Every night besides Sunday night, you can find me on the couch from 6:00 to 7:00, and then 9:00 to 10:30 to watch my two favorite Brazilian soap operas. My host family jokes that I’m an addicted noveleira, and if I miss one episode I get nervous and ask everyone at my apprenticeship to fill me in on what happened. It isn’t really a strenuous quest to get an answer since almost everyone watches them, even if it’s not as religiously as I do. Although I follow each winding story line more studiously than I listened to many lectures in high school, I’ve become uneasy at the portrayal of several different minority groups in these country-wide epics, the main one being homosexuals.
In Fina Estampa, the current most popular and most dramatic novela that is airing nightly all over Brazil, the main antagonist (Tereza Cristina) has a gay assistant that follows her wherever she goes named Crodoaldo. Crodoaldo, an overacted caricature of a gay man, is treated deplorably by his employer and frequently abused verbally with names that include slave, butterfly, idiot gay, and other untranslatable slurs for gays. While this may seem to put an evil face to homophobia, the rest of the characters treat him similarly, including the saintly Griselda and her family who are all steadfast protagonists. No matter where I watch, there is always someone laughing at the plight of Crodoaldo and almost always using the feminine pronouns when referring to him.
These novellas, as dramatic and frivolous as they are, cannot be dismissed as nothing but a television show. The book “Half the Sky” describes the sweeping effects of these novellas a study done by a development economist on the spread of viewers across Brazil. When Rede Globo, the television network that produces these novellas, spread into rural areas where birthrates were very high, a trend began to appear where women began to have less children. This was accredited to women watching these novellas where the women had much smaller families and wanting to emulate their lifestyle. This study alone proves how powerful a nightly show can be when it appeals to a large population. So why not use this air time to promote more compassion along with having smaller families?
The accepted view on homosexuality with the majority of people I have met here is against homosexuals. A surprisingly frequent topic of conversation that I overhear when working at my host family’s snack kiosk is the few gay people in town and how they will not be accepted into Heaven. Along with my limited Portuguese, my duty to my host family to not draw even more attention stops me from being able to cry out against the insults hurled at the few who have drawn up the courage to be public about their sexuality in a country where separation of church and state does not exist.
But no one can blame people for their views, and values cannot be adopted out of the blue when your family traditions have taught you otherwise. Most of the people who I’ve been able to get to know that have made statements such as the former are intelligent, warm, and patient with my slow ice cream scooping. I can’t consciously condemn every person I’ve heard make a homophobic statement, which is why I would love to see a change in the way these novellas portray different minority groups. The smallest change can make a big difference in a population’s perspective, just as a big population has changed mine.