TV director Criticized After Racist Comments about Maju and Thelma
Got your back? After causing uproar with racist comments about two famous black women, former TV director gains 12,000 more followers on social media
By Marques Travae
Well, well, well, what conclusions should we take from this chain of events? Before I get into this sort of follow-up report, let me remind folks of what previously happened that led to this follow-up. A few days ago, I posted a story that actually went down a few weeks back in which a well-known personality on social media conducted an online live chat with an entrepreneur, a former director of a popular Brazilian television network, Band.
As Ju de Paulla conversed with Rodrigo Branco, who is now known for being a tour guide of famous Brazilians visiting Disneyworld in Florida, the topic turned to the popular Globo TV reality show Big Brother Brasil, which is now in its 20th season. After de Paulla commented that she was rooting for the participant, Thelma, Branco immediately went in on Thelma, saying that people only cheered for her because she was a “poor, black thing.” Branco then went in on Globo TV journalist Maju Coutinho, saying she was a terrible journalist who only had her position because she was black, among other comments.
Although Ju de Paulla was nearly speechless with Branco’s comments, it wasn’t long before social networks exploded, blasting the former Band TV director for what they defined as racist comments. Branco, as is typical in Brazil when the accusation is racism, denied being racist although he admitted that what he said was racist.
What was perhaps even more intriguing about this incident was what happened in the aftermath, which speaks as much about racial issues in Brazil as the incident itself. Brazilians are infamous for uttering the words, “somos todos iguais” (we are all equal) when an issue of racism comes up. As ridiculous as this declaration is in the face of such vast social/racial inequalities in Brazil, even after slavery having ended more than 130 years ago, the silence of famous people on this incident was perhaps worse.
Wait…maybe I should say famous white or non-black people. I say this because, immediately after Branco’s comments hit the web, black personalities were on the case. People such as singers Preta Gil and Elza Soares, philosopher/author Djamila Ribeiro and jornalista Rita Batista, who once worked with Branco over at Band TV, all let the businessman know his comments weren’t appreciated while simultaneously defending Thelma and Maju.
Other black personalities got together and issued a manifesto calling out celebrity silence after Branco’s racist comments. People such as actor Lázaro Ramos, singers Léo Santana and Teresa Cristina, actress Cris Vianna, humorista Tia Má and São Paulo congressperson Erica Malunguinho were among a group of black activists and prominent people in social networks that reacted to the deafening silence on the part of the vast majority of people in elite circles who are close to the entrepreneur.
Calling themselves the Potências Negras (Black Powers), the group released the following message:
“It is not enough not to be racist, you must be anti-racist!”
Angela Davis’ statement is fundamental to understanding who are allies in the racial debate. Anthropologist Kabenguele Munanga classified racism as “the perfect crime”. Whoever discriminates leaves unharmed and the blacks still need to speak up with each new episode. We are all afraid of the coronavirus, but everyday racism is not quarantined.
It is common for black people to be asked to answer for the racism they suffer. Meanwhile, the silence of the supposed allies also kills us. To be anti-racist is to take responsibility for yourself and call on your peers to face together the extermination project that has been spreading for more than 500 years.
The racial issue structures Brazil’s socioeconomic inequalities. To be silent in the face of racism is to legitimize that the system remains intact. Cida Bento calls this the “Pacto Narcísico da Branquitude” (Narcissistic Pact of Whiteness). Evidence appears daily: tour guide, filmmakers, BBB, the accelerated extermination of black youth. If you are silent in the face of such violence, you are certainly not an ally in the anti-racist struggle.
TV director Criticized After Racist Comments about Maju and Thelma
History will demand everyone, but especially those who were silent while we died and are cruelly violated. We will not go back, let alone, remain silent. We’ll scream. We will react.
“Se você enfia uma faca de 22 centímetros em minhas costas e puxar quinze centímetros para fora, não haverá progresso. O progresso vem quando se cura a ferida que o golpe fez. Eles nem começaram a puxar a faca. Eles não admitem que a faca está lá.” – Malcolm X
But the question was, where were white celebrities such as singer Ivete Sangalo, TV hosts Xuxa Meneghel, Rodrigo Faro and Sabrina Sato, singer/actress Larissa Manoela and model Carolina Dieckmann, all of whom have been seen taking photos with Branco.
Being a man of such stature, these names are clearly just a few of the hundreds or thousands of people Branco counts as friends, acquaintances or contacts. How come none of them had nothing to say on the issue?
OK, wait, let me backtrack. Shortly after the fact, Larissa Manoela did issue a statement and repudiated Branco’s comments. The actress didn’t mention Branco by name but made it clear how she felt on the subject, posting a recent vídeo by BBB participant Babu Santana giving a ‘class’ on racism.
“Babu, Thelma, Maju and no black person deserves to go through so much prejudice,” wrote the actress on Instagram. Manoela also mentioned how she once portrayed a racist in one of her roles and how badly the character made her feel.
Fábio José de Melo Silva, better known as Padre Fábio de Melo, a Catholic priest, artist, writer, university professor and host would also make his feelings known. Melo is a friend of Branco but made it clear that he couldn’t defend Branco’s comment. Also referring to Santana’s comments on BBB, Melo said:
“Babu alerts us to the racism of language. He’s right. We need a profound change of mentality. Thelma and Maju are two great women, but they are not because they are ‘black’. They are because they are.”
Singer Ivete Sangalo seemed to want to stay somewhat in the middle on the topic, acknowledging the pain of being discriminated against, but also believing her friend Rodrigo has learned from his mistake:
“Many of us don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated against. Many of us don’t know the taste of this. To be looked at differently, to be considered different, to instill in the lives of these people’s children that their hair is not beautiful, that their color is different and that they can’t play in the circle and that they can’t be at the head of a newscast, and that they can’t be doctors, scientists, models, mothers, women. So what I want to tell you is that I completely disagree with his stance. I talked to him and talked about my sadness, I think he is already learning,” defended the singer.
There were still a few other white public figures who did issue public statements, but the fact that Branco is considered the “guru” of famous Brazilians in Orlando’s famous theme park and considering how many white Brazilians makeup Brazil’s elite circles, particularly in the entertainment industry, these few represent a trivial percentage.
Singer Ivete Sangalo may have felt some sense of loyalty to Branco in saying that her friend is “already learning” from the incident, but I’m not buying it. I see this in a similar manner as UOL columnist Fefito. Also questioning the silence of the vast majority of Branco’s famous white friends, Fefito writes, “Certainly Rodrigo will do what many famous people do: disappear from the internet and come back later.”
In general, after a controversy, this is exactly what happens. They disappear for a short period to let the heat die down and then re-emerge. I don’t see Branco changing his opinion on the subject whatsoever. Had there been no public outcry over his remarks, he probably wouldn’t have even issued an apology. Even after saying what he said, he fell back on the typical discourse of “I’m not racist”, although he said something that many agree would categorize him as such. At least he didn’t go into “my __________ is black, so how could I be racist?” mode (see here, here and here)
What’s most interesting about this case is not that Branco did deactivate his Instagram account for a short period, but the fact that after he activated the account again, his number of followers increased by 12,000! And according to the website Notícia Preta, this total could be far more. By the figures of that site, when Branco deactivated his account for a week, he had about 850,000 followers. Re-activating his account saw a total reach of 902,000, an increase of 52,000 followers.
I can’t say with any certainty how many people would have begun to follow Rodrigo had this incident not happened, but seeing such a spike in his numbers directly after the controversy seems to tell us that there are certainly a lot of Brazilians who fully agree with Branco’s comments about BBB’s Thelma and Globo TV journalist Maju Coutinho.
We’ve seen too many racist attacks via social networks on Afro-Brazilian public figures and everyday people since platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram became so popular to deny the possibility. What I’ve seen and documented for some time is that there are a lot of white or near-white Brazilians who are very uncomfortable seeing Afro-Brazilians ascending into positions that Brazilian society has always reserved for them. No way to deny this. The fact that Branco gained so many new followers after his attacks on two prominent black women is simply more evidence of how people really feel behind the “we are all equal” rhetoric that so many are quick to say after racist tendencies come to light.
Translation of above tweets
- Rodrigo Branco after showing the racist that he is, already gained more than 100 thousand followers. Yes really, ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND. And look how he deactivated his profile for some days.
- In a little while he’ll be hired by CNN
- F**k, it’s true. That’s too discouraging, you know. I’ve been producing contente for two years. The guy was racist and gained 100 thousand followers. And I’m not speaking only of myself, there’s a lot of fantastic black people around here producing and nothing.
In one of the above comments, a reference was made to CNN Brasil, which debuted in Brazil in March. One of the journalists that the network hired was former Globo TV journalist William Waack who was fired a few years ago after a video of his live mic, off câmera racist comment was leaked to the public. Then, just last week, I learned that CNN Brasil just hired the journalists who were recently fired from the Record TV network after racist comments about the network’s black employees surfaced via a WhatsApp conversation. João Beltrão, the director of journalism at Record TV was also fired for refusing to taking action on the incident, was also hired by CNN Brasil. In that same article, I predicted this would probably happen. Are you surprised?
This whole Rodrigo Branco affair once again shows us the precarious situation of Afro-Brazilians, both in favela slums as well as in the upper strata of society. With no base of power, they remain at the mercy of white supremacy. To live well, they must seek opportunities in the white world because similar opportunities simply do not exist in the black world, particularly in Brazil. (TV director Criticized After Racist Comments about Maju and Thelma)
When CNN announced the debut of its affiliate in Brazil, veteran Luciana Barreto became the first Afro-Brazilian contracted by the network. Barreto made a name for herself covering various Afro-Brazilian issues on the TV Brasil network. I wonder what she must be thinking knowing that her new employer has now hired four people connected to racial controversies in less than a year. Another intriguing detail to all of this is that, one of Branco’s most vocal critics, journalist Rita Batista, with whom he worked at Band TV, deleted her critical comments shortly after his apology, leaving only her complimentary messages.
Well, black folks gotta eat and pay their bills. Like the incident in which a number of Afro-Brazilians came out in support of a TV program that activists deemed racist a few years back also showed (see here and here), it’s pretty hard to bite the hand that feeds you.