Note from BW of Brazil: Black representation in the media is a common theme here on the blog precisely because, in Brazil, it is so severely lacking! 30 years ago it may be that the majority of black Brazilians didn’t even really notice the standard of whiteness in the media, but in the past few decades a rising consciousness has lead an increasingly educated and articulate group of activists to openly question the status quo. The issue has international ramifications as descendants of Africans around the world find themselves in similar situations in whatever country they happen to reside. And as it is international, today, as in a previous post, we see Afro-Brazilians turning to the question of black representation in the media of the United States and seeing similar issues but also representation that simply doesn’t exist in Brazil.
Real talk: Representation matters
Those who follow me on Twitter know how important the issue of racial equality is in my life. Lately, it has come to be the subject I most expose my opinion on and Iris had talked to me a while ago about us starting to make posts to empower blog readers on some important issues in society.
by Olivia Pilar of Literalmente Falando
So today I decided to talk a little about the importance of representativeness, mainly focusing on black people and productions of Brazilian television people (basically you can also use this text to analyze films and books, because it is usually always the same thing).
And for that I’ll tell you a little about myself.
At some point in my life, I decided that I should change my hair. I do not remember how old I was, I was still a child, but I was certainly motivated by the fact of not finding a black actress on Brazilian television that showed me that my skin tone and my hair were not inferior to the straight hair of white people. There are other factors, of course, but this weighed much.
So I remained up to 22 years transforming my hair in every possible way to make it look like what I thought society considered “right.” After all, how could I accept my cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) if I don’t see anyone else doing it? Of course I had examples in my family, but for a child, this is usually not enough.
And it was only a couple of years up until now that I finally started to see how we are left aside in all spheres of society. Some people will say I’m victimizing myself, but stop and put yourself in the place of a black teenager of the middle class: she has white friends, studying in a private school and, when watching a novela (soap opera) or a series, only seeing equals dressed in maid’s clothing. As if there were a reminder saying that their future is only destined to that.
And that’s why the representativeness matter. Because if you find a person with the tone of your skin in a leading role, who is not extra, which doesn’t serve to say that there are no people of color in a production, you will be motivated to accept what you are.
That’s probably very difficult to understand for those who never had to question anything about the entertainment media. After all, since the main character is always white. And now you must be thinking “But there were the two characters of Taís Araújo who were protagonists.” Yes, there were. But in both novelas there are many problematic issues. One of them is called Da Cor do Pecado (Of The Color of Sin) (1), which leads us to think about all that talk of the constant hyper-sexualization of black women.
And in the other (Viver a Vida) (1), at prime time, in a moment of Taís’s character humiliates herself asking for forgiveness. This has never happened with any other character in a novela at that hour. Why with Taís is was different? Because she is black, she must fall down to her knees and ask for forgiveness to a white woman?
There were some novelas where Camila Pitanga was also considered a protagonist, but now stopping to think … she always played more of a supporting character to the leading man than the owner of her own steps. There are also the characters of Lázaro Ramos, of course. Lázaro is a sight for my life, but does he really gets the support that others with less talent receive?
Now thinking of the current series of Globo TV: how many of them have a black character as the protagonist? And when I say protagonist I mean who has the story focused on him/her and is told from his/her point of view. The answer is no. By the way, you can count on one hand how many blacks there are in these series.
Sexo e as negas is what contains the highest number, yet the story is told by a man in the vision of a white woman. The four black women are not even protagonists and masters of their own story in a series that theoretically carries evidence that it should be for them.
I have many things to say about this, but I think some of you should really begin to reflect. Walking through the streets, how many blacks do you find? Now, watching a soap opera, how many of them do you count on your fingers? It this not unfair? Is it wrong that we should be content with 3 black participants on BBB (Big Brother Brasil, reality show) against an overwhelming majority of whites? It is not wrong that in Are You the One BR (2) there is only one black participant? It is not wrong that all Globo TV series, in none is there a black male or female protagonist?
Recently I read the discourse of the writer-director of the film Dear White People (one of the best I’ve ever seen and should be recommended in schools) at the Spirit Awards and that helps to understand a little more about the importance of representation:
“I started writing this movie some 10 years ago as an impulse because I didn’t really [see] my story out there in the culture. I didn’t see myself reflected back at me in the films that I loved (…) so I tried to put myself in the culture. That can be difficult when, along the way, there’s really nothing there saying that you belong there (…) If you don’t see yourself in the culture, please, put yourself there because we need you. We need to see the world through your eyes.”
Dear White People trailer
So if you don’t see yourself in books, in movies, in series … start talking about it. Begin to say what you think. Start the fight so there is some change. We have to stop accepting only the history of the other being told. And this is not only for blacks, like me, this is for everyone who wants to see diversity in entertainment media, communication and everything else.
Remember: Selma is now.
Source: Literalmente Falando
1. Both of these novelas were briefly discussed in a 2013 posts about “The representation of black women in Brazil’s novelas (soap operas)”.
2. Brazilian version of the American reality show.
Dear white people only shows lighter toned black people in complex roles. :/
My strong advice to Afro-Brazilians is to start creating your own magazines, newspapers, and television shows for your people. In the United States, African-Americans created their own magazines like Ebony Magazine and Jet Magazine, their own television network called BET (Black Entertainment Television), and created movies for their own from directors such as Spike Lee.