7858 - Grande Otelo in three acts: the social production of difference through the trajectory of the most famous black Brazilian actor (1917-1993)

This paper aims to present an analysis of the trajectory of Grande Otelo, one of the most famous black Brazilian actors. His biography serves as a telling case, not only because Otelo traversed different periods of Brazilian cinema, but also because he experienced – and positioned himself within – distinct moments of the debate on race in the country: from the exaltation of a mestizo nationality from the 1930s to the 1950s to the mobilizations led by the black movements against racism at the 1970s.  

Through the analysis of his press interviews and of contemporaneous sources, the recurrence of stereotypes in Otelo’s characters can be observed, along with his repositioning in relation to the debate on race in Brazil. While the slogan for his candidacy in the 1958 elections shows him to be an adherent of “Racial Democracy,” in the early 1970s he denounces racial discrimination, reinterpreting his own trajectory in light of the prejudice that he suffered. Despite this change, the range of characters that he played broadened little; this fact becomes especially evident when one analyzes the way in which the intersection of certain social markers – such as race, stature, age group, and class – was imbued in his roles, which reiterated a recurring image of a wily young rascal. Marked by his roles and his comedic characters of the 1940s and 1950s, Otelo makes a belated entry into the New Cinema productions of the 1960s, losing space to other black actors such as Antonio Pitanga, who reflected the image of a politically active black person in consonance with the social demands of the time. Only in 1969, with the film Macunaíma , does Otelo gain a certain space in this cinematographic movement, reinterpreting his typecast role of wily rascal from a new angle.  

An examination of Grande Otelo’s path leads to reflection about how blacks bodies representations converse with fundamental transformations in the debate on race in Brazil.

Palabras claves: Black Brazilian actor, Brazilian Cinema, body representation, race debate

Autores: Hirano, Luis (University of São Paulo, Brazil / Brasilien)


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