My first doll was dark black, I bought it with my grandma when we went to Florida on a trip, in 1982. Growing up in Brazil in the 80s, there were never black dolls to purchase – regardless of the huge size of the African-Brazilian population, 54.9%. Walking on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, you see more colored skinned people than Caucasians. Extraordinary blends: bronzed, mulattos, tanned, light dark to deep black. A fantastic combination, because the Portuguese amalgamated with our native indigenous and with the Africans from Angola and Mozambique. Our whole country results of the mixture of those three races. In theory, I dare to say that almost every Brazilian has some African DNA in their past three generations, at least. Still, back in the 80s, there were no dolls, no make-up, no hair products, no media representation, nothing for this population. A massive majority treated as a shitty minority. A sealed prejudice that the society decided to pretend did not exist.
I never understood. To me, slavery is the worst thing that has ever happened to the human race, ever. I always organically loved black people, black music, black culture. My first best friend back in Brazil in the early 80s was Jane, a deep black complexion, so beautiful that I envied her shine and white teeth. To be honest, as a child I often thought I was born with the wrong skin complexion. She was the daughter of a cleaning lady, very poor and yet always smiling. Somehow, I felt like I could bond with her better than I could with the other girls.
Soon enough, I understood that being black was also synonym of being poor and suffering prejudice. For example, I only had one African-Brazilian in my classroom. Most dark colored skin kids could not afford private schools like me, and would end up in a public school, where the education was mediocre. A lot of those kids never learned how to properly write, and they ended up repeating their parents and grandparents’ roles, becoming servants.
My private school years pronounced by a massive white privilege in a country of black majority.
Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery in the Western world, in 1888. To top it off, the slaves had nowhere to go after being freed, they all ended up staying close to their slaveholders and populating the hills around the big farms of Rio de Janeiro and other big cities. They would work for food and build shacks on the mounts that were not repossessed by the landlords -that was how the favelas emerged. Most African Brazilians still struggle with trying to climb up very small steps on the social ladder. In other words, Brazil is completely filled with prejudice but patting itself on the back for never having formal apartheid.
Because of all this, I always felt the urge to write about African Brazilians, who were always portrait on the background as servants. All soap-operas had black people cast as drivers and maids and nannies, with little action and no plots. So, when singer and personality Netinho de Paula invited me to create a TV show focused on the lives of black people, it was like a wish came true. Turma do Gueto was the second TV series to ever have a predominant African Brazilian cast – 70% of it! The action was focused on the people of color of a public high school, located in a dangerous neighborhood of Sao Paulo.
My first TV show: a huge accomplishment to have a cast of realistic race representation in Brazil.
In contrast with all the drama on TV, that used to only portrait white middle to upper class, my TV show was chokingly bold and put all the ‘undesirable’ people (poor, colored, ignorant, underprivileged, marginal) on the foreground of televisions across the biggest country of Latin America (and the fifth most populated nation worldwide). As a result, we had fantastic ratings of 18 points, equivalent to 80 million people watching it every week. It was a gargantuan victory for the unrepresented people of my country!
Today, almost 20 years later, I feel like this was such a small yet important contribution to our society. I am proud of it, but I need to do more! Let’s all keep taking actions: protesting, writing emails, donating, sharing stories and posts, creating, and above all, defending black lives and their representation in our society. Thanks Mama Africa!