“Black Panther” Is Inspiring Black Brazilians to Occupy Elite, White Shopping Malls

Juliana Gonçalves, The Intercept, February 22, 2018

“How different. Exotic,” commented one women as she watched a group of almost 50 people — mostly young and black, many wearing bright fabrics with African designs — stroll through the Shopping Leblon mall. They came this Monday to participate in a rolezinho pretoi, roughly translated to “black stroll,” and watch the film “Black Panther” in Rio de Janeiro’s most exclusive shopping center, a place where black Brazilians are commonly employed, but are rarely seen as customers. {snip}

Much of the hype around “Black Panther” focuses on black professionals occupying positions in Hollywood that are usually dominated by whites, from heroic lead to producer to director. As tribute to that fact, the organizers of the rolezinho preto, the Black Collective (Coletivo Preto) and the Grupo Emú, chose the whitest and most elitist spaces in one of Rio’s toniest neighborhoods to stage a group viewing of the movie. The event also protested the lack of black professionals in Brazil’s entertainment industry. A survey by the National Cinema Agency, Ancine, revealed that only 7 percent of professionals in the field are black in a nation in which the majority of citizens have African ancestry.

Rolezinhos are not new to Brazil. {snip} Young, mostly dark-skinned residents of the city’s poor and working class neighborhoods on the urban periphery would take a sometimes one- or two- hour train or bus ride to shopping centers in the bougiest enclaves and just go for a walkabout. In some cases, thousands showed up, much to the horror of Brazil’s white elite, whose ever-present racial and class-based fears were palpable. Malls, including Shopping Leblon, closed down in anticipation of these protests. Others were broken up with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Across Latin America, the wealthy, hyper-segregated segments societies flock to shopping malls for respite from the crime, grit, and disorder that they either benefit from or directly perpetuate. These sparkling sanctuaries of consumerism have become quasi-religious shrines to Brazilian racial and class divides. Many Brazilians claim that the society is not racist, but reactions to the rolezinhos, the attempt to impede young, dark-skinned boys and men from enjoying Rio de Janeiro’s beaches in wealthy neighborhoods back in 2015 and other daily offenses are evidence of how that claim rings hollow.

As one unidentified person, interviewed by EFE Brasil in 2014 during the thwarted rolezinho outside of Shopping Leblon, put it:

I think that the rolezinhos reveal how racist the Brazilian society and elite actually are. They reveal a fear that is unjustifiable. They reveal that as long as Brazilian racism is able to ‘keep everyone in their places’ there is no problem. {snip}

Four years after the peak of rolezinhos, the “Black Panther” gatherings have rekindled this legacy. {snip}

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However, many of those in attendance felt this dynamic does not overwhelm the symbolic conquest of the film. “The great message of this film is that we have to write, we have to produce, we have to unite and do it together,” explained Licínio Januário, one of the organizers of the Leblon rolezinho.

That reaction is one felt both in the United States and Brazil. One video circulating on Facebook shows a black American man’s reaction to seeing the film’s promotional poster on display: “This is how white people feel the whole time,” he says. “If this is what y’all feel like all the time I would love this country, too.”

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