Despite having one of the largest populations of African-descended people outside of Africa, race in Brazil is still a touchy subject. Despite its strides, black Brazilians still report being discriminated against and treated unfairly simply because of the color of their skin. In light of this, a new soap opera, based on a Mexican telenovela, is causing quite a stir in the country.
The show, Cirilo, features a young, black elementary schoolboy who is in love with a white girl who despises him, has many black Brazilians crying foul. During the show, the young girl openly rebuffs his advances in sometimes cruel ways simply because he is poor and black.
Many activists and writers are worried about the message the show will send young, black Brazilians. One writer, Daniela Gomes discussed what she sees as the possible damaging effects of this show.
Gomes writes (translated by the Afro-Europe blog):
I became really sad when I read an article where the writer (who is married with the owner of the TV channel) of the new version of the soap opera, said that she would keep all the racism’ scenes, because she would like to be faithful to the original version and because she believed it would help to show a real problem in Brazil.
At the same moment I wondered how to show a little black boy humiliation on TV in the prime Time without show any kind of reaction from him can help to combat racism? I became sadder when I saw that my little nephew and niece were watching the soap opera, but because I couldn’t do anything to make my protests about this listenable, I started to wonder about the subject.
I thought about the time when I watch the first version of the soap opera and how I suffered with the injustice committed by the girl and with Cirilo’s suffering. I thought about how happy we felt when Cirilo won a motorized car, black like him, in a lottery and had a race with a boy considered handsome in the history, who was rich and had a motorized car white like him. (In the story Maria Joaquina was in love with the white boy and insisted in to show to Cirilo how she and the other boy were equal and superior to Cirilo). It was as if we were had won with him.
I thought about all the boys that received the nickname Cirilo on their schools during that time. And I started to wonder if it didn’t help to develop on the boys of my generation (nowadays men who has 30 years old approximately), the Cirilo’ Syndrome.
What I call here Cirilo’ Syndrome, is the necessity that some men have in accept be treated in an inferior way when this kind of treatment comes from a white woman.
I never will judge personal relationships, because I don’t control people’s heart, but I have seen many black men being humiliated and accept this humiliation resigned only because they wish have a white woman on their sides.
I ask to myself if the behavior showed on this “innocent” soap opera, couldn’t help to create the resigned mind of many black men, who accept be called monkey by their girlfriends as if it was a lovely nickname.
I wonder if in our society where the myth of the racial democracy keeps doing its well successful brain wash, where the black main problem is he/she own identity bad formed, or lack of identity, wouldn’t be a disservice to create another generation of victims of this syndrome that only can create low self-esteem.
While parents ultimately are the largest contributing factor to their children’s self-esteem, it is hard to escape messages of inferiority unscathed. While it remains to seen whether or not Cirilo will be a hit, black Brazilians are pushing back against narratives that they claim demean them.