Black activists are up in arms after a white one-time Big Brother star was cast to play the role of a former slave who later became considered a Brazilian state’s first black lawyer.
Former Big Brother Brasil finalist Gyselle Soares, 37, failed to win her critics over when she said “I consider myself all colours, colourless” after her casting as Esperanca Garcia.
Garcia was a former slave who went on to be considered the first black lawyer in the north-eastern Brazilian state of Piaui, whose capital, Teresina, Soares was born in.
According to a 2013 autosomal study, slavery in Brazil left its largest imprint on the North East Region, with African ancestry comprising 28 percent of samples from the region.
Black activists staged a protest outside the Theatro 4 de Setembro in central Teresina, where Soares is set to play the starring role in the production ‘Uma escrava chamada Esperanca’ (‘A slave called Esperanca [Hope]’).
Sonia Terra, an activist from the Rede de Mulheres Negras do Piaui (Piaui Black Women’s Network), said the casting of Soares as Garcia represents the “whitewashing of a black person”.
She said: “Children who go to watch the show will think Esperanca Garcia is a white person.”
Soares, who is French-Brazilian and has worked previously as an actress in both Brazil and France, hit back at her critics, saying: “People must say what they think, we must respect their right to reply, and it’s important for me as an actress to be able to play any role, I can be what I want, if I want to be a lioness, I’ll be a lioness, if I want to be a slave, I’ll be a slave and play the role beautifully.
“I consider myself all colours, colourless, a human being with a heart that can feel everything, everyone. We inhabit the world, we’re all the same, our skin has no colour, our heart has no colour, we can’t define ourselves like that.”
The play’s director, Valdson Braga, has defended his casting of Soares in the role. He said he even reached out to black activist organisations before she was cast, but they never replied. The protesters, however, denied being contacted by the director.
Garcia was a black woman enslaved on the Algodoes farm near the town of Oeiras in Piaui.
She became known after she wrote a letter to the governor of the Captaincy of Piaui, denouncing the suffering she was going through in her masters’ house. In the text written on 6th September 1770, she asked the government to take action.
According to Brazilian jurists and historians, the document, which was found in the public archive of Piaui in 1979, can be considered a petition, as it presents important legal elements.
In September 2017, 247 years after the letter was written, at the request of the Truth Commission on Black Slavery in Piaui, Esperanca Garcia was recognised by the Brazilian Bar Association Piaui Chapter as the first lawyer from the state.