Brazilian melodrama raises issues that are ‘social minefields’

January 2005 -

The Brazilian television series Senhora do Destino (‘Woman of Destiny’) does not shy away from controversial issues. For months now, Brazil’s newest soap has kept millions of Brazilians enthralled.

Eleonora is a medical student who is in a relationship with Jenifer. One evening, she finds an abandoned baby in the hospital grounds, which she and Jenifer decide to adopt. This is naturally going to cause problems, as Jenifer and Eleonora are lesbian and the baby is black. Matters are further complicated by a heterosexual couple who join the fight for custody.

Real-life problems follow hot on the heels of each other in Senhora do Destino, written by veteran soap author Aguinaldo Silva. Just as in every TV novella, the series revolves around the contrasts between rich and poor, but Senhora do Destino goes a bit further. For instance, the lesbian couple are allowed to enjoy a full onscreen kiss, and viewers are shown the world of corrupt politicians.

Brazilian TV became a mass medium earlier than it did in other developing countries. One reason for this is that the military regime that seized power in 1964 saw TV as an important means of creating a strong national identity. A satellite network was established and the production of national programmes encouraged. Nowadays, TV Globo, which produces Senhora do Destino, is the fourth largest commercial network in the world.

In the early days, the Brazilians imported the scripts from neighbouring countries. The turning point came in 1968 with Beto Rockefeller, the adventures of a bon vivant from Rio de Janeiro. After this, the TV novellas became 100% Brazilian. Major theatre actors and serious writers such as Jorge Amado agree to work for soap productions. In recent years, it has become increasingly common for soaps to discuss issues that are social minefields. In fact, in Brazilian culture, the melodrama has become a discussion forum for political and social problems.