[Marxism] Re: Brazil's first black television channel

Peter McLaren mclaren at gseis.ucla.edu
Mon Nov 21 10:25:17 MST 2005


he Guardian (UK) - 21 November 2005

With non-white faces a rarity in media and politics
A new station aims to bridge racial divide

"Is it on air? We're on the air!" With the push of a button and these  
hesitant words, Brazil's first black television channel came into  
existence yesterday.

TV da Gente, which means "our TV", has been heralded as giant step  
forward in the country's fight against discrimination, and to mark  
the broadcast high-ranking politicians, celebrities and civil rights  
activists gathered at the Casa Verde studio in north Sao Paulo.

"This will turn out to be the most important development ever in  
terms of communication for black communities all around the world," a  
veteran American civil rights activist, 72-year-old James Meredith,  
told the Guardian. "Unlike the United States and South Africa, Brazil  
established a system of white supremacy without the obvious signs  
like segregation or apartheid. Until Brazilians start to face up to  
this reality the legacy of slavery will continue."

Mr Meredith's ideas are far from universally accepted in Brazil  
where, despite the social chasm between Afro-Brazilians and their  
white counterparts, many still insist on the idea of a "racial  
democracy", first expounded by the anthropologist Gilberto Freyre in  
the 1930s.
Statistics tell a different story, of a country split along racial  
lines. Afro-Brazilians form almost half Brazil's 180 million strong  
population yet account for 63% of the poorest section of society. The  
2000 census found that 62.7% of Brazil's white population had access  
to sanitation compared with just 39.6% of its Afro-Brazilians, while  
a new UN report found that black men earned on average 50% less than  
their white counterparts in Brazil. Human rights campaigners  
underline the racial dimension behind Brazil's staggering murder  
rates. The majority of victims are young black men aged between 15  
and 24.

The sprawling redbrick favelas that engulf large urban centres are  
predominantly, if not entirely, inhabited by black Brazilians. And  
barring a few high-profile politicians such as the culture minister,  
Gilberto Gil, Afro-Brazilian faces remain a rarity in politics.

In the nightly blockbuster soap operas - perhaps the best indicator  
of how things stand in Brazilian society - black actors are generally  
restricted to playing the roles of maids and porters who work in the  
glitzy apartment blocks inhabited by the wealthier, white characters.  
Indeed, while slavery was abolished more than a century ago in  
Brazil, many believe its legacy is harder to shake off.

This week a leading economist estimated that for Brazil's black  
population to have access to the same standard of public services as  
their white counterparts the government would have to invest 67.2bn  
real (£17.6bn).

TV da Gente's aims to change at least part of this. Its mission  
statement, mimicking the former president Juscelino Kubitschek, is to  
achieve "50 years progress in five" in black Brazil's fight for  
visibility. The man behind the media revolution that seeks to  
overturn this divide is Jose de Paula Neto, better known as Netinho  
de Paula, a media-savvy 35-year-old who rose from the housing estates  
of Sao Paulo to become a household name, first as a samba popstar  
then as a television presenter.

In recent years Netinho has become the favela's answer to Jimmy  
Saville: in his weekly show Dia de Princesa he roams Brazil's  
deprived periferia (outskirts) in a limousine, bestowing gifts upon  
impoverished families while dressed in his trademark dinner-jacket.

Netinho says his latest project - which sports a logo of an eye in  
the yellow and green shades of the Brazilian flag - aims to redress  
the racial imbalance in Brazilian television and society as a whole.  
"Our country is marked by racial mixtures. But the actual model of TV  
does not represent the majority of Brazilians. We are trying to help  
our own people, given that nobody else seems to want to do it. This  
is where the real fight starts. Those who say they want an integrated  
Brazil will really have to start showing their faces now," said Netinho.

Some believe it will be an uphill battle. For Joel Zito Araujo,  
campaigner and director of the documentary Denying Brazil - the Black  
Man in the Brazilian Soap Opera, the widespread exclusion of black  
actors from television reflects deeply ingrained prejudices in society.

"The [Brazilian] soap opera carries as its aesthetic and cultural  
discourse the ideology of whitening. This denies that which should be  
our greatest heritage: our cultural and racial diversity," he said.  
"The inclusion of black actors has improved with each decade.  
However, Brazilian society, in the main part, remains very  
prejudiced. Television and society are connected in terms of these  
racial taboos."

Yet despite the startling racial gulf, many point to recent advances  
for the black population, notably the partial introduction in 2002 of  
university quotas for black students. "Securing university quotas was  
the first real achievement of black society in Brazilian society. For  
the first time in our history being black brought some kind of  
advantage," said Araujo. "Only by developing talent within the black  
population, and them achieving positions of power will we be able to  
bring about structural change."

Initially the new channel, in which around R$12m has been invested,  
will be broadcast for six hours a day on terrestrial television in  
Sao Paulo and the north-eastern city of Fortaleza. People in other  
areas will be able to tune in via satellite, while viewers in Angola,  
from where a quarter of the investments have come, will be able to  
follow daily programmes, which include news, sport and a Brazilian  
hip-hop slot.

As Brazil marked its annual black pride day yesterday, black  
activists at the launch of TV da Gente celebrated the new channel.  
"TV da Gente will reproduce, for the first time, the true image of  
the people," said Netinho de Paula. "It's a huge victory for us all:  
for the black movement, for the white movement, for the red movement  
and for the Brazilian people."

Backstory

 From 1550 to 1888 the Portuguese shipped at least 3 million slaves  
into Brazil. Most came from the African colonies of Angola and  
Mozambique. They were put to work in the north-east's sugar  
plantations, but thousands managed to flee and set up quilombos,  
autonomous cities lived in and run by former slaves. The most famous  
of them - the Quilombo dos Palmares - was led by Zumbi. Brazil was  
the last state to officially abolish slavery - in 1888.





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