Note from BBT: I came across the piece below only a few days ago, and because of its reference to Dia dos Namorados, Brazil’s Valentine’s Day, which was about three weeks ago, it’s a bit outdated, but the subject matter is not and will remain a relevant question. Some years ago, one writer pointed out and asked why black women weren’t portrayed in loving relationships amongst the couples shown in the Dia dos Namorados advertising campaigns of various companies.
In all of the ads, there were various couples. White couples, interracial couples, gay couples, a mix of almost every sort of romantic pairings you could imagine. In one particular ad campaign, while the company featured a black man with a white woman, the same company portrayed a black woman kissing a mannequin. A non-human. What was the deal with that?
The ad seemed to be promoting a complaint that black Brazilian women had been making for years: a solidão da mulher negra, meaning the loneliness of the black woman. For several years, black women have lamented how difficult it is for them to secure long-term relationships, specifically with black men, but in general terms, with men as a whole.
A few years later, the question was asked as to why there appeared to be a fear of portraying black couples in the popular soap operas of the day. It’s a legitimate question. I’ve asked this question for years and I noted this long before 2015 when that article asked the question. In Brazil’s audiovisual media, it was rare to see black couples in romantic settings. Black Brazilians were and continue to be a minority on television programs, but when they are featured as novelas, or soap operas, which have always attracted enormous audiences, they are also always paired up with a white partner.
Going beyond the question of the absence of black couples, that year, 2015, I noted that it was in fact difficult to find families consisting of a black man, a black woman and a black child. I saw white families. I saw a family consisting of a white couple with an adopted black child and another family consisting of a black woman and her black son, but no black father. Mind you, I didn’t spend two weeks looking for this with a deep analysis, but just flicking through channels or ads on YouTube for the weeks leading up to the June 12th Dia dos Namorados was enough to make it a legitimate question.
In fact, several months after an article appeared online questioning the absence of black couples in television soap operas, and my question on the absence of black families, the initial reactions to another television ad seemed to confirmed that there was issue with showing black couples and families on television. When an ad featuring a black family by the cosmetics company O Boticário initially debuted in July of 2018 on YouTube, 40% of viewers expressed rejection of the commercial with a dislike ”thumbs down” symbol. The reaction made headlines on numerous news platforms.
What was the problem with that ad? I can’t say for certain why thousands of people at that time didn’t like the ad, but I did note several people asking questions like, ‘where are the white people?’, ‘why are white people excluded?’ and ‘they need to mix this up’. These types of reactions demonstrated a few things.
One, people are accustomed to seeing ads featuring all white people, two, when black people are featured in areas that are usually all-white, people react and three, if families are not all-white, they had to be at least mixed. The reaction speaks of how Brazilians continue to reject the black parcel of the population, that has always had a large presence in Brazil.
Some of the headlines of websites discussing the controversy read as follows:
- Father’s Day commercial with black family causes controversy. Surprising number of ‘dislikes’ and comments raised the discussion about racist behavior in the daily life of the Brazilian
- Boticario’s campaign with black family is target of attacks
- The internet users questioned the lack of diversity in the Black Family commercial
- Why was O Boticario’s Father’s Day campaign the target of racism?
- Boticario makes video with black family, receives 17 thousand dislikes and is target of racist criticism
- Comments talk about lack of representation; video has more than 6.4 million views
- There’s no racism in Brazil? O Boticario commercial with black family is target of hate campaign on YouTube
To be fair, in the end, the likes ended up blowing the dislikes out of the water and that same ad, today, one of the channels, it has more than 129 thousand likes versus only 18 thousand dislikes. I don’t know why this happened or what changed…maybe after the media divulged the initial numbers, tens of thousands of black people went and ‘liked’ the ad. In recent years, we’ve seen black Brazilians online encouraging the black community to support certain actors, participants on reality shows and black Brazilians needing to raise funds for some reason, so it’s possible that contributed to overall success of the ad.
Regardless of the outcome, it still shows that a parcel of Brazilian takes issue with clearly black Brazilians being presented in areas that have traditionally featured all white people. Which brings us an issue that was recently raised during Brazil’s recent Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day: Love between black people is a political act against racism
By André Santana
June 12th is coming and images of couples in love are invading the TV, billboards, magazine pages and social networks, encouraging the purchase and exchange of gifts on Valentine’s Day.
These campaigns once again make evident how racism prevents advertising, and communication productions in general, from valuing love among black people. Even with advances, the advertising campaigns of this period disdains the possibility of affection of black couples.
This year, some brands have included sexual diversity, with homo-affective couples, and the presence of black people in interracial relationships can already be noticed. What really seems to be forbidden is for a black person to love another black person.
“React to Racial Violence: kiss your black woman in a public square”
In 1991, the verse by the poet Lande Onawale, still under the pseudonym Ori, was printed on the cover of one of the editions of the MNU (Movimento Negro Unificado, or unifed black movement) newspaper.
It was the first published poem by the Bahian writer and composer who became known for expressing, with stylistic talent and literary balance, the pains, loves, and hopes of black experiences in Brazil.
In the author’s books (O Vento, Sete: Diásporas Íntimas, Kalunga, and Pretices e Milongas), and in poems that are part of collections such as Cadernos Negros, by Quilombhoje, is the poetic registration of the love that the media tries to hide.
Lande’s verse became emblematic by denouncing the urgency in giving visibility to the demonstrations of affection in the black community. Also, by alerting to the strength of this action of insubordination to the racist discourse that tries to erase these images, either with physical violence or with media absence.
The poem inspired, in 2006, a campaign by Instituto Mídia Étnica, which promoted a “kiss” of black couples in a public square in Salvador, valorizing the love between dark-skinned lovers not registered by the media lenses.
In 2021, this kiss is still rare in advertising campaigns.
Brands ignore black women
This week, a trendy clothing and fashion accessories brand released a clip of kisses of famous couples of various ages, including gay, lesbian, and black men with their non-black partners. Missed, once again, was the black woman.
The stimulus to diversity promoted by the brand failed to see black women as worthy of receiving kisses and other romantic affections.
The loneliness of black women, denounced by black feminism, finds in the media a space to propagate these absences and update invisibilities.
To confirm this, it’s enough to try to list examples of black couples in large audience productions of Brazilian television, such as telenovelas and series.
The few black actresses incorporated in these narratives, when they experience romances, they form interracial couples. Or they remain alone, applauding the love stories of the white leading ladies. In fact, not even when they are the protagonists do they receive different treatment.
Even at the Salvador’s Carnival?
The film Carnaval, a Netiflix production set in the street party in Bahia, has just been released.
With beautiful images of the city and the crowds (strong triggers in times of isolation), it addresses current themes in the universe of social networks, such as the unbridled search for followers and the culture of cancellation.
However, the lively juvenile adventure of four friends who disembark in Salvador to enjoy the so-called “biggest popular party in the world” ends like the soap operas and advertisements for Valentine’s Day.
There is a diversity of romances, including nerds, gays, and even trisal (relationships involving three people), but no romantic couple for the only black girl in the story.
And, of course in Salvador, with a huge population of black men and women who would love to introduce the city and its charms to the beautiful esoteric vet of the plot, played by actress Bruna Inocencio.
Those who have the privilege of walking around the city are enchanted by the demonstrations of affection among black people. At times of festivities, such as Carnaval, the atmosphere of affection and libido intensifies.
A potent energy of freedom and existence that racist media narratives are not interested in believing.
The most diversity the media generally accept are characters like the influential Nina in the movie Carnaval, played by Giovana Cordeiro, an actress who has ‘racial passability’, which allows her to be disputed for among by the leading ladies of the story.
The Netflix movie, which comes at a time of consolation for the orphans of the Carnival and São João festivities cancelled by the pandemic, could be an opportunity for black couples to see themselves represented on screen.
The effects of fiction (even in advertising) are not limited to stimulating consumption. They can inform, inspire changes in behavior, stimulate exchanges of affection and the appreciation of love between black people, a powerful weapon against racism.
On June 12, since it’s not possible to occupy public squares, let the social networks be invaded by melanin-filled romances. Because they exist, because they matter.
Love is a political act. Black love is a civilizing urgency.
Note from BBT: In the article above, André Santana raises a great point in discussing the absence of black couples in Valentine’s Day ads and the aforementioned film (see note one) . But Brazil’s media has promoted a whitening and interracial agenda for some time. There have been too many examples to deny this fact. Some years ago, I mentioned a popular soap opera that featured all of its black characters in interracial relationships. You can’t get more obvious that that.
But an important question to ask here would be, if art imitating life or is life imitating art? I ask this because, even with more black Brazilians asking why the vast majority of prominent blacks have white partners, we continue to hear black Brazilians across the board continuing to believe that ‘love has no color’. I’ve been saying for some time, the existence of a ‘black money’ movement will never work in Brazil as long as people believe that ‘love has no color’. As long as no one of prominence is willing to step forward and boldly say this, all of these demands for ‘black this’ and ‘black that’ won’t matter because of the continuous process of ‘whitening’.
I could actually argue that one of the reasons that one doesn’t see black couples in Brazil’s media is because, in fact, among black elites, there are very black couples to highlight. Santana points to actor-actress, husband-wife team of Lázaro Ramos and Taís Araújo as one of the few black couples presented in the media. This is a point I made probably almost six years ago. I noted that every time black Brazilian bloggers wanted to promote a post discussing black love, their posts usually featured photos of Ramos and Araújo, with the other couples being black Americans. That’s because there simply aren’t that many prominent black Brazilian couples to choose from.
It’s a fact.
Until black Brazilians are ready to start demanding the visibility of black couples and black families in the same way that they are demanding black representation, the media will continue with its same whitening and interracial agenda. Interestingly, one of the leaders and founders of the Black Money Movement, Alan Soares, published a post that indirectly spoke of the black community’s obsession with ‘swirling’, a phenomenon that people have labeled ‘palmitagem’. In a post from last week, Soares posted a meme that read, ‘’My children will be rich blacks because I chose not to palmitar’’, or swirl. The Soares post addressed this issue further in a comment which I will discuss in a future post.
In the end the bottom line remains the same. You cannot demand ‘black power’ when most of your people continue to be ‘down with the swirl’.
After reading Santana’s article, I did a quick image search online using the words ‘Dia dos Namorados Brasil’ and I was surprised to see that, while he was still correct overall in his assessment, there were many more black couples in this year’s ‘Dia dos Namorados Brasil’ ads than I remember seeing a few years ago. My assessment is similar to what I recently wrote about the increase of black Brazilians in advertising photos, posters and billboards; they’re still vastly under-represented but there has still be an improvement in comparison to the near invisibility that is generally the norm.