A few months back I posted an article about the Sunday afternoon Globo TV variety show Esquenta. Although the show had been on a season break for several months and I had actually written the piece several months before but hadn’t gotten around to posting it until February. The debate about the show had raged ever since its debut back in 2011. For me, the basic question still remains. Brazilians of visible African ancestry continue to be nearly invisible on Brazilian television and when they do appear, they continue to fill subservient roles and present well-known stereotypes.
Esquenta does indeed present more Afro-Brazilians on the show (overwhelmingly rappers, dancers and musicians) but the question is, does the program do anything to change the image of black Brazilians beyond simply entertainment? Not really. Second question, is it better to continue presenting black people in roles that perpetuate the same stereotypes or is it better not having any black presence on the TV screen at all? Well I must admit, I am leaning toward complete invisibility. It may seem contradictory on a blog geared toward bringing exposure to black Brazilian women and news affecting black Brazilians, but let me explain why.
On June 22nd, Adriano Lopes Lucinda Telhada, ex-commander of ROTA (a reserve troop of the General Command of the Military Police of São Paulo State) defended police violence through Facebook. On June 22nd, Telhada posted a photo of two black youth saying that they attacked a Military Police base in the West Zone of the city. He went on to say, “They could also be involved in the death of a soldier in an academy.” Without having proof of the “suspects”, another Military Police (MP) soldier connected to ROTA made the following comment: “There are people that say that a thief doesn’t have a face. A thief does have a face and generally it has a funk style, who doubts this?” Another person asked, “I only want to know what proof led you to this summary accusation?” Telhada responded: “Do you think that an MP from ROTA would post a lie?” He then followed that up with this: “these scoundrels think they run things. It’s time for the rifle to sing, I’m very angry!” (Caros Amigos #205)
I won’t spend much time on these comments. Draw your own conclusions on whether you think a Military Police solider would lie. But the attitude in the comment clearly associates “suspects” of crime with people who participate in the funk style, ie, young, poor black males. And besides samba musicians, funk singers are the majority of black singers/rappers that appear on the Esquenta show. As I wrote in the previous post about the program, I don’t watch Esquenta religiously and I in fact have many issues with the show, but with the recent death of one of the program’s dancers, DG, I looked forward to this past Sunday’s show. I was curious to know how host Regina Casé would deal with the topic. Casé was one of the hundreds who mourned DG’s death at the funeral in the middle of the week.
Before I get into the actual show, another flashback is necessary.
According to the Wikipedia page: “The Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora or Pacifying Police Unit, abbreviated as UPP, is a law enforcement and social services program pioneered in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which aims at reclaiming territories, more commonly favelas, controlled by gangs of drug dealers. The program was created and implemented by State Public Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame, with the backing of Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral. The stated goal of Rio’s government is to install 40 UPPs by 2014. By May 2013, 231 favelas had come under the UPP umbrella.”
These UPP, being a part of the Military Police, patrol the favela regions fully armed with military weapons. A report from December of 2013 shows that because of these UPP units, homicides in these areas is only about one-third of the national average – 8.7 per 100,000 residents in UPP areas versus 24.3 per 100,000 in the country as a whole. But simply reading news headlines about how residents feel about the tactics of the UPPs present another story. For example:
“Polícia Militar make more innocent victims in Rio de Janeiro”
“UPP reproduces a model of ‘violence against inhabitants.’”
“Favela inhabitants denounce crimes of the UPPs”
“Residents say they are victims of police violence in UPP (areas) of Rio”
Now of course, there will those who denounce these headlines and say something along the lines of, “You remember you said that when you get robbed by one of those crooks.” But to be clear, this blog’s position doesn’t offer an apology for crime. There are some very basic questions one must ask in regards to this matter:
1) Where do the guns that exist in the favelas come from? Did the residents make them?
2) Where do the drugs that dealers sell come from?
3) Does drug traffic originate from the slum?
4) What is the system of access to education in Brazil? Can just anyone enter college?
5) Does the public education system prepare all students to get into college?
6) What is the principal function of the police? Protecting the capitalist system or its outcasts?
These are some very basic questions that most people don’t want to deal with because it would involve confronting and admitting that Brazil is a racist, sexist, socially unequal country in which all do not have the same opportunities. In respond to question six, it is the duty of the police to enforce the very social inequalities that are created by the system. As such, it seems that it’s simply easier to use force to enforce endemic social inequalities to in fact maintain the inequalities than to address the structural exclusion that is at the base of the system. But back to the show…
In early 2013, Casé hosted an episode of Esquenta in which she presented various officers of the UPP as a sort of show of appreciation. For me, it was a clear slap in the face to see the UPP representatives arm in arm with black women whose brothers, husbands and other male family members are the principal victims of UPP bullets, be they actual drug dealers or innocent bystanders. Judging from comments I’ve read on social media networks, I’m not the only one who noticed that Casé has openly endorsed UPP occupations of these poor communities. Inviting some of these officers/soldiers onto the show could be interpreted by some as “thank you for killing so many of the people who look just like the people on this show or those who watch it.”
Sunday’s episode of Esquenta was actually what I expected: A lot of tears and a lot of inspiring words in the memory of DG. The general overall theme was that this was a tragedy but it stopped far short of addressing the ongoing occupation of the favelas, the continuous murders of poor Afro-Brazilians or the government’s plans to actually increase this presence. As a representative of the country’s most manipulative, conservative network (Globo), Casé was put in a difficult situation. No one doubts the tears she shed at DG’s funeral were genuine but in accepting her role in a network that also endorses police occupation of the favelas, she has also signed her own complicity and silence on denouncing the death of DG and many other young, black and/or poor residents of these poor communities. As such, Sunday’s Esquenta episode wasn’t a surprise. When one accepts a role in a mainstream media giant such a Globo, it is difficult if not impossible to bite the hand that feeds you. As such, fans or followers of prominent media figures shouldn’t expect those who are thought to be part of “the people”, “the struggle” or at least sympathizers to represent these aspirations when in essence they have bought in or sold out to that very system.
Others also noted the shortcomings of Esquenta’s Sunday show dedicated to the memory of DG. João Telésforo noted how the show:
“…hardly spoke of systematic police violence against the poor and black of the favelas. It didn’t touch on the fact that the state is one of the great instruments of the cycle of poverty and criminalization of black youth.”
Commenting on the general approach, Telésforo continued on how:
“The general tone was the talk of violence in the abstract, without denouncing the policies of public security as a fundamental part of this violent context. Paradoxically, the generic discourse ‘against violence’ that marked the program can now feed precisely the legitimacy of policing response that is part of the problem, not its solution.”
Telésforo went on to make several other points on the topic including another death around the time of DG’s untimely passing:
“The Rio government’s response to DG’s death, which has serious indications as the responsibility of the police, is quite eloquent about it: in the repression of protest from the outraged community of Pavão-Pavãozinho to another young man killed by the action of MP: Edilson da Silva.”
In the view of the state, rather than re-thinking the occupation of the slums:
“…the solution would be to further punish (it) … As if the youth of the slums were not already being punished, often with death because of their social status and racial identity.”
In touching on the connection between the government, the police and the media’s role, Telésforo continued:
“UPP, governments and Globo (and its competitors in the mainstream media) are, as it is quite notorious, are united in this project. Controlling poor territories in a militarized manner, doesn’t ensure the safety of that population, but to discipline it as the consuming and subjugated public.”
Even with the problems in the images Esquenta presents of the poor, black population, it is still the only program in the Brazilian media where Afro-Brazilians are consistently represented in what one could say equal or large percentages. And in positioning itself as the one show that gives voice to this excluded population:
“Sunday’s Esquenta, in not facing the bankruptcy of the UPPs or addressing the issue of police violence, showed itself to be a contradictory dimension of this project. Contradictory precisely because this program is an attempt to dispute the symbolic representation of the underclass in ascension (as part of the effort to domesticate it) and needs to show it as a subject in some way – a very partial and disciplined version of this subject.”
It’s for these reasons that Casé’s position on the show and the end result of how such a tragedy was dealt with that made Sunday’s show a huge failure. Casé’s place as a media figure having to deal with such a tragedy is a difficult position that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But it is the acceptance of such a role that leads to such disappointments as Esquenta’s April 27th episode. Simply put, if someone you admire is put in a prominent media position, don’t be surprised when that figure represents the stance of those who supply the paycheck. It comes with the territory.
Below are just a few of comments posted in social media from people who were also disappointed with the show’s failure. Original comments in Portuguese can be found at the bottom of the page.
I didn’t hear from anyone (artists) that are in this program Esquenta bluntly denouncing the racist state and policies of (in) security of the former governor Sergio Cabral, to the contrary of peace only leads to deaths and sorrows in communities that are being pacified in no way. I didn’t hear from Regina Casé, any mention of the police and accountability for the death of another Douglas, and now life is sacred, Regina? In Brazil, the life of blacks was never sacred, historically slavery (supported by the church) dehumanized blacks and in post-abolition the project of the Brazilian state was repression and violence. In Brazil, Ms. Regina Casé, life is sacred for whites, who are not standard suspects default (criminals) for the police. In São Paulo, a white kidnapper stays alive and a kidnapped black is killed because the police thought he was the bad guy. Life is sacred for who in a racist country? Life could be sacred for your white guests, seated and thrilled, because for them the police approach does not represent a threat to life, many who are at your side or who spoke about the death of Douglas are supporters and personal friends of Sergio Cabral and his cohorts. Within the reality that is not sacred, daily decisions taken within the criminal justice system, especially by the police, are unjustifiably more severe for blacks than for whites. Esquenta, giving us once again a disservice in the fight against racism and genocide of black youth, even Sergio Cabral must have been thrilled with this program, because in front of so much fallacy it became clear the positioning of the Globo Television Network for the Brazilian population in relation to criminalization and death of our young black men.
Popozuda: Will it that today the marvelous soldiers of the UPP that you defend so much will be on your program also crying about the death of DG, Regina
Jagua: On the Esquenta program Regina Casé many times defended the model of the UPP, many times
Marcos: Another death in the “pacifying area.” What’s worse noting Regina Casé that already made a propaganda on the Esquenta program with Beltrame
Ricardo: Funny (?) that Regina Casé didn’t mention in any moment the term UPP
Ruy: Great homage to DG, but it lacked a criticism of the UPPs in order to close with a gold key right Regina Casé?
Agatha: Regina Casé appears in tears at the guy’s funeral…But wait! Wasn’t it she that defended the UPPs?
Pedro: Will it be that after the death of the dancer DG regret will come from Regina Casé for supporting the UPP and putting MP’s on her program?
Roubado: Today Esquenta is emotional, but when will they touch on the wound of this farse of the UPP? Of the MP doing cowardly (acts)? For now it’s only a “social problem”
Carol: Thank God DG had the opportunity to participate in Esquenta. If not the news would be a criminal killed in a confrontation with UPP.
Velocirapinto: …a lot of crying on the Esquenta special about DG. Let’s see if Regina comments about the demilitarization of the UPPs.
Vitoria: How many mothers are going to cry? How many DGs will die? Each day I get more revolted with this UPP!
Comments from social media in original Portuguese