Monica Gathuo and Leo Custódio are coordinators of ARMA Alliance. Photo: Aleksi Poutanen.
Cinemaissí and Cuarto Cine are proud to co-host a short film screening and discussion event Black Narratives in Brazilian Cinema on 25 October in partnership with the Anti-Racism Media Activist Alliance (ARMA Alliance) and Goethe-Institut Finnland.
- “Parda” (Mixed Race, Tai Linhares, 2019),
- “Favela que me viu crescer” (Favela that has seen me grow, Cafuné na laje, 2015)
- “KBela” (Yasmin Thayná, 2015).
In this interview, Leo Custodio opens up the context of the discussions on blackness in Brazil and in Finland and reflects on the role of new media, including films, that have an important role in shaping these discussions.
In recent years, Black Brazilians have increasingly created new narratives about what it means to be Black in Brazil.
What are the reasons for these discussions to gain a foothold during the past couple of years?
There has always been racial inequality in Brazil. Predominantly between the three main racialized groups: the indigenous, the black, and the white. Of course, it is not as simple as that, there are people with many different shades of skin color, nationalities, regionalities...it can be very confusing. I'll focus on my own group: people racialized as black.
Historically, black people never really had much of a voice in media.
There have always been black musicians, black sports people and black Brazilians who were famous in the media, but they have not had space to talk about blackness and racism. These issues were not really discussed in the main channels if the discussion suggested structural racial conflict. For instance, if somebody would talk about racism on television, this person was likely to get a lot less space to speak than a person who would speak about the beauty of the black culture or black samba.
If you think of the Brazilian media, it is mostly controlled by white people. There is a tendency to think that racism is not needed to discuss, that we are all humans, and that we should not enter the polemics about racism.
With the internet, people are now able to speak more freely and in public.
They are finally able to talk with an audience. During the past decade, many different types of expressions of blackness have emerged. For example, the conversations about the many political meanings of black people's hair have become increasingly popular. These discussions have always existed, but it is only very recently that they are really getting heard in public conversations.
As discussions about blackness and racism have gained substantial foothold and increased awareness, people are raising these issues more often. One of these topics is the discrimination at work places and how black people get less paid than white people. Also, there is increased conversation about black masculinity: how black men could be better partners for black women and parents for their children than black men like myself have historically been.
It’s important to note that these discussions happening in Brazil are not present in the Brazilian context only. If you think about Finland, it is not just black people, but also other groups that suffer from racism. They have used online media to express themselves. Films are one form of doing this.
When I say new forms of black people’s expression of what means to be black have emerged in Brazil, I refer exactly to what the films we will show at the Black Narratives in Brazilian Cinema session at Cinemaissí. Tai Linhares’ short film Parda (Mixed Race), Cafuné na Laje's Favela que me viu crescer (Favela that has seen me grow) and Yasmin Thayná's KBela tell three different, but interconnected stories about what means to be Black in Brazil.
How does the thematic relate to the Finnish context? Is there any particular theme that can be observed in both contexts?
As a Black Brazilian researcher in Finland, I was able to observe media practices in both countries and wondered: if Brazil and Finland are so different countries, how come the forms of expression of people who suffer from racism, in Brazil and in Finland, are so similar and comparable?
One day, I presented these thoughts in a conference in Tampere. That's when Monica Gathuo - then a journalist at Ruskeat Tytöt - and I met. From that encounter, we together developed the Anti-Racism Media Activist Alliance (ARMA). Since 2017 we have observed and collaborated with people who suffer from racism and act against it through media in Brazil, Finland and other countries.
For example, take a YouTube channel of a black woman who talks about hair or who talks about her everyday experiences as a black woman, who talks about discovering the beauty in her body and so on. If someone sees the images and not listen to the language, one would not necessarily recognize who is in Finland and who is in Brazil. On YouTube, Gabi Oliveira, of de Pretas, and Jenny Kasongo, of Zenibohoo, have similar online platforms which I often cite as comparable examples.
Discussions and initiatives around hair can also be observed in both contexts. In Brazil, there are many black women who have built career talking about black hair styles, black hair and its history and heritage. In Finland, the Good Hair Day collective does the same: GHD brings afro-Finnish women and others together through events and public conversations about hair.
In both contexts there is also a variety websites for and by people who have historically suffered from racism. Blogueiras Negras in Brazil and Ruskeat Tytöt. In my view, Ruskeat Tytöt in Finland is an important platform for multiple discussions about being racialized as something else than white.
All in all, the stories and dialogues about racism and blackness are very similar in Finland and in Brazil even if the countries are so different in most ways.
How do you see the future?
With ARMA Alliance we are not only showing the relevance and the comparability of these media activities, but we also create encounters for these people to get to know one another, for them to become aware of each other. They feel empowered by the fact that there are other people like them, in other countries, facing similar struggles and doing similar things. Despite the language barriers, the contextual differences and other issues, together they can figure out ways of collaboration to solve local problems and issues – in partnership with people from other countries.
So, when we invite director Tai Linhares, who is Brazilian living in Germany, to speak in Finland with an audience that will certainly be very diverse, we are contributing to this future of global connections, partnerships and joint action against racism by people who suffer from racism in different contexts.
We are doing this to shape the future of anti-racism – it is a form of activism involving people who suffer from racism from different backgrounds in Brazil, in Finland and in other countries.
Leonardo “Léo” Custódio is a Brazilian Ph.D. in Social Sciences (University of Tampere, Finland). He is interested in interdisciplinary approaches to social movements, anti-racism activism, media activism and activist research. His book Favela Media Activism: Counterpublics for Human Rights in Brazil was published in 2017.
The Anti-Racism Media Activist Alliance (ARMA) is a collaborative initiative (2018-2020) coordinated by Black people in Finland to promote dialogue and activities between researchers and racialized activists – specially Black, Sami, Romani and other non-white social groups – about anti-racism media activism in the Finnish society and other countries. ARMA Alliance has three fundamental principles: knowledge exchange, creative publishing and international networking.
Interview and text BY