The White Media: Politics of Representation, Race, Gender and Symbolic Voilence in Brazilian Telenovelas

The White Media: Politics of Representation, Race, Gender and Symbolic Voilence in Brazilian Telenovelas

University of Texas, Austin
May 2010
47 pages

Monique H. Ribeiro

Report Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of MASTER OF ARTS

Brazil was the first country in South America to launch a television network and air television shows. Television programming was designed to develop national capitalism and to foster a national identity. Although Brazil is composed of an overwhelmingly large population of African descent, they are usually underrepresented in mainstream media, chiefly in telenovelas (soap operas). This research examines what happens when a telenovela attempts to portray issues of race relations and tensions in contemporary Brazil.

Duas Caras (“Two Faces”), a TV Globo telenovela aired October 1, 2007 to May 31, 2008. The show was a turning point in Brazilian programming because it was the first prime time soap opera to present audiences with an Afro-Brazilian as the main hero. It was also the first novela das oito (“eight o’clock” or “primetime soap opera”) to openly address racial issues through its plot and dialogue. However, in depth critical and theoretical analysis of different episodes demonstrates that instead of debunking the myth of racial democracy, this soap opera in fact helps to further reproduce it through the portrayal of interracial relationships amongst the characters. As shown here, interracial relationships between white and Black Brazilians was used as a strategy of erasing African ancestry traits from the population through a process of whitening.

This report combines a traditional textual analysis of Duas Caras with theoretical frameworks about race relations, gender and anti-Black racism in Brazil. The investigation revealed how telenovelas contribute to social ideology and hegemonic discourses in a way that has not been properly recorded. This discussion contributes to Latin American media studies generally, and the scholarship on interracial relationships in Brazilian media particularly.


  • Telenovela Genealogy
  • The Negative Impact of Telenovelas on Black Social Movements
  • Shutting down the alternative
    • Appendix A
    • Appendix B
    • Appendix C
  • VITA

…An important text to this discussion is A Negacao do Brasil: O Negro na Telenovela Brasileira (“The Negation of Brazil: Blacks in Brazilian Soap Operas), by Brazilian filmmaker Araújo. This book contributes to the debate about the impact of the media on everyday life and the lack of diversity in telenovelas. Araújo provides a great deal of historical background on the overall disenfranchisement of Afro-Brazilian actors and furthers his discussion by providing an analysis of the stereotypical roles often offered to said actors. Despite the immense contribution Araújo makes to Brazilian television studies, one of the major gaps in his scholarship is the lack of a theoretical framework to guide the issues he raises. Thus, in order to close this gap I will use Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony and Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic violence in order to argue that the media is another site of domination within the state. My research also challenges Araújo’s work by engaging with Abdias do Nascimento’s work Brazil: Mixture or Massacre and Jared Sexton’s Amalgamation Schemes in order to understand the pernicious project of whitening that is stitched in the fabric of Brazilian discourses of harmonious miscegenation and racial democracy and how that is perpetuated in programs like Duas Caras

…The white elite owns Brazilian mainstream media, including TV Globo. Whenever a new soap opera is aired, its author makes his or her rounds in different television shows, magazines, and newspapers in order to publicize the new production. Watching these interviews it, it becomes clear that that Brazil does not have any Black scriptwriters, which complicates the situation, leaving white men and women to construct Blackness according in whatever way they see fit. This way, the dominant class controls what types of ideas are produced in television shows, namely telenovelas. As Sander Gilman suggests, “specific individual realities are thus given mythic extension through association with the qualities of a class. These realities [are] … composed of fragments of the real world, perceived through the ideological bias of the observer.” In the imagination or creative process of writing a telenovela storyline, white scriptwriters do not allow much space for for representations of Black power, whether social, capital, or cultural. It should not be any surprise that “whites appear in disproportionately high numbers as figures of authority and examples of beauty in the Brazilian media.” Because of that the audience is bombarded with images and values of whiteness, and Afro-Brazilians, for the most part, do not have a diverse set of images to relate to or emulate. This control over the images seen on television gives the white bourgeoisie the power to circulate their ideologies (i.e.: racial democracy) to socially subordinate groups. Scholar Liv Sovik when she states that, “hegemonic discourse affirms mestiçagem both as a primary national characteristic and as a token of Brazilian openness to non-racialism and multiplicity.” However, the affirmation of mestiçagem (racial mixing) simply valorizes whitening or white mixing. There is no hegemonic discourse in Brazil that promotes Black-Indigenous mixing, for instance. Consequently, non-whites are socialized to believe that dominant social and cultural norms are natural. In her essay, “Genre and Gender: The Case of Soap Opera,” Christine Gladhill states that “hegemony is won in the to-and-fro of negotiation between competing social, political, and ideological forces through which power is contested, shifted, or reformed.” As we can see, hegemony operates in a much more covert fashion than forceful domination. Hegemony is a contradictory, fraught process that is constantly being challenged by communities who perpetually organize to disrupt and push back against the existing hegemony, while the dominant class must work to reconstitute new hegemonic processes, which brings us to the issue of symbolic violence and how such process of violence is exerted by the media…

…Considering that soap operas are so engrained in Brazilian culture, these teledramas provide a vehicle for symbolic violence to enter the homes of thousands of Black families every night when men and women sit in front of their TVs to consume the messages encoded in the soap operas. Since symbolic violence is unseen and unspoken, telenovelas have the power to affect how people think of themselves and their sense of self-esteem. According to Sander L. Gilman, “visual conventions [are] the primary means by which we perceive and transmit our understanding of the world about us.” As I will discuss in a following section, Aguinaldo Silva partakes in this process of symbolic violence through the hidden message that Black love, specifically Black heterosexual unions must be avoided, suggesting that racial mixing is the ideal model of racial progress. According to Bourdieu, the longer this process of symbolic violence is veiled from and left unchallenged, the more powerful it is in maintaining class dominance and delaying the process of liberation…

Read the entire report here.

Tags: , , ,