Bahia is Brazil’s blackest state but you’d never guess it from latest TV soap

The telenovela Segundo Sol has an almost entirely white cast despite being set in a place where 80% are black or mixed race

Brazils latest hit TV show fulfils many of the elements you might expect in a telenovela: family feuds, romance, betrayal and beachside locations.

But critics say something is still missing.

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Despite being set in Brazils blackest state, Segundo Sol, or Second Sun, has a cast which is almost entirely white. The show has reignited a longstanding debate about race and representation on Brazilian television and prompted action from the countrys Labour Prosecution Service.

Segundo Sol, which premiered this week on Brazils dominant O Globo TV network, tells the fictional tale of a decadent musician who when mistakenly thought dead in a plane crash goes into hiding so his indebted family can cash in on his posthumous success.

The story takes place in in Bahia state, where nearly 80% of the population identifies as black or mixed race according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.

Yet just three of the shows 27 actors are black; none of them play a main character and none appeared in the first episode.

What persists very strongly in the minds of the producers and directors is the idea that the black and Afro-descendant population is the minority: the whitening ideology continues, said Joel Zito Arajo, author of the book and documentary The Denial of Brazil Blacks in the history of Brazilian Telenovelas.

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Young
Young boys and girls in the old district of Bahias capital, Salvador. Eighty percent of Bahias population identify as black or mixed race. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Last Sunday marked 130 years since the official end of slavery in Brazil, the country that imported the highest number of slaves from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade period.

As many as 54% of Brazilians identify as black or mixed race. But critics have long maintained that black and mixed-raced people are underrepresented on Brazilian television and in real-life institutions such as business and government.

Ahead of the launch of Segundo Sol, Brazils Labour Prosecution Service issued a recommendation document to O Globo, urging that the cast of Segundo Sol be reviewed. When television programs do not mirror society, it generates increased exclusion and reaffirms limited stereotypes for the black population, the body said.

Segundo Sol first stirred controversy when a two-minute trailer was released in April, prompting sharp criticisms over the lack of black representation.

When I was in Africa and said that the population here was majority black, people didnt believe me because they watch O Globo novelas. Globo must think that there are not many black people here, right? posted one Facebook user.

In a statement, O Globo said: We are attentive, listening and following these comments, and we still have less representativeness than we would like and we will work to evolve with this issue.

The row over Segundo Sol comes three years after O Globo won praise for broadcasting the countrys first show to feature wealthy black characters. Mister Brau was a musical sitcom about the culture clash between a black nouveau-riche pop star duo and their snobbish white neighbours.

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