RIO DE JANEIRO – Dressed in a fitted white designer shirt, Sílvio Guindane stood beneath a chandelier on a grand wrought iron staircase and smiled confidently. Below, a set of ornate drinking glasses sat next to a collection of spirit bottles. Above, framed monochrome prints and color landscapes adorned the walls.
It is an archetypal image of upper middle class Brazil. And for good reason as this is the set of “Vitória,” one of the country’s ubiquitous novelas, the phenomenally popular soap operas that for more than 50 years have thrived on the country’s major television networks — often by portraying lavish lifestyles beyond the means of most viewers.
There is just one thing that is unusual: Guindane, 31, who plays a successful engineer, is black.
Just over 50 percent of Brazil’s population is black or mixed race, yet for decades such characters have rarely been seen on novelas, which frequently depicted a society that was almost exclusively white. If black Brazilians did land roles, they portrayed maids, thieves or drug dealers – overtly bad characters or marginal ones who disappeared after a few episodes. Now a rising black middle class is helping to change that.
“When I started, about 20 years ago, I was often regarded as the black actor. Today, I am just an actor,” Guindane said. He had finished filming a scene in which his character, Paulo Henrique, confides in his best friend, who is white, about the end of a relationship. The scene would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.
Guindane’s debut role, as a 12-year-old, was in the film How Angels Are Born. He played a stereotypical favela kid who becomes involved in the kidnapping of an American. But Brazil has changed, and so too have its soap operas, which at peak times can attract audiences of up to 40 million people per episode.