Note from BW of Brazil: Well, needless to say, it’s a question that needs to be asked. Although I haven’t put the question in the same manner as the title of today’s piece, my exploration of black and interracial couples has in essence been driving at this issue for some time. As I’ve said before, depending on where you live in Brazil, sometimes you might get the idea that black couples simply don’t exist. In São Paulo, when I see a black couple, particularly in which both the man and woman have a darker shade of brown skin, I want stop what I’m doing and conduct an interview with them. But it’s not just in real life where one can note this lack of black couples. In Brazil’s film and TV industry, the norm is the white couple and if by chance there’s a black character, male or female, more often than not, they’ll be paired with a white partner. The 2007-20he 2007-2008 novela08 novela Duas Caras was a glaring example of this. This is the standard in Brazil’s ever popular novelas (soap operas). Actress Taís Araújo knows what I talking about. But it doesn’t end there.
On the long running Sunday evening Globo TV variety show, Domingão do Faustão, there is a segment on the show called “Dança dos Famosos” (dance of the famous ones), inspired by the American series Dancing With the Stars. Mind you, I’m not a fan of this cheesy program, but at an aunt’s house, lunch, dinner, futebol and Domingão do Faustão are pretty much a routine on Sundays. And even not really being into the show, over the course of many years, I can’t remember ever seeing a dancing couple in which both the man and woman were both black. That can’t be a coincidence. And we could go further in this investigation and see the same trends.
Remember a few years ago when we covered Dia dos Namorados (Brazil’s Valentine’s Day) commercials? We saw white couples, mixed couples, gay couples, black women with their children, a white couple with a black daughter but….where was the black couple? According to statistics, about 70% of married couples in Brazil consist of a man and woman of the same race. Now depending on your perception of what “black” means, those couples could look like almost anything, but there are most definitely clearly black men and women included in that stat, so why don’t we see them represented in the media? In the screen shot above, I did a Google image search with the key-words ‘casais propagandas’, meaning ‘couples advertisements’). The standard is same. In fact, it seems that I saw more gay couples than BM/BW couples.
So the question here is, if there are no black couples in the advertisements (or very few), on TV, in the movies, what are these productions trying to tell us? It’s very simple. It’s hard enough just seeing black people in general in advertisements, and even more difficult seeing them outside of stereotypical roles, so it’s not really hard to tell. If there aren’t any black couples, the message is that 1) They don’t exist, 2) They’re not important, 3) We don’t want them to exist, 4) Other couples combinations are more important/marketable. It shouldn’t be surprising.
In an article over at The Root entitled “Why Successful Black Men in Brazil Won’t Marry Black Women“, Rio-based Afro-Brazilian entrepreneur Humberto Baltar mentioned how in the nice restaurants he likes to frequent with his black girlfriend, they are usually the only black couple there. On the topic, Baltar discussed how he notices stares from people who aren’t used to seeing black couples in such establishments. For Baltar, it’s as if black families “offend them”. Could Baltar be on to something here? After all, we’ve talked about the agenda of embranquecimento (whitening) for some time. Do you have a better explanation for the lack of black couples in the media?
On this topic, I think a comment from the classic 1991 film Boyz in the ‘Hood is fitting for this discussion. In one very telling scene, the father of one of the lead characters, Furious Styles, lectures his son, his friends and other people in the neighborhood on subliminal messages in urban planning. His words can easily be applied to Brazil’s black population and the miscegenation agenda:
“…Why is it that there’s a gun shop on almost every corner in this community? I’ll tell you why: for the same reason that there’s a liquor store on almost every corner in the Black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves. You go out to Beverly Hills — you don’t see that shit. But they want us to kill ourselves. Yeah, the best way you can destroy a people is you take away their ability to reproduce themselves. Who is it that’s dying out here on these streets every night? Y’all. Young brothers like yourselves. You’re doing exactly what they want you to do.”
Speaking on gun violence, in Brazil, we KNOW it’s young black men dying in the streets every day and night. That violence is clearly not happening in Rio’s upper crest neighborhoods such as Leblon or Ipanema. And if black people are being manipulated into not choosing each other for relationships, they won’t reproduce themselves. Even if one believes that “love has no color”, when you look at a large parcel of Brazil’s population, there are perhaps millions of people who classify themselves as brancos e brancas (white men and white women) but have recent African ancestry in their family, be it one, two or three generations ago. And isn’t that exactly what Brazil has wanted since at least the late 19th century? For me, Brazil’s media is simply playing its part to influence its population to continue the whitening process. What do you think?
Who’s afraid of black couples?
By Stephanie Ribeiro
In this week’s column, Stephanie Ribeiro writes about the lack of representation of blacks in soap operas, experiencing daily dramas and not just crises provoked by interracial relationships
Last year I started a talk about novelas and racism in the text “Até quando as negras serão domésticas na sua novela?” (How long will black women be maids in your soap opera?) In the end, I wrote:
“Tired as all Brazilian writers are graduates of the Casa Grande e Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves), and they love to assume that racial democracy resides in interracial relationships, in which the white person shows to society his “non-racism” for having a black person next to him – this is a subject for the next text.”
This is the moment to talk about the subject, which has been bothering me because, apparently, in the country where there are more blacks outside the African continent, it is normal, for example, that novelas that revolve around black protagonists that interact with each other don’t to exist.
Oh, what do you mean? I spent some time remembering all the soap operas I’ve seen so far, trying to remember which of them had a black couple as the protagonist. If we consider that Isabel (Camila Pitanga) and Zé Maria (Lázaro Ramos), in Lado a Lado, were the protagonists with Laura (Marjorie Estiano) and Edgar (Thiago Fragoso), this was the first novela in which black protagonists interacted with each other affectively. Nothing of the maid who dates the doorman or the driver. They were a couple of protagonists in a complex narrative, replete with ups and downs, including with regard to love, social ascension, family relationships and the plot as a whole.
In Cobras e Lagartos, there was a dobradinha (see note one) by Taís Araújo and Lázaro in roles with prominence in the novela, forming a couple that was gaining more and more visibility in the plot thanks to the performance and the chemistry of both. But they were evidently not the protagonists. While in other countries narratives with black protagonists escape the heteronormative standard, here in Brazil, even with the number of blacks in the country (and black actors), this is still rare for the most “basic” that is a “mocinha” e um “mocinho” negros (good black girl and a good black guy) with their dramas, comings and goings.
While there are numerous narratives with contemporary questions like “reconsider romantic love” or “review heteronormativity,” they are limited to white male protagonists in relationships with white women, facing dramas that revolve around envy, money, desire, and betrayals, without much questioning. Exceptions are series such as Antônia, Cidade dos Homens (City of Men), Sexo e as Negas and, currently, Mister Brau, all starring black people. The point is that in the series, this may even happen, but in the storyline of soap operas, products with a lot more audience, visibility and publicity, it is rare to see black people experiencing these daily dramas.
Recently, the artist Nicholle Kobi came to Brazil and said in a lecture that during her career as an illustrator she received negative (comments) and even accusations of being “racist” for having designed, for example, a black woman crowning her black partner. This makes me think that there is a great fear, not only national, since Nicholle is French, when people see a black couple _ even if it is an illustration. In an interview with RFI Brasil, the actor Antonio Pitanga pointed out that black actors like him did not get space to play in the drama with their children, since for blacks only the youngest were highlighted, unlike white actors, who continue to act even after a certain age. Pitanga said:
“The black actors enter in the background and when a Lázaro [Ramos] appears, a Camila [Pitanga], a Taís [Araujo], it’s over. There is no place for a Milton [Gonçalves], a Pitanga, a Haroldo Costa (see note two). It is only the young people who are appearing, thanks to many of our struggles. In the dramaturgy, you can see Tarcisio Meira acting alongside a son of Tony Ramos or a grandson of Edson Celulari. It is a natural way, which happens almost normally. I started before Tarcisio Meira, but the spaces he had were much bigger than mine. Of course, it’s not a problem with him: it’s a problem of the system. Pitanga goes on to say that blacks play in the television dramas in true ghettos, being only in the isolated background without a family:
“When the playwright writes, he thinks about his world. And I’m not in his world. I come in as an employee, as a servant, or when the writer is very advanced, he puts a black family in. But, in general, they put in the black actor, without a family. Even Tarcísio, Tony Ramos, Fernanda Montenegro, will always have a family, when they call a black person, it’s to stay in some ghetto of the soap opera. I’m an actor, I’m not a black actor. In the moment in which, in dramaturgy, there is only room for the ‘black actor’, it is because there is something very wrong.”
The Instituto Gemma (Gemma Institute) study Raça e o Gênero nas Novelas dos Últimos 20 Anos (Race and Gender in Novelas of the Last 20 Years) shows that between 1995 and 2014, on Rede Globo TV network, no soap opera had less than 81% average white characters per year. The presence of blacks does not even reach 50% – in a country with a black population of 50%. In addition, there are novelas in which all central characters are white. Deus Salve o Rei (God Save the King) is an example of the total absence of blacks in the main cast. Lado a Lado, according to the Gemma research, is the novela with more non-black characters ever exhibited, even so, with only 31% of the cast. Another fact that draws attention is that, of the 20 years of novella that I researched, the non-white actresses among the seven protagonists are Taís Araújo, Camila Pitanga and Juliana Paes. It would be scary to say that only three white women starred in in 20 years of novelas. But in the case of non-white people, this is possible because the racial erasure is enormous, and few are bothered about this.
It’s shameful the lack of blacks experiencing day-to-day stories, in which, black families, black people separate and get back together; fall in love with others; experience problems at work; or discover that they are rich because they inherited some uncle’s money; after all, it is clear that blacks are impacted by structural issues, but we don’t cease from being humans with human problems. And the absence of this naturalization being portrayed in soap operas impacts on the fact that we are denaturalized in the most common actions of our daily life.
Ahh do you like object design? Wow, I didn’t know there were black people who liked that!
Wow, your hair is so cool, can I touch it? I’ve never seen this.
Wow, you and your boyfriend are so cute. Can I take a picture of you?
Wow, whose dog is this? Is it yours?
We are common, we are human, our lives exist in 2018 and not only in the narratives that want to portray slavery, but even in my daily life, in my neighborhood, downtown São Paulo, I have to deal with a series of questions that put me in the “exotic” category.
This is also a reflection of what happens in novelas, in which, in general, blacks are not portrayed naturally. The plots broadcast on TV today continue to insist on the narrative of the interracial couple who suffers greatly from the social and racial differences of those involved, where the black side constantly suffers from racism, both from society and from family members. And the white part is presented as “oppressed” by being white and not accepted by the black individuals who make up the family on the other side.
All the affective dramas involving blacks in novelas revolve, for the most part, around the issues of relacionamentos interraciais (interracial relationships), forcing the idea that it is the white individual who humanizes us. Or worse, it is necessary to show only one affective model in evidence in novelas, movies and even commercials of seconds, in which white individuals who are in relationships with blacks are placed on a plateau above humanity. In the story told in the novelas, the black part only exists and makes sense when it finds amor branco (white love) – heroes who overcome racism since “amor não tem cor” (love has no color). And if “love has no color” it’s because we are not all racist and live in a society of racial interaction.
The point here is not to prevent the representation of relationships between white and black people, but to try to understand that, behind the mediatic discourse, the “single emotional history” in which only interracial relationships are highlighted in soap operas, the ideal of racial democracy, which is one of the bases of why racism in Brazil is maintained. Basically, even if the IBGE points out that black and black unions are common, there is apparently a fear that black couples will gain prominence. It is the most natural thing for blacks to relate to blacks in the various forms of affectivity, including those outside the hetero-normative standard. But there is a white, social and collective fear that our affection is represented. The fear of being strengthened collectively and also individually, for the possibility of building affections with our equals says much about our self-love.
Source: Revista Marie Claire
- In this case, dobradinha refers to the fact that Ramos and Araújo are a couple on screen as well as off screen in real life
- Milton Gonçalves and Haroldo Costa, like Pitanga, are veteran Afro-Brazilian actors. All three men are now in the 80s.