Mainstream Brazilian cinema has a representation problem when it comes to its Black population. However, as Marry Ferreira discusses, young people who do not identify with what is presented on screen are forging their own independent projects which are rising against the hegemonic discourse
The Brazil of the movie screens is a predominantly white country. Research published in 2014 by the State University of Rio de Janeiro, revealed stark figures: despite being more than half the population (53.6%), Black and Brown people were only 20% of the actors and actresses who played prominent roles in the highest grossing Brazilian films between 2002 and 2012.
When considering gender, the representation is even more distorted, since Black women appeared in less than two in ten feature films and occupy only 4% of the roles in the main national film cast. In that period, none of the more than 218 top-grossing national films had a Black woman as a director or a screenwriter. The Institute of Social and Political Studies, one of the most renowned centers of Political Science studies in Latin America, was responsible for this research and compared 939 actors, 412 writers and 226 film directors, excluding documentaries and children’s films.
“Due to not having a space in this media where my realities were represented, I was building an entire identity in the consumption of white realities”
Who represents me?
Characters propagated by soap operas and the cinema constantly become a reference for the viewer. Clothing, accessories, expressions and behaviours transcend the screen and go viral, even, in social networks.
Lucas Linhares, 19, an Advertising student at the Fluminense Federal University, has always been a consumer of TV and cinema and has never been represented. He believes that the main collaboration of these types of media to the construction of his identity was through the erasure and the emphasis of a model that did not correspond to his reality of the young, poor and Black. He says: “Due to not having a space in this media where my realities were represented, I was building an entire identity in the consumption of white realities.”
For the student, who has gone through a long process of self-acceptance, communication professionals must break the stereotypes and the silencing, considering that their speech has such force. “In the case of advertising, there is a very important issue which is to symbolically take back the right to our space that has been taken through these productions. It is crucial that, in addition to monitoring their counterparts, ethnic groups strengthen and work together to claim their own space to share stories of affection, identity, union, power, ancestry, pride and hope. Only these will allow the society to know stories that have never be watched, stories stolen and erased”, he says.
Research shows in the highest grossing films, 80% of the cast is white. Only 4% of roles featured Black women
The Chapter VI of the Statue of Racial Equality states in its article 43 that the production carried out by the media must value the cultural heritage and the participation of the Black population in the history of the country, but this is not what happens in practice.
This whole process of non-representation also influenced the way a student, Taynara Cabral, 20, saw herself as a Black woman. The student of Social Communication had already modified her appearance to resemble the references of perfection and desired white aesthetic presented by the Brazilian Media. “TV and film, still as entertainment platforms, have directly influenced me behaviourally. The models pre-defined by these means, especially the most hegemonic ones, though subtly, somehow shaped my perceptions of what I should do and how I should be”.
Against the hegemony
Spreading the need for equality of race and gender is something that needs to be widely discussed, and the vital importance of the media as an opinion-maker and also an information medium must not be forgotten. Created in 2016 by the filmmaker Yasmin Thainá, 24, and as a way of breaking the stereotypical narrative about the Black population, AFROLIX is a collaborative platform that provides online audiovisual content with at least one area of technical / artistic performance by a Black person.
The site’s display options bring original productions, films, documentaries, short films, experimental films, science fiction, TV shows, series, clips and vlogs – current and former. Despite the name, the site has many differences compared to Netflix. The platform does not charge monthly fees to users, but it is open and free for everyone, and anyone can suggest content they would like to watch on it. In addition, AFROFLIX does not provide videos via streaming, but it gathers content by leaving the host with the producers, redirecting access and generating views for artists and filmmakers.
“This discourse, which favours hegemonic white culture, does not represent positive Black identity. Until a few years ago, it said that it was bad to be Black. Today, with social networks and new access to audiovisual products, it is possible to see a gradual transformation”
Contrary to the ideas propagated by the hegemonic media, the Fórum Itinerante do Cinema Negro (FICINE) (Black Cinema Itinerant Forum), acts as a space for training and reflection on worldwide production of audiovisuals that has Black experiences as the main theme. Composed by historians, anthropologists and filmmakers interested in film studies, FICINE aims at an international network of discussions, projects and exchanges that has as a starting point reflections on Black cinema, in the diaspora and in the African continent.
Janaína Oliveira, Historian and Coordinator of FICINE
Janaína Oliveira, researcher, professor and PhD in History at PUC-Rio, coordinates the Nucleus of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Studies (NEABI) and is also a coordinator of FICINE. For her, the absence of Black people in Brazilian audiovisuals, as well as the negative image that exists, is a negative influence in the process of Black identity affirmation. “This discourse, which favours hegemonic white culture, does not represent positive Black identity. Until a few years ago, it said that it was bad to be Black. Today, with social networks and new access to audiovisual products, it is possible to see a gradual transformation. The process is long and it not only decolonises the screens, but also the look”.
Lucas Linhares is one of those who has felt the influence of social networks in the process of valuing their Black identity. “It was mainly on the Internet that the whole period of erasing my identity was gaining meaning and I was finding myself. It was only after that that I got in touch with some TV interviews with actors, activists, and famous Black figures about these issues that surround us. The first movie I watched that took up exactly the process of discovering my identity and made me feel fully found in Brazilian cinema was the short-movie Pele Suja Minha Carne, (Dirty Skin My Body), as well as Moonlight – but both are from last year and independent, you understand? This phase is very recent”, he says.
The strengthening of other voices
Janaína Oliveira points out that the independent movie is fundamental to inserting Afro-Brazilian experiences in film, breaking stereotypes and going against the hegemonic representations of its image. However, the greatest difficulty of these productions is the investment for production and distribution, since most of the Brazilian movies are made through a small number of funds. “We realise that in the last 14 years there has been a transformation in the access to public universities and this contributes to the formation of young people, assuming the production of short films in Black cinema. The culture points and free courses in the suburbs have also worked and become places of opportunity for people without financial means for access”.
“The courses are aimed at people with low income and access conditions, with the possibility of providing transportation and subsistence support to students”
Contributing to the growth of independent film, the Nave do Conhecimento offers several courses, among them, training courses on assembly, photography, direction and free screenwriting. The project is an initiative of the Municipal Government of Rio de Janeiro and is under the administration of the Municipal Department of Development, Employment and Innovation. It seeks to democratise access to new forms of learning in collaborative and creative environments, promoting qualified information and the development of skills necessary for everyone in society.
Located in nine regions of the North and West of Rio de Janeiro, the courses’ content program includes training activities that stimulate and promote entrepreneurship and creative economy. The film introduction project came from an announcement by the British Council to exchange experiences between Brazilian institutions and the United Kingdom. According to Charles Siqueira, coordinator of the Nave do Conhecimento, this opportunity was created by the Pollen Institute and Creative Wick. Both of the institutions developed a project together that creates work opportunities and income generation for the creative development of young people from the peripheries of Rio.
These projects generate positive impacts on the life of each person that joins audiovisual production groups and, consequently, impacts their regions. The last three open classes (150 places) received more than 2088 registrations from young people all over the city. The courses are aimed at people with low income and access conditions, with the possibility of providing transportation and subsistence support to students.
At the end of the course, this year, six films, out of fifteen films, will be selected for presentation in London, where representatives of the productions will take part. After the course, all students can also return to their institutions to take advantage of the equipment in their future productions and to get advice from the professionals available.
Independent productions and free courses open the doors of the audiovisual market to young people of all ages, classes and races. Through these actions, it is possible to diversify the discourse, giving voices and autonomy so that our stories are told and positive identities are reinforced. For Charles Siqueira, this is not only about film, but representation is “what will enable political advances, ensuring the visibility and discussion of our realities”.