AKA: A Negacao do Brasil, The Denial of Brazil: Blacks in the History of Brazilian Soap Operas, A Negacao do Brasil: O Negro Na Historia da Telenovela Brasileira
Year Released: 2000
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG-13
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Abdias do Nascimento, Only When I Dance, Sara Gomez, Raca, I Am Not Your Negro
-This documentary was part of a 2-DVD set called Race and History In Brazil with Aleijadinho, but they are unrelated films besides having some cast members in both films.
-Denying Brazil is a documentary by director Joel Zito Araujo. He has directed several documentaries such as Raca and Cinderellas Wolves and One Enchanted Prince. Araujo has even taught at the University of Texas at Austin. Denying Brazil was also adapted in book form.
-One of the actors interviewed for this project was Milton Goncalves. He is a veteran actor from Monte Santo de Minas, Brazil. In his decades-long career, he has appeared in Quilombo, Orfeu, Sesamo (the Brazilian adaptation of Sesame Street), and Kiss of the Spider Woman among several other films and TV shows. Also, his son Mauricio is interviewed in Denying Brazil.
-The last piece of archived footage used was from the mini-series adaptation of Tenda dos Milagres. It is based on a novel by Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado in 1969 and was first adapted into a film in 1977. Just so you know, Amado is the same person who wrote the book The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray which was remade into Rotating Square which I reviewed, and also the same book that Weekend at Bernie’s was either influenced by or ripped off.
Representation is something that I’ve been talking about for years on the blog and I’ve mentioned it in various subjects whether it’s in both fictional or nonfictional contexts with documentaries in the latter. While I’ve talked about that subject in regards to TV and movies, I’ll be going back to the former with something specific even though it’s something that isn’t my cup of tea: soap operas (or telenovelas in this case). Yeah, soap operas aren’t my thing and I just roll my eyes with a lot of the American stuff such as The Young and the Restless, General Hospital, All My Children, and the other usual suspects in that television genre. These shows have been around for decades and I would have no idea what’s going on with the storylines or characters if I were crazy enough to jump into those programs. Then again, some friends and co-workers of mine who are way more familiar with that genre said I’m not missing much with the big American shows recycling several storylines and character archetypes more often than not. With that said, they still have a big audience and telenovelas are big in Latin America with their own original shows. Even though I’m not into soaps, I was intrigued that a documentary would be made involving the Brazilian telenovela scene since the 60s in regards to racism and stereotypes involving the Black Brazilian community or how various actors or actresses had limited roles assuming if they got hired at all.
As much as I vehemently criticize Hollywood let alone American cinema for still playing up racist garbage in numerous shows and films to this day, I know America isn’t the only one who’s guilty as sin for having bigotry in their media.
Denying Brazil is a documentary covering the racism and stereotypes in the shows as well as behind the scenes in Brazilian telenovelas. Despite Brazil being one of the most multi-ethnic countries in the Americas let alone the world, there were several struggles going on when it came to representation and casting. Director Joel Zito Araujo narrates his experiences as someone who watched these shows growing up as a biracial (Black/Caucasian mixed) Brazilian person and wondered why all these things happened. Several actors, writers, and directors talk about their experience working on these telenovelas even going back to the 60s. Some stereotypes that were seen in America weren’t that different from what is in Brazil such as mammy stereotypes, Black men as servants at best or henchmen at worst, and even the cases of whitewashing or straight-up blackface were used at a few times. The Black Brazilian actors revisit these older soap operas together and offer their commentary while detailing their experiences in working despite dealing with covert or covert discrimination. In addition to that, they discuss how these shows could shape up the psyche of the Black Brazilian community as they tune into these popular shows at the time that scored millions of views on a weekly basis. This mix of personal experience, history, and evidence is on display to reveal so many of the inner-workings of these soap operas ran from the 60s to the 90s to show how far Brazilian telenovelas have (or haven’t) come in being racially progressive.
Despite the subject matter of soap operas being something out of my depth, I will say I was intrigued with the content of this documentary. Okay, a lot of my readers can probably guess why I would watch Denying Brazil in the first place, but this has a lot of gems that I was able to glean from it even with the telenovela angle. Sure, I’m not familiar with Brazilian’s TV history, but the content and conversations involved show that this country isn’t that much different than in America despite the languages, politics, or racial demographics. Going back to some of the black and white shows of the 60s in Brazil, there were several shows that featured predominantly or majority-white casting completely ignoring the Black, Latinx, or Indigenous populations that consist a huge part of the nation even now. When there were Black people on-screen, they were in the background as slaves, servants, or criminals. It even got crazy when there was an adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin which featured a white actor named Sergio Cardoso playing the title character in blackface. Milton Goncalves goes into detail with that problematic casting choice with how that actor even had his nose corked and put cotton balls in his mouth to do a better job of having a (very cringey) Black-cent. Even though I don’t know Portuguese, I can still tell that Goncalves was imitating a Brazilian equivalent of a Sambo-style voice when describing how Cardoso was talking at the time. Things didn’t get much better with Escrava Isaura (Isaura the Slave) over a decade later by having a white woman play an African slave. That casting choice makes Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Motoko Kusanagi in the live-action Ghost in the Shell remake look racially sensitive by comparison and I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s super problematic! Things allegedly improved, but only in shallow ways. Sure there may have been Black leading characters eventually, but they were usually token characters in their stories, the “Black best friends” to white characters, or being dysfunctional despite being in middle-class situations in the various shows going up into the 90s. The interview sections were filled with very revealing information about the business side of acting as well as personal experiences with racism in their lives. They offered fascinating anecdotes like Nelson Xavier talking about his mixed heritage and how he couldn’t find heroes who looked like him (I hard relate to that). One low-key scathing critique was how Goncalves brought up the 1975 show Gabriela that takes place in Ilheus, Bahia yet was very inaccurate with the demographics. He mentions how there weren’t many Black characters despite taking place in Bahia State which has a gigantic Black population especially when one combines the mixed population. That’s not different than American media. That would be like having a hit sitcom in the very diverse New York City, but rarely showing any ethnic minorities. Oh, wait! That would be Friends! Maybe a company like Disney would be stupid and bigoted enough to make some animated films that take place in Africa but have no Black characters. Yes, that actually happened and I don’t need to mention what those two movie franchises are. I swear that’s like some fridge horror offscreen genocide going on these shows and movies, yeah? Besides the content and constant truth-bombing from various men and women there, Denying Brazil does have some decent production. The usage of archived shows mixed with the interviews, landscapes of different Brazilian locales (the abandoned movie house was a good choice), and the scenes of the actors rediscovering these old shows were good. It was great as someone not from Brazil or familiar with their shows to get that insight as well as knowing what the shows were. I will say that even though there were some typical romantic shows, there were also cases of dramas involving slave rebellions, slice of life works, as well as some satirical works for the few positive examples they made.
Denying Brazil can’t deny the fact that there are some shortcomings in this presentation. The subtitles had some issues with misspellings or accidentally putting some of the Portuguese words still in the translations. I’m not talking about the titles which I had no issue with, but words that were similar cognates to their English counterparts in that particular language. Some of the subtitles even blocked out some of the titles of the shows which was a bit tough in doing research about these various programs. The ending did feel a bit random with the Tenda dos Milagres footage. While it did provide closure, it was a bit strange doing so with the narration alongside the archived scenes of that mini-series as the film ended. The editing of this documentary was alright, but the modern footage was dated. I can understand with the older footage not being the best when it comes to the remastering process with the fuzz and static, but this was definitely made in the year 2000 with the fashion and technology even though the camera work feels a bit older oddly enough. It does make me wonder how Brazilian TV has improved and the topic of positive ethnic representation is certainly a bigger talking point now. Hopefully, things have improved with their TV shows and movies even though I know there’s still covert and overt bigotry going on in that South American country.
This was a solid documentary to watch and I could see this as a complementary work to other Brazilian documentaries such as Abdias do Nascimento. Interestingly enough, Ruth de Souza was featured in both and also has former participants of the Black Experimental Theatre. The evidence and personal experiences presented really show the reality of bigotry in Brazilian telenovelas while destroying the fallacies of how there was racial democracy even if things allegedly improve compared to their years of being in a dictatorship. However, the footage is dated which could turn off some newer viewers, but that shouldn’t be a full hindrance of the content therein. Denying Brazil is a very insightful work that is very universal when it comes to why representation matters. Recommended.
Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1 point if you like documentaries calling out bigotry in the media.
-Add 1 point if you’re a fan of Brazilian actors.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want pristine production.
-Subtract 2-3 points if you’re not a fan of soap operas/telenovelas.
-Major truth bombs from the actors/actresses being interviewed
-Sound editing with the different footage
-Brilliant parallels with world history in the media (especially the connections to America)
-Subtitle typos and covering other titles
-Dated modern footage
-Odd choices with the ending
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Advisory: Denying Brazil is appropriate for teens and up to watch. The language does get strong at times with both the interviews as well as some of the archived footage. Topics such as racism, slavery, whitewashing, dog whistles, and sexuality are brought up. The interview with Herval Rossano gets very uncomfortable with him denying the racism as well as describing the lead actress in Escrava Isaura in perverted ways that almost get to Harvey Weinstein levels of creepiness.
All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Denying Brazil is property of ArtMattan. The poster is from IMDb and is property of ArtMattan.