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Dossiê "Políticas e poéticas das expressões das formas sensíveis: performance, imagens e sons"

Hidden Protagonists – towards a decolonial cinema history in Brazil

Carolin Overhoff Ferreira
p. 47-67


This article aims to further the discussion about the need to decolonize Brazilian audiovisual historiography, drawing attention to the fact that evaluations and choices of films and filmmakers end up forming a white and, therefore, hegemonic narrative, still embedded in the asymmetrical structure of colonial power and the subsequent subalternation of the Other. The main objective of the article is to contribute to the awareness of the negative or limited representation of indigenous, African, and Afro-descendant characters by presenting existing studies, especially on canonical feature films that are based on the portraits and myths developed in art and literature, as well as pointing to the notorious absence of indigenous and Afro-descendant filmmakers.

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Notas da redacção

Date received: 2023-01-27
Date accepted: 2023-06-12

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Black filmmaking is going through a particular moment of transition. Our psychological and cultural universe is different, and cannot be understood by white folks.
Joel Zito Araújo, 2005

When we talk about indigenous cinema, their way of making images, of arriving with the camera, we cannot say that everything is the same. […] I have to respect the time of a Karaí [spiritual leader] that I’m interviewing because he has his own time […] The shots have to be longer, so as not to change the Guarani rhythm and time too much.
Ariel Ortega, 2018

  • 1 Numbers are estimates based on the last census in 2010, see IBGE ( The number of a (...)
  • 2 I will use Black in the sense of a political category in this chapter, as it is used by the Brazili (...)
  • 3 See IBGE (
  • 4 See IBGE (

1Brazil is a pluriethnic, pluricultural, and pluriepistemological country. Colonized by Portugal, and invaded at different moments by the Netherlands and France, its Native population counts today 1.1 million people in demarcated territories, consisting of 305 different nations who speak 274 languages.1 Apart from its indigenous inhabitants, 53% of Brazil’s population of 213.3 million declare themselves either as Black2 (preto) or of dual or multiple heritage (pardo).3 The miscegenation process was initiated when the Portuguese encountered in 1500 a population of between 4 to 11 million Natives who spoke more than 1,500 languages and were organized in 1,200 nations of which more than two-thirds are now extinct. (Cunha 2012) Genocide, diseases, and enslavement diminished them significantly. The violation of its female population (Lacerda 2010), combined with the kidnapping and enslaving of 4.8 million Africans from diverse Sub-Saharan regions,4 who spoke approximately 40 different languages (Rodrigues 1988b), and whose women were equally sexually abused (Nascimento 2016), furthered the racial-ethnic miscegenation.

  • 5 See Prudente 1988 and Almeida et al. 2016.
  • 6 The idea of racial democracy began with Gilberto Freyre’s (1964) [1933] famous book Casa grande e s (...)

2The very idea of racial or ethnic miscegenation is the result of the pseudo-scientific racialization of African descendants and the anthropological ethnicization of the Natives with the aim of inferiorizing them (Arruti 1997). Racial or ethnic hierarchization was used as the main tool and justification for the colonization and supposed civilization of the Americas (Nascimento 2016, Quijano 2006). Miscegenation turned into a socio-political problem once the abolition of slavery occurred in 1888. Instead of integrating the formerly enslaved and creating territories for the indigenous, European nationalistic ideas and eugenic politics favored the whitening and Europeanizing of the population, formulated in racist theories (Rodrigues 1957) and laws,5 and put into practice by way of European immigration. The idea of a racial democracy6 became a central Brazilian myth, employed to negate and veil the institutionalized racism and the violent persecution of Afro-descent cultures and religions (Nascimento 2016, Gonzalez 2020). The native population has been subject to perpetual genocide, as well as culturecide ever since 1500 (Munduruku 2009, Kopenava 2013, Krenak 2020, Jecupé 2020).

  • 7 “Amefrican” is Lelia Gonzalez’s (2020: 138) concept that aims to recognize the “gigantic work of cu (...)

3Brazil always obscured in its political, scientific, and artistic discourses that it owes its riches and socio-cultural make-up to the knowledge, traditions, skills, and forced labor of its subalternate population. The enslaved Africans’ expertise as farmers, artisans, musicians, goldsmiths, cooks, miners, etc. were used on plantations, for the exploration of gold and diamonds, in the urban centers, and thoroughly shaped Brazil’s spirituality, culture, and arts (Querino, 1980). This impact is hidden under a denigrating folklorization (Nascimento 2016), albeit calls to recognize this heritage as an “amefrican”7 achievement (Gonzalez 2020). The same is true for the impact of the Natives’ knowledge of astronomy, the territory’s flora and fauna, its cultivation, rubber extraction, food preparation, herbal medicine, artistic abilities, hunting, and fishing skills (Munduruku 2009, Jecupé 2020). All of this was incorporated into Brazilian culture but only acknowledged in the denomination of places, fruits, animals, etc.

  • 8 See Mignolo and Vazquez (2013).

4It is paramount to remember that the discipline of aesthetics and the way it shaped our understanding of art has been a potent colonial tool.8 It imposed the European idea of the sensible as a capacity to sense beauty as universal onto the rest of the world, belittling the art of the racialized or ethnicized Other as "artifacts", only considering them from an anthropological stance, stolen and put into museums by disconnecting them from their original meaning and function. The relation between the visible (art) and the invisible (the spiritual world) was abandoned in Europe in favor of a theory that connects the sensible world with the intelligible in a neo-platonic fashion, suggesting the reign of universal (European) morals as superior and turning art into a question of contemplation and reflection (Ferreira, 2019).

  • 9 See the report by Ancine from 2016 ( (...)

5Watching Brazil’s classical films by celebrated filmmakers such as Humberto Mauro, Alberto Cavalcanti (silent cinema), Leon Hirszman, Ruy Guerra, Cacá Diegues, Glauber Rocha, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Nelson Pereira dos Santos (Cinema Novo), Rogério Sganzerla, Júlio Bressane (Cinema Marginal), Eduardo Coutinho, Hector Babenco, Walter Lima Jr. (Redemocratization), Bruno Barreto, Ana Carolina, Carla Camuratti, Daniela Thomas, Fernando Meirelles, Walter Salles, Karim Aïnouz (Retomada in the 1990s), to mention the internationally best known, this idea becomes evident. While the diverse ethnic-racial texture and the country’s cultural and artistic plurality, the many cosmologies and languages that coexist in its territory are somehow present, they are more often than not distorted in these films. It must be noted that 98.1% of all Brazilian films with government incentives and 93.2% of the films without incentives (2.7% of unknown origin) have been directed by white middle-class men.9 Accordingly, their perspectives are shaped by a privileged and Westernized intellectual elite. Although concerned and attracted by the racialized and ethnicized Other, most Brazilian films therefore fall short of a deeper comprehension of the underlying and still existing colonial power structure, as well as its effects, i.e. the violence against the Native and Afro-descendant population and its epistemologies, consequently lacking a true understanding of their problems, suffering and cosmoperceptions.

  • 10 See for example the list of the 100 best Brazilian movies of all times made by the national governm (...)
  • 11 Films that received international prices are: Central do Brazil/Central Station, Walter Salles, 199 (...)

6Western art histories – and Brazil’s film history is no exception – write hegemonic narratives to tell national success stories by choosing their best films and directors, offering a periodization of its key moments by singling out their supposedly highest aesthetic achievements.10 While this teleological methodology has been challenged since the influence of New History in the 1980s (Bernadet 2009), it is still the common way of distinguishing and hierarchizing authors, styles, movements, and specific films. According to the Occidental value system and concept of colonial/modern universal aesthetics, Brazilian film history has foregrounded the accomplishments of specific periods and artists – some first films from the Bela Epoca (Bernadet 2008) –, established founding fathers – Humberto Mauro (Rocha 2003 [1963]) or Mario Peixoto (Instituto Moreira Sales 2018) –, and key moments – realismo carioca (Rio realism), which gave attention to the country’s social challenges influenced by Italian neo-realism (Viany 1959), and Cinema Novo, which developed shortly before and especially after the military coup in 1964 an even more “national” modern aesthetics, pairing social awareness with political diagnostics, often self-conscious about the intellectual’s and middle class’s cowardice and the need for resistance (Xavier 1993, 2001; Bernadet 2009). The renaissance of filmmaking after the extinction of the governmental funding bodies during the Collor government in 1994, the Retomada (Nagib 2002, 2003), is equally celebrated because it led during the late 1990s to diversification in styles and genres (Xavier 2001). Filmmakers abandoned yet dialogued with the more homegrown aesthetics – theoretically associated with the limitations of underdevelopment (in chanchadas, films with an aesthetics of hunger, Cinema Marginal, etc.) – for more glossy international standards of filmmaking and storytelling – art house styles and genre mixes –, while still focusing on Brazil’s socio-political challenges – poverty, injustice, drug and child trafficking, violence, corruption –, maintaining its most famous scenarios – the favela and the hinterland. This new approach attracted just like Cinema Novo international critical attention and prizes.11

7Given the preponderance of male white filmmakers, rethinking Brazil's cinema history and redrawing its national parameters not only requires moving beyond a geographically specific definition by looking at transnational connections and links but to take a decolonial approach. This means considering within the national territory the exclusion or reduction of characters, namely of the racialized or ethnicized, their stories, worldviews, languages, and cultures. It needs to be noted that their stories have not been told because they have not been given much opportunity behind the cameras because of institutionalized racism. Since the 1960s, when this was first perceived as a political problem, film history has timidly taken up the discussion of the absence of Afro-descendant filmmakers, the discourse of whitening and white supremacy present in the films, as well as started studying the under- and misrepresentation of enslaved African and Afro-descendant characters in articles (Neves 1968, Senna 1978; Araújo 2006, Candido et al, 2015, Carvalho e Domingues 2017) and books (Rodrigues 1988a, Araújo 2000, Autran 2011, Souza 2006, 2011, 2015). The question of Black female filmmaking has only very recently been given attention (Ferreira and Souza 2017, Sobrinho, 2017, Souza 2020).

  • 12 It suggested the following: 1) The film must be directed by a Black Brazilian director; 2) The prot (...)
  • 13 Milton Gonçalves, Antonio Pitanga, Ruth de Souza, Léa Garcia, Maria Ceiça, Maurício Gonçalves, Nort (...)

8The notorious problem of the absence of Afro-descendant filmmakers – for the first generation we can only think of a handful, such as Waldyr Onofre, Zózimo Bulbul, Antônio Pitanga, Odilon Lopes, Adélia Sampaio, and Agenor Alves –, led to two manifestos in the new millennium (Monteiro 2016). The first, by filmmaker Jeferson De (2005), from 2000, was published during the 11th Festival Internacional de Curtasmetragens (International Short Film Festival) in São Paulo, which was hosting for the first time a show of Black filmmakers. The manifesto Gênese do Cinema Negro Brasileiro (Genesis of the Black Brazilian Cinema), nicknamed Dogma feijoada, – ironically referencing Brazil’s most famous national dish – adapted the idea of the Danish Dogma movement from 1999.12 A second manifesto was signed in 2001 by various Black filmmakers, actors, and producers during the 5th Recife Film Festival and was therefore perceived as more political.13

  • 14 Its goals are described on its website (

9In the late 1980s, the study of the representation of (Silva 2007, Cunha 2018) and filmmaking by Native Brazilians (Johnson and Stam 1995 [1988], Shoat and Stam 1994, Bechelany 2014) gained small scholarly attention. An initiative to teach video production and offer equipment to Native people started in 1986 with the project Vídeo nas Aldeias (Video in the Villages).14 It aimed to empower them in developing their visions and presented the possibility to recuperate and preserve their threatened cultures in documentaries of shorter durations. The project produced several Native filmmakers from various nations (Guarani, Maxakali, Guajajara, etc.) in diverse parts of the country, who first worked for their communities but are now present at festivals, art exhibitions, and streaming platforms (Itau Cultural Play). Most of the films are documentaries but there is some video art production. Examples are Grin, 2016, de Roney Freitas e Isael Maxakali; Sobre Câmeras, Espíritos e Ocupações: Um Tríptico de Montagem-ensaio, 2018, coletivo Alto Amazonas Audiovisual; Akiu’È R-Existo/R-exist, Zahy Guajajara, 2020; Pytuhem: Uma carta em defesa dos guardiões da floresta, Zahy Guajajara, 2021. Isael and Sueli Maxakali, Genito Gomes, Larissa Ye'padiho Duarte, Divino Tserewahú, Patrícia Ferreira, and Ariel Ortega, among others, are names with some national and international projection.

10Within Brazilian classical cinema history, both Native and Afro-descendant representation and filmmaking have not even been discussed in separate chapters, as it occurs in literature and visual art studies. Furthermore, it has very rarely been commented on or acknowledged, neither in its beginnings (Viany 1959, Rocha 2003) nor during its consolidation (Gomes 1980, Bernadet 2008 [1995], Xavier 2001, Leite 2005, Ramos and Schvarzman 2018). Anglo-Saxon publications have been a little more diligent in giving attention to films that feature Native, African, and Afro-descendant characters in specific chapters (Pinazza and Bayman 2013), or Native, African, and Afro-descendant filmmaking (Johnson and Stam 1995, Shoat and Stam 1994).

11Conscious of this scenario, this article is an attempt to further the discussion of the necessity to decolonize Brazil’s cinema history by drawing attention to the fact that the underlying evaluations and choices of films and filmmakers ultimately form a white and therefore hegemonic narrative, still embedded in the asymmetric colonial power structure and subsequent subalternation of the othered. Its main objective consists in contributing to an awareness of the negative or limited representation of Native, enslaved African, and Afro-Brazilian characters, especially in canonical feature films, as well as in drawing attention to the notorious lack but now emerging Native and Afro-descendant filmmaking.

Nationalist ideas on Natives, enslaved Africans and Afro-descendants

12The lack of non-white filmmakers diagnosed in the 1960s did not change in the first decade of the 21st century. Of the 218 feature films produced between 2002 and 2012, 84% were made by white male directors, 13% by women directors, and 2% by Black male directors. No Black woman made a feature film in this period (Monteiro 2016: 7). It does not come as a surprise that the few scholars who have dedicated themselves to studying the portrayals of racialized characters observe that they are either characterized by left-wing paternalism or openly racist (Rodrigues 1988a; Autran 2011). Concerning the Natives, there is either the good or the bad “Indian” (Silva 2007). Without much interest in reality, the mythical Native is prone to sacrifice him/herself for the national identity or is sacrificed by progress and developmentalism (Cunha 2018). Specific archetypes and stereotypes have been created for audiovisual culture. Documentaries either make a compilation of the presence of Natives (Silvio Back, Yndio do Brasil, 1995) or offer critical comments on Afro-descendants in telenovelas (A negação do Brasil/Denying Brazil, Joel Zito Araújo, 2000), also available in book form (Araújo 2000).

13These second-rank and negative depictions in Brazilian culture first began to take shape during colonialism in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the indigenous population was portrayed in a fantastic and terrorizing way as man-eaters (Cunha 2018, Moura 2012a), and the Africans either as savages or labor force in the background of landscapes (Moura 2012b). The famous paintings of both peoples by Albert Eckhout, made during the Dutch occupation of Pernambuco, can serve as examples. They are exceptions since Portugal was not inclined to image production given its desire to hide the country’s riches. But when the Portuguese monarchy moved its court to Brazil, fleeing the Napoleonic invasion in 1808, official art production became necessary. The imaginary that was created adapted itself to the tropics as an “American mimesis,” featuring idealized, almost white Natives as allegories of the Empire. (Schwarcz 1998: 142) Most depictions of the everyday life of the slave society and the indigenous communities were still being produced by foreigners, either as part of scientific expeditions or within the context of the newly created Academy of the Arts with mostly French teachers (Moura 2012a, 2012b).

14Image production intensified after Independence in 1822, when the Empire became an internal colonial system now in need of a national culture, developing on the idea of the Natives as its foundation. They were used as romantic immemorial founding figures, especially in literature but also in painting and sculpture, destined to disappear in what has been coined the “sacrificial myth” for national identity (Bosi apud Cunha 2018: 53). Romanticism, which worked almost as an official political project of the State, invented the idea of the subalternized’s devotion for and submission to the European colonizer. This myth remained during the First Republic, created in 1889, aligned with the paradoxical maintenance of the former power structure of landowning oligarchs, coupled with modernization and hence Europeanization of the young nation-state. While following a political project of whitening the population, the Republic kept employing both Natives and Afro-descendants as the origin of the country’s identity, to naturalize the asymmetric power structure (Bosi apud Cunha 2018: 50). Supposedly progressive and liberal artistic movements such as Modernism (in the 1920s) and Tropicalism (in the 1960s) equally developed their ideas and images of national identity on the rather self-interested assimilation of cultural elements and on the images of the racialized and ethnicized Others.

  • 15 The medical doctor Nina Rodriguez (1957) had a leading role in introducing eugenic politics and rac (...)

15The result was that while socio-politically always keeping Native and enslaved Africans and their descendants in a servile position, with genocide pending constantly – even or especially after abolition, followed by, more aggressively still, the pathologization and criminalization of the Afro-descendent population15 –, both featured strongly as symbolic figures in the different nationalistic cultural projects. During Modernism, anthropophagy became a potent metaphorical tool for emancipation in Brazil’s arts. Theoretically, Brazilian art freed itself from European and American cultural Imperialism according to the idea of the incorporation of the enemy/the First World, while miscegenation was glorified in the figure of the “mulata”, the sensual mixed-race woman. In both cases, the colonial power structure was factually reinforced by either distorting Native culture or by ignoring the history of sexual abuse and encouraging its perpetuation.

  • 16 See for more information

16The idea of incorporating Natives and Afro-descendants symbolically into a pacified national collective identity by employing art, from Romanticism to Tropicalism, strongly participated in erasing the historic anti-colonial struggles, marked by constant resistance, wars and revolts (Querino 1980, Nascimento 2016, 2019, Jecupé 2020), and a long Black-lead abolition movement (Lingna Nafafé 2022). Two important institutions were created that organized resistance politically during the 20th century: The Frente Negra Brasileira (Black Brazilian Front), in 1931, and, at the end of the dictatorship, the Movimento Negro Unido (United Black Movement), in 1978 (Gonzalez 2020). The Indigenous rights started to be defended by the government with the Serviço de Proteção ao Índio (Indigenous Protection Services), in 1910, and non-governmentally during the dictatorship’s expansion politics into the Amazon in the 1970s and 80s.16 In terms of Afro-descendant culture, consciousness-raising started with the Teatro Experimental do Negro (Experimental Black Theatre), in 1944, and the Primeiro Congresso do Negro Brasileiro (Conference of Black Brazilians), in 1950, among lesser-known organizations and events.

Stereotypes and archetypes of Natives, enslaved Africans and Afro-descendants

  • 17 Os capadócios da Cidade Nova; Antônio Leal, 1908; A quadrilha do esqueleto, Eduardo Arouca, 1917; A (...)
  • 18 O Saci/The saci, Rodolfo Nanni, 1951; Sinhá Moça, Tom Payne and Osvaldo Sampaio, 1953; João Negrinh (...)

17With very few exceptions and largely inspired by the instrumentalized portrayals in visual arts and literature, Brazilian films do not depict Native or Afro-descendant characters in ways that truly engage with their histories, life experiences, cultures, or epistemologies, or demonstrate a real interest in their struggles, or in revising and reversing their fate as subalternized subjects in the country’s past and present. The early films with Afro-descendent characters have been lost17 but we know that a film on a famous marine revolt (A vida de João Cândido, 1912) was prohibited (Rodrigues 1988a: 101). One of the few surviving silent features (A filha do advogado, Jota Soares, 1926) gives an idea of how the tradition of dehumanizing the racialized Other in Brazil was perpetuated in the movies since the animalistic portrayal of the Black character aims to justify white dominance (Autran 2011: 17). First sound films did not develop a different perspective. Even when less racist, they are openly paternalistic.18 The abolition movement is presented as a benevolent and completely white undertaking, gratefully accepted by enslaved Africans and their descendants, thus confirming uncritically the unfaithful official historiography.

  • 19 Iracema, Vittorio Capellaro, 1919; Vittorio Cardinali, 1949; Jorge Kouchin, 1931; Iracema: a virgem (...)
  • 20 Ubirajara, Luiz de Barros, 1919; A lenda de Ubirajara/The legend of Ubirajara, André Luiz Oliveira, (...)
  • 21 The Guarani, Vittorio Capelaro, 1916; João de Deus, 1920; Vittorio Capelaro, 1920; Fauzi Mansur, 19 (...)
  • 22 Como era gostoso o meu francês/How tasty was my little Frenchman, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1971; (...)

18The stereotypes for Natives come primarily from the indigenist romantic novels, predominantly by José de Alencar, with characters that sacrifice themselves for the Europeans they fall in love with. “Exhaustively filmed and refilmed” (Silva 2007: 203) since 1911, the various Iracemas,19 Ubirajaras20 and Guaranis21 were played by blackface actors. Iracema was especially important for propagating the myth of miscegenation, since she dies and only her mixed heritage son survives, losing his heritage by being raised by his Portuguese father. Ubirajara, on the other hand, is the classical noble savage who lived in mythical times and serves as a remote founding figure. Other “savage” characters and narratives followed European travel accounts, mainly Hans Stadens’ famous book from 1557.22 These films, even though they use anthropological studies, have no compromise with reality (Silva, 2007) and recycle with blackface actors the anthropophagic myth for progressive political purposes that, however, do not further the Native’s cause at all.

  • 23 Seara vermelha/Red harvest, Alberto D’Aversa, 1964; Dona Flor e seus dois maridos/Dona Flora and he (...)
  • 24 From Ganga Zumba, Cacá Diegues, 1963, to Vazante: the abject gaze, Daniela Thomas, 2017). We find t (...)

19The Afro-descendant characters are frequently inspired in the novels by Jorge Amado, one of the internationally most well-known Brazilian novelists, widely adapted to the screen.23 Whilst featuring black and mixed-race main characters, Amado propagates many of the country’s problematic myths such as racial democracy and the sensual “mulata” within ideological limitations that have been called “literary populism” (Bosi apud Autran 2011: 35). Many established archetypes or stereotypes (Rodrigues, 1988a) are strongly related to the history of slavery, in fact one of the key historical moments depicted in both Brazilian literature and cinema.24

Hegemonic modern film language, and white, Native, and Black narratives

20The celebration of the modernization of dominant narrative film language, first during the historical avant-garde through aesthetics based on elaborate montage techniques and innovative relations between sound and image, and later, after the traumas of the Second World War, in contemplative narratives with characters caught up in non-action, is notorious in Western countries (Deleuze 2018). Brazil is no anomaly. Initially, montage theories and avant-garde techniques were applied in narratives with either hegemonic perspectives on the discoveries with subservient and obedient Natives (O Descobrimento do Brasil/The discovery of Brazil, Humberto Mauro, 1936) or in tragic love stories without racialized characters (Limite, Mario Peixoto, 1931; Ganga Bruta, Humberto Mauro, 1933). Later they were employed to theorize (Gomes 1980, Rocha 2003, 2004) and portray (realismo carioca, Cinema Novo, Retomada) the country’s socio-political problems, framed within the Western idea of underdevelopment. Firmly rooted in Europe’s myth of the superiority of rationality, Brazilian cinema has thus been conceived as a way of addressing its troubled double identity as a non-European country, without letting go of the civilizing mission of its European colonizers.

21Realismo carioca, Cinema Novo, and partially the Retomada – which is based on the European idea of art’s renaissance after a dark period – are the most valued moments of its hegemonic narrative on dealing with the country’s economic and socio-political challenges. Their films are not only seen as furthering the understanding of the national character by discussing its conflicts but also as developing adequate and exceptional aesthetic solutions. They are praised, and internationally recognized, as being capable of adapting to the Western idea of aesthetic innovation with low production values, dribbling the constraints of being a “Third world” country – i.e. Glauber Rocha’s (2004) idea of an “aesthetics of hunger” –, remaining, at the same time, influenced by the European, namely Marxist perspective of culture regarding the possibility of reversing social injustice by consciousness-raising.

  • 25 Rio, 40 graus/ Rio 40 degrees, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1957; Cinco vezes favela, various directo (...)
  • 26 Macunaíma, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1969; A opinião pública/Public opinion, Arnaldo Jabor, 1967.

22While many classic films from the 1950s and 60s engage with class struggle and the prospects or improbability of social change,25 this is seen as a problem of conscientization of the poor, as well as part of the generalized subalternation of Brazilian people by modern capitalism and consumer culture within the context of the economic miracle of the dictatorship.26 As such, the films do not grasp the sustaining colonial mechanisms: racism and genocide.

  • 27 The “mulata” as a sex symbol appears on film from 1950 onwards, after having been introduced and po (...)
  • 28 Ganga Zumba and Xica da Silva. João Carlos Rodrigues (1988: 31) points out: “Xica is a mere sexual (...)
  • 29 Uma mulata para todos/A mulata for everyone, Roberto Machado, 1975; A mulata que queria pecar/The m (...)

23Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the only ways for Black characters to ascend socially in Brazilian film narratives is through sexual relations (O cortiço/The Slum, Luís de Barros, 1945; O cortiço/The Slum, Francisco Ramalho Jr., 1978). (Rodrigues 1988a: 51-52) More often than not these relations are not accepted by society (Jubiabá, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1986; Pureza proibida/Forbidden purity, Alfredo Sternheim, 1974; Jeca e seu filho preto/Jeca and his Black son, Pio Zamuner and Berilo Faccio, 1978) (Rodrigues 1988a: 53), or, in the case of the first film with a Black cast made by a Black director, ends in tragedy (Na boca do mundo, Antônio Pitanga, 1979). As observed, Black or mixed-race female characters27 are almost always depicted in an eroticized and degrading manner, as classical lovers but never as wives.28 The portrayals are outright racist in the commercial pornochanchadas, the highly successful erotic films of the 1970 and 1980s.29

  • 30 Como era gostoso o meu francês/How tasty was my little Frenchman, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1971; (...)
  • 31 Quilombo, Cacá Diegues, 1984; Chico Rei, Walter Lima Jr., 1985.
  • 32 Macunaíma and Caramuru, Guel Araes, 2001. José Arruti reflects on the semantic formulation of the “ (...)
  • 33 Terra em Transe/Land in Anguish, Glauber Rocha, 1967.

24When the colonial history is revisited, the resistance of the Native and enslaved Africans and Afro-descendants is most frequently re-signified through the lens of the middle class’s political struggle during the dictatorship30 and re-democratization.31 The incorporation of cultural traits in the narratives of racialized or ethnicized Others has frequently been indistinct and thrown together as the “popular”32 within Brazil’s “white Ocidentalized nationality” (Arruti 1997: 10). The canonization of these films betrays the lack of astuteness about the colonial legacy, which even when remembered is not understood and reduced to ideas of underdevelopment, authoritarianism, capitalism, and political populism.33

  • 34 Barravento; Deus e o Diabo na terra do sol/Black God, White Devil, Glauber Rocha, 1964.

25Colonialism oppressed Native and enslaved African cultural manifestations, which had to be disguised mostly in syncretic form, especially in commemorations that the Catholic Church integrated into its festive calendar (Nascimento 2016, Gonzalez 2020). Yet African culture survived in maroon societies, the quilombos (Nascimento 2019), while indigenous culture survived by fleeing from the colonizer (Jecupé 2020). Accordingly, film narratives see Afro-Brazilian or syncretic religions, samba, capoeira, popular music, and nowadays hip-hop in diverse ways: as alienating,34 as elements of a truer identity or even as a counter-culture. For the later, examples like Bahia de todos os santos, Trigueirinho Neto, 1960; O amuleto de Ogum, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1974; Madame Satã/Madame Satan, Karim Aïnouz, 2002; Antônia, Tata Amaral, 2006; Besouro, João Daniel Tikhomiroff, 2009; Triunfo, Caue Angeli, Hernani Ramos; 2014; Branco sai, preto fica/White out, Black in, Adirley Queirós, 2014, can be mentioned.

26The narratives are not very varied: the exploitation of Afro-descendants by the white establishment is tragic (Rio, Zona Norte), there is search for justice (White out, Black in), or glimpses of empowerment (Madame Satan; Antônia; Besouro; Triunfo), depending on time and place. Today, the Native population is almost always seen as destined to lose its cultural roots in urban surroundings (Iracema uma transa amazônica; A febre/The Fever, Maya Da-Rin, 2019), but tries to recuperate it, for example from the missionaries (Ex-Pajé, Luiz Bolognesi, 2019). Natives are constantly under threat because of the invasion of their territories, in the past (Brave new land) and present (Martírio, Vincent Carelli, 2016; Serras da Desordem, Andrea Tonacci, 2006; Piripkura, Mariana Oliva, Bruno Jorge, Renata Terra, 2017; A última floresta/The last forest, Luiz Bolognesi, 2021).

27Over the last decades only a few films with enslaved African and Afro-descendant characters have dealt with racism, genocide, and culturecide head on (Também somos irmãos; A grande feira; Compasso de espera; Tenda dos milagres; Quanto vale ou é por quilo?/What’s the price or is it by kilo?, Sérgio Bianchi, 2005; Todos os mortos/All the dead ones, Marco Dutra, Caetano Gotardo, 2020). The problem is sometimes tackled by Black filmmakers in the handful of films they made. The better known of the first generation are Zózimo Bulbul (Alma nos Olhos/Soul in the eyes, 1974; Abolição), Antônio Pitanga (Na boca do mundo), Adélia Sampaio (Denúncia Vazia, 1979; Amor Maldito, 1984; Fugindo do Passado, 1987), Waldir Onofre (As aventuras amorosas de um padeiro, 1975) and Joel Zito Araújo (A negação do Brasil; Filhas do vento/Daughters of the wind, 2016; Meu amigo Fela/My friend Fela, 2018). The more recent generation has many filmmakers who produce short and medium films for festivals, both men and women (Danddara, Edileuza Penha de Souza, Elen Linth, Everlane Moraes, Flora Egécia, Juliana Vicente, Keila Serruya, Larissa Fulana de Tal, Sabrina Fidalgo, Viviane Ferreira, etc.) Only Lilian and Daniel Solá Santiago (Família Alcântara, 2004), Rogério de Moura (Bom dia, eternidade, 2010), Carmen Luz (Um filme de dança/A film on dance, 2013), André Novais (Temporada, 2018), Henrique Dantas (Dorivando Saravá, o preto que virou mar/The Black who turned into ocean, 2019), Ary Rosa and Glenda Nicácio (Ilha, 2019), Joyce Prado (Chico Rei entre nós, 2020) and Jeferson De (Bróder, 2010; Doutor Gama, 2020) have made features, apart from a few films by collectives (Coletivo Nós, Frente 3 de Fevereiro, etc.).

28The depiction of non-white art and culture was initially diluted, for example in the commercially oriented chanchadas by the Atlântida studio into samba show numbers, in which famous sambistas acted to attract a wider audience, like Ataulfo Alves, (Carnaval em lá maior/Carnaval in A major, 1955), Jamelão (Depois eu canto/I will sing, 1956), Carmen Costa (Carnaval em Marte/Carnaval on Mars, 1955), and Agostinho dos Santos (Casei-me com um xavante/I married a Xavante, 1957), or in documentaries on Black musicians and samba (Heitor dos Prazeres, Antonio Carlos Fontoura, 1965; Nelson Cavaquinho, Leon Hirszman, 1971; Nossa escola de samba/Our samba school, Manuel Horácio Gimenez, 1966). Especially when it comes to Afro-Brazilian cults, they are documented with a more (Iaô, Geraldo Sarno, 1976) or less ethnographic outlook (Orixá ninú ilê and Iyá-mi Agbá, Juana Elbein dos Santos, 1979 and 1982). (Rodrigues 1988a: 47-50)

  • 35 Festas e Rituais Bororo, 1917; Ronuro, Selvas do Xingu, 1924; Ao Redor do Brasil, 1932; Os carajás, (...)

29Indigenous culture was at first absent, given the referred lack of interest in their reality. Natives have only recently been played by indigenous amateur actors in features that deal with historical or real-life problems based on true stories in docudramas that tell stories on cultural and economic alienation (Iracema uma transa amazônica; A febre; Ex-Pajé), genocides and their impacts (Serras da Desordem). The views of indigenous leaders, such as Davi Kopenava’s participation in scriptwriting, are new ways of production that embrace their cause more strongly (A última floresta). A few documentaries, produced as part of the political expansion of the territory in the early 20th century, offered glimpses into the othered cultures. They were made by cinematographer Major Thomaz Reis during the famous expeditions of Marechal Cândido Rondon to implement a nationwide telegraphic system.35

30Contemporary indigenous documentaries are important tools to gain broader attention for their political agenda: to fight against the invasion of their territories (Zawxiperkwer Ka’a – Guardiões da floresta, Joyce Guajajara and Milson Guajajara, 2019), to denounce the contemporary genocide of many different nations (Nũhũ Yãgmũ Yõg Hãm – Essa terra é nossa, Isael e Sueli Maxakali, 2020; Tava, a casa de pedra/Tava, the stone house, Vincent Carelli, Patricia Ferrreira Keretxu, Ariel Duarte Ortega and Ernesto Ignacio de Carvalho, 2012), but also to preserve their culture (As hiper mulheres/The hyper women, 2011; Karai ha'egui kunhã karai 'ete – Os verdadeiros líderes espirituais/The true spiritual leaders, Alberto Alvares, 2013; Bimi Shu Ikaya – Bimi com o poder do sopro/Bimi with the power of the blow, Saka Huni Kuin, Siã Huni Kuin, Zezinho Yube, 2018; Yãmiyhex? As mulheres-espírito, Isael e Sueli Maxakali, 2020). They use varying strategies to voice their concerns, usually in very engaging, mainly observational but also poetic ways – given the slow pace and long shots – that give deep sensitive insights into their worldviews. What is most striking in these films is that in contrast with the staged metaphorical, exaggerated, and blackface representations, one is all of a sudden confronted with three-dimensional people and a strong sense of authentic reality, given the calm way of recovering traditions and presenting them in contemporary ways, but also when dealing with the cruel and violent reality of constant assassinations and invasions.

Decolonizing Brazilian film history

31If we look at this brief contrast between canonized Brazilian films with Native and Afro-descendant narratives, it becomes clear that the former is still embedded in the colonial mechanisms of racializing and ethnicizing the non-white population. Pablo Quintero, Patrícia Figueira, and Paz Concha Elizalde (2019: 5) have pointed out six elements to define a decolonial stance. I will group them and discuss them concerning Brazilian film historiography and filmmaking.

32(1) Decoloniality assumes that the origin of modernity has been shaped by the conquest of the Americas and the control of the Atlantic by Europe and not by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. As we saw, Brazilian cinema history follows the idea that aesthetically innovative and challenging films can raise consciousness and make the spectators engage in class struggle instead of creating awareness of the factual Brazilian problem of racialization and ethnicization. This is why most films use already forged stereotypes and archetypes from literature and the visual arts in a naturalized manner, without being aware of them, perpetuating key myths like the natural asymmetry of power, and, especially, the idea of racial democracy, and the eroticization and subalternization of the othered.

33(2 & 3) Parting from the recognition of the colonial power structure, modernity should be described as characterized by asymmetric power relations produced by Europe’s modern/capitalist world system based on accumulation and exploration of other places. White male filmmakers do almost not touch upon this problem since they focus on class struggle. When it comes to aesthetics, Brazilian cinema challenged the idea of modernity theoretically (Rocha, 2004), leading to a positioning against the Hollywood system in search of intellectual or populist aesthetics (Estevam 1995, Guerra 1995), indebted and inspired in Europe’s aesthetic theories. In reality, Brazilian cinema has been preoccupied with Western avant-garde aesthetics in a simpler, domestic version (the “aesthetics of hunger”), which, ultimately, especially during the Retomada, turned into a “cosmetics of hunger” (Bentes, 2007). In other words, films still discuss poverty but now with capitalist high production values and without linking them to the history of colonialism (Cidade de Deus; Elite Squad, José Padilha, 2007).

34(4 & 5) Colonial power implied a subalternation of the majority of the world population, their cultural practices, and subjectivities, guaranteed by the control of work and intersubjective relations. Both are based on racism, but this is rarely addressed in Brazilian films since both are related mostly to an abstract idea of colonialism. This becomes evident when we observe that, given the experience of the dictatorship, the Brazilian middle class includes itself in the subalternation. While rightly concerned with political oppression, it overlooks that it participates in the colonial power structure, naturalizing racialization and ethnicization at its basis. Certain films, especially of the Retomada, are more aware of this paradox (At play in the fields of the lord, Hector Babenco, 1991; Brava gente brasileira/Brave new land, Lúcia Murat, 2000; Quase dois irmãos/Almost Brothers, Lúcia Murat, 2004).

  • 36 An idea already brought forward by decolonial African authors in the 1980s (P’Bitek 2011, Mudimbe 2 (...)

35(6) Eurocentrism or Westernization must be perceived as a specific form of knowledge and subjectivity production, in fact, a specific conceptualization of power. This is based on the understanding that Europe is not the cradle of civilization but rather of its barbarity.36 Even though Brazilian canonized films deal with the country’s subalternation by both Europe (Ganga Zumba, Quilombo, How tasty was my little Frenchmen, Land in Anguish) and the United States of America (Land in Anguish; Macunaima), and are aware of inner colonialism (Inconfidência Mineira/Minas Conspiracy, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1974; Land in Anguish; How much is it?), the subjectivity production is almost always seen in terms of Western aesthetics with the author as someone who can offer a political diagnosis and a challenging perspective of the status quo. As the films by Native and Black filmmakers indicate, there is no true understanding of the power structure at play or a more profound engagement with the communitarian epistemologies of the subalternate in the films by the white middle class.

36It must be noted that what is lacking in the above-cited definition of decoloniality is, paradoxically, the urgency to accept, understand and integrate other epistemologies, as well as to go beyond a critical discourse and engage in political action to make different worldviews and knowledge production heard and respected. This criticism of the Latin-American decolonial authors is voiced by female theorists of decoloniality. While Anibal Quijano (2006) is for many the father of Latin-American decolonial studies, given his concept of colonial power, and Walter Mignolo (2013) their best-known contemporary scholar, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (2010: 58) is not only critical of their creation of a conceptual “empire within the empire” and participation in internal colonialism through the academia. She stresses their depoliticization, questions their insistence on the idea of multiculturalism, and lack of engagement with social groups. This is crucial since their theories inform art production such as cinema, as Marxist theories on class struggle, ideas on underdevelopment, and metaphorical cultural strategies such as anthropophagy informed many of the now canonized Brazilian films. The growth of publications by Native (Munduruku 2009, Kopenava 2013, Krenak 2020, Jecupé 2020) and Black authors (Querino 1980, Nascimento 2016, 2019, Sodré 2017, Gonzalez 2020) offer, on the other hand, decolonial perspectives that must be taken into consideration and be added to those of the white middle class if true change is desired.

Concluding remarks

37If we were to assume an extended decolonial perspective towards Brazil’s cinema history, it must be two-folded. First, we need to take a different look at the political and aesthetic discussions that dominated it, to reveal that most of the constructions of subalternate characters, narratives that concern them, and aesthetic solutions to tell their stories have been guided not by the questioning of the colonial power structure but by a white Eurocentric understanding of politics, society, economics, ecology, and culture. Consequently, this implies a critical analysis of the canonized films based on the understanding that they never really take the viewpoint of the racialized Black or ethnicized indigenous Other, much less engage with their epistemologies, cosmologies, struggles, and ways of living. The most troubling aspect is that there has seldom been an awareness in Brazilian cinema that the country’s power relations are fueled by institutionalized racism. This has been overlooked by a paternalistic and either sociological or anthropological perspective by the educated middle class that parts from the idea of teaching the uneducated to make them aware of their situation and organize themselves – even though they know their situation much better and, worse, have no chance within the existing system.

  • 37 Justiça/Justice, Maria Augusta Ramos, 2004; Juízo/Judgment, Maria Augusta Ramos, 2005; Tortura e En (...)
  • 38 A última abolição/The last abolition, Alice Gomez, 2018; Menino 23/Boy 23, Belisário Franca, 2017.

38To recognize Brazil’s violent colonial history and reality would be a starting point, so obvious in the perpetual genocide of its Native and Afro-descendant population. The mass incarceration of Afro-descendants has only recently become a subject of documentaries but is being discussed, again, mostly by focusing on the question of social and not racial marginalization.37 Questions such as the abolition and forms of modern slavery have equally been depicted, however rarely in more challenging documentaries.38

39Second, a decolonial Brazilian film history needs to give more space to the small number of Native and Black filmmakers, that need to be included and not seen as a topic apart. The growing number of productions referenced in this article deserves to be analyzed in detail and compared in terms of their worldviews and aesthetics to those of the canon. To stay clear from Westernized anthropological approaches, the epistemologies of the above-mentioned indigenous and Afro-descendant authors should be the basis for this undertaking.

40I would like to close with a citation by Jaider Esbell (2020), a multidisciplinary artist who also made films but decided to withdraw himself from this world in November 2021 as a response to his integration into the white art world. He expressed potently the importance of decolonial performances, which go beyond the idea of the national since Brazilian nationalism always tried to eradicate other subjectivities and ways of being in the world. Decolonial performances can empower the affirmation of other identities in what Esbell understands as a constant battle:

This way of thinking about my path can highlight the importance of knowing different paths. It can also serve as an encouraging element for subjects in the process of asserting their identity. Tracing its deepest roots is an exercise that is done when you decide when to actually face the layers of burial that the attempt to erase has deposited on collective bodies. The affirmation of a decolonial performance in the surrounding whole does not require us to be aware that the way we develop our social and political relations is based on values that precede the establishment of the State. Thus, we will certainly have constant clashes with the legal issue, being often seen as rebels and anti-nationalists when not criminalized and punished. (Esbell 2020)

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1 Numbers are estimates based on the last census in 2010, see IBGE ( The number of assimilated indigenous people living in cities and villages is much higher.

2 I will use Black in the sense of a political category in this chapter, as it is used by the Brazilian Black movement. When I talk about characters in films, I will use the cultural category of Afro-descendant. Afro-Brazilian is a complex and problematic category since it was introduced by white authors to not only describe Black but also white intellectuals and artists who wrote about or made art on Afro-Brazilian themes and subjects.

3 See IBGE (

4 See IBGE (

5 See Prudente 1988 and Almeida et al. 2016.

6 The idea of racial democracy began with Gilberto Freyre’s (1964) [1933] famous book Casa grande e senzala/The Masters and the Slaves, which had a double objective: to recognize the importance of the African and Afro-Brazilian within the construction of Brazil but also to hide the racial discrimination.

7 “Amefrican” is Lelia Gonzalez’s (2020: 138) concept that aims to recognize the “gigantic work of cultural dynamics” carried out in the Americas. The concept aspires to forge an awareness of the contribution made by the American Natives and those who came, lived, and live there, encompassing and highlighting the descendants of the original peoples, the enslaved Africans, and those who resulted from the colonial contact.

8 See Mignolo and Vazquez (2013).

9 See the report by Ancine from 2016 (

10 See for example the list of the 100 best Brazilian movies of all times made by the national government body for film Ancine (

11 Films that received international prices are: Central do Brazil/Central Station, Walter Salles, 1997 – Golden Globe; Golden Bear, Berlin; Cidade de Deus/City of God, Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund, 2002 – British Independent Film; Amarelo Manga/Yellow Mango, Cláudio Assis – Toulouse, CICAE, Berlin; Tropa de Elite/Elite Squad, José Padilha, 2007 – Golden Bear, Berlin; Bacurau, Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2019 – Jury Prize, Cannes.

12 It suggested the following: 1) The film must be directed by a Black Brazilian director; 2) The protagonist must be Black; 3) The theme of the film has to be related to Black Brazilian culture; (4) The film must have a workable schedule/urgent films; 5) Stereotyped Black (or non-Black) characters are prohibited; 6) The story should privilege the common Brazilian Black; 7) Superheroes or bandits must be avoided. A group called Cinema Feijoada, was created afterward, calling for the first time in a unified and collective way for Black rights in the film industry. (Carvalho and Domingues, 2016).

13 Milton Gonçalves, Antonio Pitanga, Ruth de Souza, Léa Garcia, Maria Ceiça, Maurício Gonçalves, Norton Nascimento, Antônio Pompêo, Thalma de Freitas, Luiz Antonio Pilar, Joel Zito Araújo e Zózimo Bulbul. The manifesto demanded: 1) The end of the segregation that Black actors, actresses, presenters, and journalists are exposed to in production companies, advertising agencies, and television channels; 2) The creation of a fund to encourage multiracial audiovisual production in Brazil; 3) The expansion of the job market for Afro-descendant actresses, actors, technicians, producers and directors; 4) The creation of a new aesthetics for Brazil that values the ethnic, regional and religious diversity and plurality of the Brazilian population. (Domingues, 2011)

14 Its goals are described on its website (

15 The medical doctor Nina Rodriguez (1957) had a leading role in introducing eugenic politics and racist thinking in Brazil, suggesting intellectual inferiority and the tendency to violence and crime in both the Black and miscegenated population. Paradoxically, he produced the first book on the presence of Africans and African culture in Brazil (Rodriguez 1988b). Manuel Querino (1980), on the other hand, did important research on the culture in Bahia, indicating the importance of its African and Afro-descendent artists, but also of other aspects of culture, such as cooking. Their different standpoints inspired Jorge Amados’s Tenda dos Milagres/Tent of Miracles, which was adapted to the screen by Nelson Pereira dos Santos in 1977 and focuses on this debate.

16 See for more information

17 Os capadócios da Cidade Nova; Antônio Leal, 1908; A quadrilha do esqueleto, Eduardo Arouca, 1917; A cabana do pai Tomás, Antônio Serra, Almeida Fleming, 1924; A escrava Isaura, Marques Filho, 1929.

18 O Saci/The saci, Rodolfo Nanni, 1951; Sinhá Moça, Tom Payne and Osvaldo Sampaio, 1953; João Negrinho, Oswaldo Censoni, 1958.

19 Iracema, Vittorio Capellaro, 1919; Vittorio Cardinali, 1949; Jorge Kouchin, 1931; Iracema: a virgem dos lábios de mel/Iracema: the virgin with the lips of honey, Carlos Coimbra, 1979.

20 Ubirajara, Luiz de Barros, 1919; A lenda de Ubirajara/The legend of Ubirajara, André Luiz Oliveira, 1975).

21 The Guarani, Vittorio Capelaro, 1916; João de Deus, 1920; Vittorio Capelaro, 1920; Fauzi Mansur, 1979; Norma Bengel, 1996.

22 Como era gostoso o meu francês/How tasty was my little Frenchman, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1971; Hans Staden, Luiz Alberto Pereira, 1999.

23 Seara vermelha/Red harvest, Alberto D’Aversa, 1964; Dona Flor e seus dois maridos/Dona Flora and her two husbands, Bruno Barreto, 1976; Tenda dos milagres/Tent of miracles, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1977; Jubiabá, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1987; Tieta do Agreste, Cacá Diegues, 1996.

24 From Ganga Zumba, Cacá Diegues, 1963, to Vazante: the abject gaze, Daniela Thomas, 2017). We find the preto velho (Uncle Tom) (Sinhá Moça; Ganga Zumba) and the mãe preta (mummy) (João Negrinho, Oswaldo Censoni, 1958), being the later more common in telenovelas (Araújo, 2000) and pornochanchadas (Elas atendem pelo telefone, Duilio Mastroianni, 1961). The noble savage is strongly associated with the racist idea of African animality (Ganga Zumba, Quilombo, Cacá Diegues, 1984). Most common is the martyr who is sacrificed or willing to sacrifice her/ or himself (Sinhá Moça; João Negrinho; Ganga Zumba; Quilombo). There is the “Black with white soul” who denies his/her ancestry in colonial and contemporary times (Também somos irmãos, José Carlos Burle, 1949; Xica da Silva, Cacá Diegues, 1976), while the negro revoltado (rebellious Black or angry African), another negative unruly figure because too violent in his political approach (Ganga Zumba, Barravento/The Turning Wind, Glauber Rocha, 1962), is more contemporary. Both the negão (Black lover) (A menina e o estuprador/The girl and the raptor, Conrado Sanchez, 1982), the malandro (Bahia de todos os santos) and the mulata boa (sexy mulata) (Ganga Zumba, Na boca do mundo; A grande feira/The great market, Roberto Pires, 1961) are the result of the eroticization of the Black body, male and female. The hardworking and good-hearted favelados are the very opposite (Cinco vezes favela; Rio, Zona Norte/Rio, North Zone, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1957), as is the hilarious and naïf crioulo doido of the chanchadas (Moleque Tião, 1943; Carnaval Atlântida, 1952; etc.).

25 Rio, 40 graus/ Rio 40 degrees, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1957; Cinco vezes favela, various directors, 1962; Vidas Secas, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1963.

26 Macunaíma, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1969; A opinião pública/Public opinion, Arnaldo Jabor, 1967.

27 The “mulata” as a sex symbol appears on film from 1950 onwards, after having been introduced and popularized in an a-critical fashion in visual arts by the painter Di Cavalcanti in the 1930s.

28 Ganga Zumba and Xica da Silva. João Carlos Rodrigues (1988: 31) points out: “Xica is a mere sexual object. (...) The slavery in the film is a far cry from the horrors suffered by the enslaved, preferring the carnivalization of the set, the costumes, and the interpretation of the actors.” Zezé Motto played the sensual Black woman again in Cordão de ouro/The Golden Necklace, Antônio Carlos da Fontoura,1977; Aguia na cabeça/The eagle on the head, Paulo Thiago, 1983, and Anjos da noite/Night angles, Wilson Barros, 1987. Black men were equally eroticized, for example Zózimo Bulbul in A menina e o estuprador/The girl and the rapist, Conrado Sanches, 1982.

29 Uma mulata para todos/A mulata for everyone, Roberto Machado, 1975; A mulata que queria pecar/The mulata that wanted to sin, Victor Di Mello, 1977.

30 Como era gostoso o meu francês/How tasty was my little Frenchman, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1971; Ganga Zumba; Macunaíma.

31 Quilombo, Cacá Diegues, 1984; Chico Rei, Walter Lima Jr., 1985.

32 Macunaíma and Caramuru, Guel Araes, 2001. José Arruti reflects on the semantic formulation of the “popular” which serves the homogenization of both groups as a single one, marginal to white hegemony: “Transformed into people, the point of convergence of these axes, domesticated alterity gives rise to others that will occupy folklore studies and, after the purge of this perspective, studies on ‘popular culture’ and ‘popular classes’. The gaze turns, then, to a homogeneous and indistinct object that, if not erased, submits every particularity (including there also the ethnic diversity of European immigrants) that distinguishes its parts from each other and concerning the nation.” (Arruti 1997, 11)

33 Terra em Transe/Land in Anguish, Glauber Rocha, 1967.

34 Barravento; Deus e o Diabo na terra do sol/Black God, White Devil, Glauber Rocha, 1964.

35 Festas e Rituais Bororo, 1917; Ronuro, Selvas do Xingu, 1924; Ao Redor do Brasil, 1932; Os carajás, 1932; Alto do Rio Negro, 1938.

36 An idea already brought forward by decolonial African authors in the 1980s (P’Bitek 2011, Mudimbe 2019, Wa Thiong’o, 1986, Wiredu 1996) and post-colonial theorists (Said 1978, 1994, Spivak 1988, 1994), whose historical contexts are slightly different since they suffered colonialism most strongly in the 19th and 20th century.

37 Justiça/Justice, Maria Augusta Ramos, 2004; Juízo/Judgment, Maria Augusta Ramos, 2005; Tortura e Encarceramento em Massa no Brasil/Torture and mass incarceration, Pastoral Carcerária, 2015.

38 A última abolição/The last abolition, Alice Gomez, 2018; Menino 23/Boy 23, Belisário Franca, 2017.

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Carolin Overhoff Ferreira, «Hidden Protagonists – towards a decolonial cinema history in Brazil»Cadernos de Arte e Antropologia, Vol. 12 | -1, 47-67.

Referência eletrónica

Carolin Overhoff Ferreira, «Hidden Protagonists – towards a decolonial cinema history in Brazil»Cadernos de Arte e Antropologia [Online], Vol. 12 | 2023, posto online no dia 01 agosto 2023, consultado o 26 fevereiro 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Carolin Overhoff Ferreira

Unifesp, São Paulo, Brazil

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