By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act June 20, 2011 at 12:32PM
S&A reader Franz, who keeps me abreast of some of the goings-on in Brazil film and TV, tells me that Lazaro Ramos is the Denzel Washington of Brazil, and Tais Araujo is the country's Halle Berry. Oh, and by the way, they are a couple (above).
Franz also forwarded me THIS recent article which highlights Ramos' history-making role as the first black lead actor in a Brazilian soap opera; a head-scratcher to almost anyone who is aware of the fact that Brazil alone has the largest number of African descendants outside of the African continent.
The article's focus isn't entirely on Ramos, as it goes on to lament the lack of on-screen diversity in Brazil, with blacks still noticeably absent in the performance arts (film, TV, theater mostly); sound familiar??
But not everyone is convinced of Ramos' growing stature in the country. One key paragraph from the article tells us why:
André Santana, who worked with an all-black theater group while Ramos was a member in their native state of Bahia in Brazil's northeast, says he and fellow actors have had mixed feelings on the popular novela role.
“We are divided. We commemorate it [but] it’s a very ambiguous feeling,” Santana says of Ramos’s prominent but hypersexualized character, who has an alcoholic father. “We have a step to the front because we have an actor on [the mainstream channel] Globo, but we have two back because it is such a negative role.”
And further, the article adds:
That a black actor hasn't had the prominence of Ramos before now is another reason for that skepticism. Joel Zito Araújo, a filmmaker and author of “A Negação do Brasil” (“The Denial of Brazil”), estimated that in a nearly half-century of soap operas that he studied, a full third did not have Afro-descendants in their casts, and of the two-thirds that did, none had more than 10 percent. “Brazilian telenovelas denied [for years] our racial diversity,” says Mr. Zito Araújo. But he sees the growing movement for mixed-race Brazilians to call themselves black and a rising esteem for interracial relationships – “It’s starting to be chic” – as positive steps for integration. “It makes people admire this [black] middle class in Brazil.”
Lazaro Ramos defends his roles by saying:
“Usually it happens like this [for black actors]: a character is [either] on the margin of society, is excluded, is occupying a subaltern function; or a guy is perfect, a guy who is a lawyer, who is a great father of his family, is marvelous. And the middle ground, which is exactly where the human being is, who's not so great nor so bad, [is where] this character is inaugurated... I think there's a lack of characters offered to black actors that have this humanity, that have a way of being imperfect.”
I couldn't find any clips of Ramos' "hypersexualized character" on YouTube, and I actually chuckled at the Denzel comparison because, as a few of you have repeatedly noted on this site, leading black male characters played by the likes of Denzel Washington and Will Smith, here in the USA, are often asexual in the films they appear in. One phrase I don't think I've ever heard used to describe the roles these 2 gentlemen play on screen is "hypersexualized."
It didn't immediately register with me, but after looking up his IMDB resume, I realized that I'm already familiar with Ramos' work - specifically a 2005 Brazilian film titled, Homen Que Copiava (or The Man Who Copied) - a film that won eight Brazilian Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Film, Best Supporting actor and Best Supporting Actress.
I'm guessing he wasn't as big then as he apparently is now.
What's it about? A gentle but aimless copy-machine operator Andre (played by Ramos) spends his evenings drawing comic book art, dreaming of making money and spying on an 18-year-old next store neighbor Silvia (Leandral Leal). Andre develops a crush on Silvia, who works in a clothing store, and in order to impress her, he comes up with a counterfeiting scam using his only resource - a copy machine.
I wouldn't put this one in the "greatest ever" pile; but it's worth a look. The film is out on DVD and should be easy to find.
By the way, Tais Araujo, Ramos' wife, is said to be the first black Brazilian actress to be a protagonist in a Brazilian telenovela.
I also embedded a trailer for it below; it's dubbed in English, but the film is actually in Portuguese with English subtitles.