Visit WIDE ANGLE on pbs.org
Video Help Video Bank
Racism in the Media (1:56) Excerpt from film "Brazil in Black and White", September 2007
A black model discusses the vast predominance of whites in the Brazilian advertising industry.

Country: Brazil

South America Brazil map

Download video:
(PC: right click & select Save Target As) (Mac: hold down CTRL button & click)
Quicktime (3159k) Realplayer (3705k) Windows Media (2960k)

Guiding Questions
  1. What is the type of model preferred by the Brazilian advertising industry? Do you see any problems with that given Brazil's population?

  2. What impact might advertising and other media have on an individual's sense of self and of his or her place in society?

  3. The media is a realm that is usually left relatively untouched by governments in democratic societies. Do you think Brazil's proposed affirmative action program runs the risk of being seen as governmental interference? What would be the arguments for and against the media quota system?
Background Essay
It's important to consider the psychological effects on children, young people, and a society at large of an almost complete absence of visual images of blacks in advertising and the media. One effect of a sustained affirmative action policy in Brazil may well be the creation of a black middle class with significant purchasing power, which might in turn influence advertisers to appeal to these consumers.

Black Brazilians and African Americans in the United States face many similar challenges. For example, Afro-Brazilians are not equally represented with other Brazilians in higher education, law, medicine, government, and business leadership. To remedy this pattern of injustice, Brazil adopted the use of affirmative action. Affirmative action is the encouragement of increased representation of women and minorities in schools and jobs.

Racial inequality in Brazil is centuries old. Between 1551 and 1830, Brazil imported more slaves than any other South American country (4.5 million) and only abolished slavery in 1888, later than any other country in the Western hemisphere. Slavery defined Brazil in many ways:

  • Slaves maintained African religions, cultures, and languages, forging a unique Afro-Brazilian culture.

  • Most white settlers immigrated alone, leading to substantial, generally tolerated interracial relationships and a high proportion of mixed-race children.

  • After slavery was abolished, racial segregation was not legally imposed. However, emancipated slaves faced stiff competition for jobs from European and Asian immigrants.

  • Brazil became a highly diverse mixture of people of various European, native, African, and Asian origins.

Until recently, Brazil prided itself on being a "racial democracy." However, advocates of affirmative action argue that this "racial democracy" is a myth. Afro-Brazilians have typically attended lower-quality public schools, where they were poorly prepared for the national university admission exam. They generally have poorer health and housing, lower wages, and fewer years of schooling, than white Brazilians.

Affirmative action in Brazil's universities began in 2003 when the prestigious Universidade do Estato do Rio de Janeiro announced it would reserve a specified number of its places for black students; other universities and national legislation soon followed suit. As of 2007, the racial quota system for Brazil's universities specified that 20% of places for incoming freshmen would be reserved for Afro-Brazilians. Overall, the beneficiaries of these policies have outperformed the low expectations of affirmative action opponents.

Since 2003, affirmative action programs have expanded to include quotas for Afro-Brazilians, indigenous people, and women in politics and economic life in Brazil. Despite these developments, affirmative action is still highly controversial.

One of the most visible examples of racial inequality is in the Brazilian media.

Advocates of expanded affirmative action are pushing legislation that would reserve 20% of all roles in film and advertising for Afro-Brazilians.

You arrive at the casting, and have a little group of blacks in this sea of blondes.

For aspiring model natane almeida, the new legislation would be a welcome change from the status quo.

Unbelievable, there are 500 models here.

Every ad campaign requires a different profile, but in big campaigns, in big roles, they still almost always want whites.

At most they'll have a woman with dark hair, but always straight.

You can look around the whole city, even go to a newsstand run by a black person, and I won't find anything that reflects blacks.

You won't. Just look!

It's all blondies with blue eyes, straight hair, and light skin.

It's a whole month of blondies, not even brunettes.

Not one black!

Related Links
Brazil in Black & White on PBS.org

CIA World Factbook: Brazil

Library of Congress Country Study - Brazil

IBASE - Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses http://www.ibase.br/modules.php?name=Conteudo&pid=379

Print Classroom Tips