BW of Brazil: Today, we’ll be dealing with a controversial scene that was recently shown on a popular TV novela as well as a very sensitive topic. To explore the matter let’s first understand what happened. Here’s a quick summary of what went down (see edited video below).
Em Família: Neidinha suffers a gang rape and becomes pregnant
courtesy of Pure People and Folha
Shocking and at the same time real, the character Neidinha (Jéssica Barbosa) was violently raped in a scene from the novela Em Família which aired on Monday, February 10, 2014. From the assault, she will also become pregnant. In the scene, Neidinha is waiting for the bus when a van with three men in it stops. They ask where she is going and says she can get in since they are also going the Leblon neighborhood.
Believing that it was a collective van, Neidinha accepted getting into the vehicle with three men. Soon after, the van was stopped in a dark place and they raped the girl.
According to Manoel Carlos, author of the drama, it was clearly inspired by the rape of a young American woman in a van in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
“Somehow, I was inspired by what happened with the American tourist. Any rape is serious, very serious, an immeasurable violence. But that imprisoning the victim in a small space and several people abusing her has unpublished characteristics even then. In actuality, it’s kidnapping followed by rape. Savage. I was touched at the time that it happened and reflected it in the novela,” said the author of the 9pm novela on the official website.
To record the scene and give even more accuracy to the case, actress Jéssica Barbosa, a rookie to novelas, said she also sought references on true stories and that before the ‘recording’, sought to be alone to feel the fear of her character : “I I sat alone feeling the darkness of night. And that caused me a lot of fear, because nobody stops to see nightfall, it just happens,” she described.
Speaking about the scene, the actress says, “It didn’t scare me, but it was painful. It was a very physical scene inside the van with the three actors and the camera. The next day I was exhausted, a lot of muscular pain, some of them purple because of unintentionally hitting against the seat of the van,” Jessica explained in an interview with F5. The actress considers the scene important to open a debate on violence against women.
Van rape scene from Em Família
Note from BW of Brazil: In such a controversial scene, there are so many different angles and perspectives from which one can debate this sensitive issue. The first issue is, of course, violence against women as it is a reality that goes far beyond the “lights, cameras, action” of the TV screens. Victims in real life don’t simply prepare for the next scene. From there, as a televised program, even more questions come into play, including the racial aspect. The writer of the novela revealed that the inspiration for the scene was the infamous rape of an American tourist that made international headlines back in April of last year.
First of all, in coverage of the incident from last April, I have not been able to confirm the race of the woman who was violated as details about the victim have not been revealed, and for understandable reasons. But here’s a question: why did the writer of the novela decide to make the victim black? As this blog has shown consistently, black characters on Brazilian television in general are few, far between and usually very stereotypical when they do exist. And in typical Brazilian fashion, this new novela follows this same “formula”. Below is how a woman named Maria Julia saw the scene (Maria’s comments in the original Portuguese are posted at the end of the article).
Yesterday was a tough day…heavy, sad. Jornal Nacional had a decent editorial… but whoever continued watching Globo saw the Manoel Carlos novela (soap opera) and I need to talk… allow me… Again I need to touch on the same key: the absence of black characters in novelas and when there are they are in the same representations as always (the majority of times). Manoel Carlos’s novela Em família…in the city that the novela takes place a group is formed or young girls… there are no black girls, no black student. I didn’t even see it in the figuration, nothing. The only black character, that is poor, closes the second phase of the novela suffering a violent sexual assault I didn’t understand why…in the close up a young black man and two others who rape the girl… she returns home where they waited for her without saying a word … and point blank switches to another scene and continues on: I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND
The protagonists of the scene: two black men, a guy and the girl, the other two guys were not disclosed … Sad to finish the day. In the novela Malhação (1), there are hardly any black students, the actor Cadu Paschoal is the only regular cast member and I only see him, I don’t know if there are others … Script writers, writers of novelas, HELLOOOOO! There is life here…we study, we work, we do post-grad, doctorates, we travel, party, we have projects, we drive cars, travel by plane, ships … we play sports, we speak languages, we consume…we are a part and formers of opinion. In Suburbia it was the same thing!! It’s annoying!! Always associating blacks with marginality, the maid, domestic servants, violated girls. It is annnnoooooyyyying in case you still don’t know: We also have and live Em família (in a family).
Note from BW of Brazil: Maria Julia was not the only person who asked these very necessary questions. Rio-based politician Jean Wyllys also questioned the scene: “the girl comes home wounded, bloodied and with torn clothes and then there is a cut followed by a time jump. How’s that?” Maria’s comment also led to a spirited debate on the issue of race and representation and viewed through the lens of the scene in question. Here is how her spirited debate played out with another commenter*.
Ana Laura: And if it were reversed? If in real life the van case was with a black woman and in the novela they would place a blonde? Wow people….In my view it would be worse …
Maria Julia: Ana Laura… I contextualized my observation … it’s not dealing with just that, only this scene: it’s a novela like so many others where there are no black families, there is not one representation that avoids the same stereotypes as always… criminal, marginal, poor, and unfortunately another scene that is not explained… we keep watching without understanding another representation and affirmation of these models… the complaint/observation/scream is about a television that doesn’t know how to portray a society that is multiple … take a peek at Malhação (1) if you want to understand the point made here … I have three black teenager children who don’t see themselves represented in a program aimed at young audiences; young blacks don’t date, they don’t go to school… imagine this in another proportion and millions of spectators, the “disservice” done by this communication vehicle … Ana, it’s only for you to watch and observe but for whoever this does affect may not realize…
Ana Laura: but there have already been many novelas with good black artists (okay, minority)…and yes with entire families (Maneco ((director Manoel Carlos)) himself made one of his “Helenas” Thais Araujo (actress), without counting (actor) Lázaro (Ramos), several galã (heartthrobs/leading men)…etc etc)…mainly on Globo TV, (it’s) in the others that I can’t reported having seen (this), I could be wrong! … just like only a little time went by “playing the part” of dramatic homosexual couples …the first “kiss” was just shown only in 2014 (2)…so many things… I just strongly disagree in the sense that it is only an “injustice” because of color! I don’t think this no…. and easily I can say, I don’t think the girl was chosen to be raped because she was not white…. sorry, (it’s) my opinion! ..I even see how being a ‘highlight’ in the plot, plays an important role of denouncing severe and sad events of our days…. but….. “It’s my way of thinking” … RRSS … the polyglot branquinha (little white girl) here … LOL …..kisses
Maria Julia: Ana Laura, Sure the discussion gets richer with other points of view but it requires broader observation about it … our media , advertising and other means of communication still don’t have the representation we seek for a population of 52% in this country…so when compared with the homosexual issue we have to make a lot of noise to change this picture…You cited several black heartthrobs/leading men … You will be able name them because they are rare… we know because we live in this situation… you’re going keep stay on with Thais and Lázaro…then remember (actress) Camilla Pitanga … ahhh, there’s Milton Goncalves, remember? Um-hmm…wow, it was there in my memory… from the young generation do you know any names? Once again it’s not the simplification of the scene… It’s the context of everything and then when the only black character appears in the novela so far … it’s always like this…Now when there is a channel with just blacks as exists in United States… they will call it reverse racist … surely.
Ana Laura: Subúrbia……There were many gatos negros (hot black men) there!!
Ana Laura: My friend… I’m sure you have other arguments and data that I probably don’t even know exists….because of this I re-enforce this… “IN MY POINT OF VIEW”… this phrase needs to be dealt with and observed calmly… lol…. this explains a lot, huh? but points of view, there are thousands and in a matter of optics, thousands “right”…if it’s that that proceeds, “right” (does that concept even exist??… LOL) ……kisses …my dear!
Maria Julia: Subúrbia is another misconception…Lado a Lado was a well done work, of such quality that it received the Emmy… Luiz Fernando Carvalho, the director of Subúrbia doesn’t work with black actors in other works. Subúrbia just like Cidade de Deus (City of God) portrays blacks in a single way: marginal. Afterward, these directors rarely work with a black cast…rarely…Google search it but I will not insist, I will make write my script and release my film…that’s the idea…
Ana Laura: Wow.... I thought it was so good! I didn’t miss it, I loved the story …
Maria Julia: Ana Laura, for the Brazilian media blacks don’t date, don’t kiss, don’t fall in love, they only suffer from beatings not from love, they don’t go to Europe, don’t go to restaurants, don’t have families, they don’t drink coffee in the brasserie. They only drink cachaça (sugar cane liquor) (3) in a bar…blacks don’t go to exhibitions, much less can be plastic artists…blacks are not doctors, nor lawyers… are not entrepreneurs and don’t have cars… Ana, do the eye test and tell me later…
Ana Laura: I understand indeed…but this doesn’t exist, wow? I’m sorry, I was commenting on how the TV program that tells a story… and I liked that story, I thought it was cool, with great performances, a very good soundtrack…simple as that…….
Maria Julia: Ana Laura, excuse our incisive manner…but it’s clear that the cast worked well and everything else…but I know the work of Luiz Fernando Carvalho, I have my reservations because outside of this context of marginality and tragedy we are not portrayed and this, my dear, for centuries … but you’re right, it’s a work with artists and deserves respect but also I confess that through all this I said I got bitter and didn’t watch it…
Ana Laura: So these great actors who have worked in the miniseries are alienated? whoever agrees to participate in such an “unworthy” project? Wow, so many sensational people there…how so? sorry… I don’t think it’s like this …that all these people of which I’ve already seen in several interviews be so little engaged…. but…. I respect you guys….as they say…. each one with his own….(for the good, of course) … and “arguing” in the right direction is always good, right? rrss
Note from BW of Brazil: What absolutely amazed me about the above debate was Ana Laura fell right into mechanisms of the unchallenged privilege of the “dictatorship of whiteness”. Here, Ana Laura, a white woman, makes a common error when it comes to white arguments that continuously deny black invisibility. Afro-Brazilian actors in roles as protagonists are extremely rare in the media. And as such, when there is one, these roles/actors/programs are immediately pointed to as examples of “equality”. For example, the actors Ana mentioned above, Taís Araújo and Lázaro Ramos, are perhaps the two most successful Afro-Brazilian male and female actors in the media today. Taís has a long list of “first black woman to” titles in her resume and in 2011, Ramos became the first black leading man in a Brazilian novela. The two actors are also married in real life.
In regards to Ana’s statements, also note that the success of both of these actors has happened only in the past decade to a decade and a half. Ramos in fact, was involved in a recent uproar that once again showed how whiteness remains the standard face to represent a majority non-white Brazil. Ana also alluded to the 2012 mini-series Subúrbia which was highly celebrated in the media at the time because it featured a cast that was about 90% black. But as Maria rightly pointed out, and as was thoroughly reviewed here, that series was full of stereotypes and for many, like the film Cidade de Deus, was nothing to be celebrated in terms of black representation in the media. Subúrbia also ran for only a total of eight episodes, airing once a week from November 1st, 2012 to December 20th, 2012, while typical Brazilian novelas run for at least six months, five days per week. The Globo network’s recent Amor à Vida ran for eight months while the Record TV network’s current Pecado Mortal is scheduled to run until late April after completing a seven month run.
Analyzing Ana’s comments, it always amazes how when black people point out black invisibility in so many areas of society, whites who deny this invisibility are always quick to respond with the one or two examples they know of to the contrary but never seem to realize that the very fact that they are so quick to point out these one or two exceptions to the rule simply validates the point.
But getting back to the novela at hand, there are indeed a number of ways to look at this issue. One must acknowledge that rapes happen to all types of women, regardless of race. Statistics from Rio de Janeiro show that the black population of that city is about 48% and also reveal that black women are the majority among the female victims of murder – that with intent to kill (55.2%), attempted murder (51%), injury (52.1%), and rape and assault (54%), numbers representing a slightly larger percentage of victimization. But let us remember several factors here. As rape is a highly sensitive topic that often marks the victim for many years after the occurrence, if not for the rest of their lives, we must consider that there is surely a large percentage of victims who aren’t able muster the courage to come forward and admit that such a humiliating, dehumanizing crime even happened. Beyond that, we have to think of the class aspect of the crime. People who come from the lower social classes often carry a sense of powerlessness in such situations as communities such as theirs are consistently disrespected by police, ignored by the government and, particularly in Rio, often end up caught up in the cross fire between police and drug traffickers.
Once we cipher through all of those factors, we must then analyze the value attributed to segments of the population according to understandings of race. Let’s be clear: Brazil clearly adheres to stereotypes about the black population that are common to the global black community. Black men are consistently viewed as dangerous criminals and constantly thought to be in the process of committing a crime. Black women are also viewed suspiciously when in shopping centers and carry the added stereotype of easy sexual availability and hyper-sexualization. It is here that an analysis of the situation becomes even more difficult. As blogger/writer Cidinha reminded us, unreported rapes of black women are not a secret in Brazil.
Playing the devil’s advocate, one could argue that the writer’s choice of making the victimized character poor and black spotlights a reality that may not get the same attention that it would if the character were white and middle/upper class. And regardless of those who would cry “race baiting” here, anyone who can be honest about this issue knows that in the social imagination, rights, honor and respect are assumed privileges of white women (and white people in general). The very manner in which the scene was quickly cut and not even really dealt seems to carry on an ideology in which the issues of pain and victimization are nothing to really be taken seriously when the victim is black. Let us consider this also in the context of another Globo TV series, 2012’s Subúrbia, in which the black female character suffered a rape at the hands of her employer’s mate and her would be boyfriend as well as repeated sexual harassment from a biker.
I repeat here. Sexual violence does occur to all sorts of women, but in the context of a Brazilian media in which black women are consistently portrayed as sexually available “mulatas” or domestics, and white women are consistently held up as standards of beauty and womanhood itself, what image does the public ultimately take away from the scene of another black women being violated and disregarded?
It is often said that rape in fact has very little to do with sex but rather a show of power through the force of brutality. And the black community as a whole suffers from such disempowerment.
Below is how blogger Jarid Arraes saw it.
Gang rape in the Em Família novela and disempowerment of victims
by Jarid Arraes
On Monday (10), a gang rape scene was displayed in the novela (soap opera) Em Família generating a wave of comments stunned by the horror that for many, appeared on the screen out of nowhere. Manoel Carlos, the writer of the new novela, seems to have a fondness for addressing violence against women in his plots. However, despite his alleged good intentions, the latest character to experience the reality of misogyny doesn’t cause optimism for whoever has already debated issues such as rape and abortion.
The distrust that part of feminist activists and other allies in the fight against sexism happens because, contrary to what Manoel Carlos advocates, the rape case will not have a socially responsible outcome. It turns out that the woman raped, Neidinha, will become pregnate from the rape, keep the fetus and, years later, have to deal with her daughter looking for her “father”. Although being guaranteed by Brazilian law, women who become pregnant due to rape experience enormous difficulty when the time comes to get a safe abortion with help from the SUS system (4). There are countless cases where poor black women are forced to continue the pregnancy, being intimidated and pressured by health groups and their religious community.
Neidinha is also black woman, another one that is portrayed in a negative way, within a revolting context – and her rape has some points in which we should, in the minimum, reflect seriously. One thing is the parental rating of the novela, because Em Família was categorized as not recommended for children under 12, a restriction that indicates insinuations of sex and some violence. However, when it comes to rape, the rating goes up to 16.
Rape is not just any violence. No wonder that so many films are widely recognized as “too strong” because of showing detailed rape scenes. What Neidinha suffered on Globo (TV) was truly disturbing – the screams could be heard from afar, and her facial expressions caused extreme discomfort for thousands of people around the country. Even sadder are the many reports of women rape victims, who were taken by surprise by the chapter and had to deal with a heavy load posttraumatic stress, painful memories and emotional distress.
If Manoel Carlos is against abortion in cases of rape, he should at least think of the audience watching his novelas. The disservice that he is doing is striking. The reality in no way resembles the romanticized fantasy you wish to display as the happy outcome of the child generated by a rape, who grows having violin lessons in a balanced home, is not simply a social fact with tangible statistics. But perhaps the author was aware of another character of his, a victim of domestic violence, played by Helena Ranaldi: Raquel, from the old novela Mulheres Apaixonadas (Women in Love), put it off for months until she found the courage to report the incident. In the same week, the police registered a 25% increase in the number of women who sought the authorities to denounce their abusers. Unfortunately, Neidinha will not serve as an example for rape victims feeling empowered and having the courage to make a denouncement, to the contrary, even the conquested right to terminate a pregnancy is overlooked. It’s a great social irresponsibility not to inform women about their rights honestly.
The fact is we cannot ignore the power that novelas have on the audience; the people watch, comment, copy slang and clothes and are inspired by these plots to also face their own daily challenges. Apart from making a huge amount of women watching inadequate, extremely violent scenes, we still need to tend to the perpetuation of misogyny, because the Neidinha case also generates an aggressive tenor of blaming the victim. Very few women can muster the courage to report the rape they suffered and request an abortion – legal and free – in order not to have an unwanted child. It is unacceptable that so many women continue to relive their trauma without even receiving any assistance. The naturalization of sexual violence is a severe problem that the novela Em Família continues to perpetuate.
* – Maria’s and Ana’s comments were retrieved from Facebook
1. A teen-oriented Globo novela Malhação, a program associated with the “playboy” crowd, meaning middle class white families. On the air since 1995, the show, which has been described as a sort of Brazilian Beverly Hills 90210, rarely features black characters. This lack and stereotyping of black characters was the theme of a 2012 article entitled “Malhação reproduces prejudice limiting roles of black actors.”
2. The recent Globo novela Amor à Vida made many headlines featuring a male gay couple in the series as the Brazilian media in general has seen an upsurge in homosexuals grabbing headlines and being more prominently featured in TV and films roles.
3. Cachaça is Brazil’s most common distilled alcoholic beverage (also known as Pinga or Caninha). Both rum and cachaça are made from sugarcane-derived products. Specifically with cachaça, the alcohol results from the fermentation of sugarcane juice that is afterwards distilled. Source
4. Sistema Único de Saúde or Unified Health System. The Sistema Único de Saúde (or Unified Health System) is Brazil’s publicly funded health care system. SUS was created after the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, which assured that health care is a “right of all and an obligation of the State”.
Comments by Maria and Ana via Facebook in original Portuguese