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The Struggle Against Diversity in Brazilian Media
Malhação has for a long time always been a staple in Brazilian culture.It is teen soap opera that is broadcasted on the country’s biggest open network Globo and has being running for 22 years spanning over twenty five seasons .It has the same target demographic as shows like Degrassi and Skins, being somewhat of the Brazilian equivalent of those shows .Each season features a new cast and a new story line with a new setting but following the same storyline tropes -a main couple in high school that is tormented by a villain or series of them.
However, you can extract more from the teen show than just typical teenage storylines. While analyzing Malhação’s run on the screen, a reflection about the Brazilian media can be made. In all its 22 years, the teen-soap opera has feature a mostly straight and while, typically from middle class origin as its characters, with a few exceptions.
It was only on its twenty fifth season appropriately titled “Viva a Diferença” (which can be loosely translated to either live the difference or embrace diversity) that this mold was broken. The new season took the show’s usual setting and gave it a new and more realist air. The protagonists of the season are five girls from different ethnicities and backgrounds, just like the Brazilian population.
Considered one of the most diverse countries in the world, Brazil has half of its population mixed race. In addition, the county also has strong ties to slavery in its past and immigrations from countries such as Italy, Japan, Spain and Germany. Brazil also suffers with high social inequality problem, having the 10% of the nation richest responsible half of the country’s GDP. “Viva a Diferença” captures this and so many problems engraved in Brazilian society, such as racism, homophobia, social inequality and prejudice in general. All at the same time not falling to portray recurring themes in teen dramas such as drugs, teen pregnancy, mental illness and abuse. The teen show doesn’t fear way from bringing up explicit discussions and breaking away from usual discussions in other renditions.
Nevertheless, a point should be brought up as of why it took so many years for these topics to be handled in mainstream Brazilian media. Why did it take so long for a show to have female leads that are independent from their romantic partners? Or why only now do we have bisexuality and homosexuality being handled in natural way? Or why have most of the seasons only featured a main white couple as its lead? In sum the question that is really to be asked is: Why does Brazil so shy about show its true identity of country full of diversity?
The answer can be found in the works of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci. The Marxist philosopher claims that ruling class disseminates its values by creating a hegemonic culture, with the goal of the values to be seen as the normality. This can be done through many means, yet in modern times it is mostly accomplished by the mainstream media, like Globo. In this specific case the values disseminated give the false impression that Brazilian society is straight, white and middle to upper class.
These values can be traced back to the country’s deep colonial routes. There has been a social-historical construction that the European straight male is the central figure in Brazilian society. This dates back to the twentieth century where the figure of the “coronel” emerged, typically a farm owner, he was a pillar in Brazilian society . However, the period known as corneralism (period of the coronel’s biggest influence) has passed but still shows its marks in Brazilian society. The straight- European upper class male hegemony still persists till today. The previous seasons of Malhação and other Brazilian soap operas are a testimony to that.
Media such as soap operas, TV shows and films are a direct reflection of the culture and manners of a country. However, the only thing being reflect in most mass Brazilian media is the culture hegemony of the “coronel”, which is a total opposite to what the population looks like and acts like. The lack of diversity gives a false sensation that Brazil is truly like that, also contributing to the marginalization of minorities. It give the impression that they are not a member of society because they can’t even be the protagonist of show or even in worst case not even the supporting character.
This can be seen clearly through the thoughts of Djamila Ribeiro, a professor at the department of philosophy in the University of São Paulo: “My daily fight is to be recognized as being and impose my existence in a society that constantly insist in denying it”. Therefore “Viva a Diferença” was crucial for representation and breaking the cultural hegemony.
One of the main purpose the author and creator of the season ,Cao Hamburger ,was to truly capture what living a crowed and diverse city like São Paulo. This was the first season where story was located in São Paulo and not Rio de Janeiro where all the other seasons were set Hamburger also states that bringing the plot to a metropole like São Paulo gave him the opportunity to talk about various tribes and different kinds of people.
The efforts of capturing diversity were certainly paid off. Hamburger’s new season has reached the highest ratings since 2009 and is the first season that is being distributed internationally in thirteen years. In addition it also gained a huge social media following thanks to Lica and Samantha, the first lesbian couple to be portrayed in the entire run of the series. The series spurred an interest that is rarely seen in an open network soap opera in age streaming platforms like Netflix.
These statistics should certainly serve as proof that representation of minorities and properly portraying a society as wide spectrum is worth it. The series didn’t only serve to attract audiences and boost Globo’s plummeting ratings; it did so much more than that. The representation of diversity in film is important because gives a sense to minorities that they are part of a society. It helps the usually marginalized to have someone who they look up and be inspired by.
Even though “Viva a Diferença” is usually discredited because it’s a teen soap opera, it is doing an amazing job of closing a social gap. It exposes different realities and makes people see beyond the bubble that they are live in. Maybe in the future with this season showing the path, more soap operas and Brazilian media will be open to tackling diversity. This change in the media maybe could also lead to change in the mindset of the Brazilian population to like the title of the new season says, could embrace diversity.