequality in Brazil”

Joel Zito, who holds a Ph. D in Communication from USP (University of São Paulo), also directed Filhas do Vento (Daughters of the Wind), a work that brought together the largest black cast in the history of Brazilian cinema, won eight Kikito awards in the Gramado Festival, and was the winner of the Tiradentes film festival, in 2006.

Characters – In this new work, three characters were chosen to be the focus of the documentary. In one of the three paths chosen by the directors, Senator Paulo Paim tries to sanction the law of the Estatuto da Igualdade Racial (Statute of Racial Equality) in the National Congress in the nation’s capital city of Brasília. Paim is the author of the original project that took almost a decade to be approved.

From Brasília to the southeastern state of Espírito Santo, the documentary shows the struggle of Miúda dos Santos, granddaughter of enslaved Africans and a quilombola (2) activist, for the possession of the land and respect for their ancestral traditions in Quilombo de Linharinho Community (3). Along with the residents of the region, Miúda fights against a branch of cellulose company.

Miúda dos Santos in scene from film
Miúda dos Santos in scene from film

Behind the scenes of Brazilian TV, Raça shows the process of creating and try to consolidate the television channel TV da Gente, of singer, TV host and businessman Netinho de Paula. Founded in 2005, in São Paulo, the now defunct channel was formed by mostly black professionals and idealized by the artist.

Netinho de Paula and Senator Paulo Paim
Netinho de Paula and Senator Paulo Paim

“The choice of the characters came from the desire to be able to follow the life stories of people who were at the epicenter of the debate. And as a great part of the controversy revolved around quotas in universities and the lands of quilombolas, the adoption of the Statute of Racial Equality, and the difficulty of an equal representation of blacks in the media, we sought people connected to it,” said Joel Zito.

For seven years, the directors followed the battles faced by each of the three characters. “When you decide to direct a movie, watching the struggles of three people, it is their lives that indicate when shooting must end,” says the filmmaker Megan Mylan, also in an interview with Portal Correio Nagô. Winner of awards such as the Academy Award, Independent Spirit and the Guggenheim, Mylan produced and directed the film Smile Pinki, an Oscar winner in 2008. The social theme is common in her works.

Directors of "Raça" Joel Zito Araújo and Megan Mylan
Directors of “Raça” Joel Zito Araújo and Megan Mylan

She emphasized that, especially in the case of Senator Paim fighting for the adoption of the Statute of Racial Equality, the filming had to be maintained while the statute was moving in Congress. “On the issue of Miúda, unfortunately, there is still a lot to be won in seeking land titling quilombola lands, but we decided that with the adoption of the Statute, we were in a key moment for our movie get in theaters. It was time to contribute to the national dialogue around the issue,” adds the filmmaker.

In an unprecedented action, the directors of the documentary signed an agreement with the Fundo Baobá (Baobab Fund) and all the box office revenue of the film will be donated to the organization, which is geared to the promotion of racial equality.

Partnership – For the directors, the film is the result of a friendship that began in the nineties. At this time, Megan was living in Brazil, working in the Ashoka Foundation. “She is a person of great sensitivity to social issues. But it was in 2004 that the idea of directing a movie together came up,” says Joel Zito.

Mylan says that even after returning to the US she continued to keep an eye on Brazil. “The denial of racial disparity in Brazil was one thing that struck me when I lived in the country. In 2004 I was watching the debate over the adoption of quotas at UERJ (State University of Rio de Janeiro) on the internet. I felt that finally Brazil was facing the reality of their racial disparity, recognizing that the beautiful idea that Brazil was a country without prejudice, with no difference between the races was indeed a myth,” she recalls.

She also reports that it was then that the idea of ​​documenting the period that Brazil was experiencing came up. “With my filmmaker view, I wanted to know who was documenting this historic moment so I figured it had to have Brazilian filmmakers already doing it. I called Joel immediately but we didn’t find anyone following it. So as filmmakers we only had one option; it would be us who would do the work,” she says.

“I am from a generation that, in adolescence, these problems were considered only a problem of Afro-Brazilian. It is as if racism was not a problem of an unequal relationship between different races. Therefore, we had the insight that it was time to make a movie about this great new Brazilian historical context,” adds Joel Zito. For him, the documentary Raça only lacks discussing “exterminating violence of black youth.”

In one of the documentary’s scenes, Senator Paim makes a statement that summarizes some debate on the topic. He says “When you go to a company, when you are discriminated against, they don’t ask for your DNA, they just look at you. The issue is that our black people are being murdered, are excluded and are (those) who earn the lowest salary.”

Filming – Mylan also revealed that they found difficulty with financial support for the filming. But for her, the biggest challenge was selecting three stories that could represent the “social change that is happening in all sectors of the country.”

“A film can’t do everything, but we also have a responsibility to create something that well represents this national transformation. Our characters represent three different areas:  government, media, and cultural and historical heritage. The style that we decided to use to capture this dynamic thing was the direct cinema, a style of observation. With this, you have to be present in the key moments and their characters have to be people at the forefront of things,” she says.

The video had its premiere at the Mostra Première Brazil – Hors Concours, during the Festival de Cinema (Rio de Janeiro Film Festival), and Fespasco in Burkina Faso, the most important African festival.

“The film had a reception moving. The public loves and even outside of here, recognizes its social and political importance. Besides having received many accolades for its artistic quality,” says Joel Zito.

For Mylan, Brazilians should not miss checking out the documentary. “It’s a good movie with a good story of three Brazilians whose lives represent a moment of historical transformation of the country. We want to promote a qualified national discussion on racial equity, trying to get people to come out with a better understanding of how racial equality is fundamental to citizenship and for a modern Brazil,” she promises.

Trailer for documentary Raça

Source: Correio Nagô


1. See two articles featuring Athayde Motta, the director of the Fundo Baobá, speaking on institutional racism in Brazil’s education system and health care system here and here.

2. For an explanation of quilombos and quilombolas, see the note section of this article.

3. Struggles over land rights of descendants of Brazil’s quilombolas (descendants of maroon societies) have been going on for a number of years. See the article Black Brazilian community being evicted by the Brazilian Navy, for example.

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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