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In Conversation with Aldri Anunciação
The Pain of Colonization

For Brazilian playwright, actor, and director, Aldri Anunciação, Black cultures of the world come together because of identity. This is evident, for example, in literature, theater, or cinema. In an anthology of Black US, Brazilian, and European fiction, “all of them are talking about the same subject.”

Aldri Anunciação believes that Black theater in Brazil has always been a space for disrupting racism in the country. For the playwright, actor, and director, “Brazilian identity, which is in crisis, is a mesh, a patchwork quilt.” In his stories, the artist proposes what he calls a “drama-debate,” where this Afro-Brazilian identity is both introduced and questioned. The author of the 2012 play, Namíbia, não! (Namibia, no!), Anunciação saw his show go from the stage to the movie screen in Medida provisória (international title Executive Order), a fictional feature-film released in 2022 which was the second highest grossing domestic film of the year in Brazil. In an interview, the director talks about Black theater, identities, and overcoming racism.

Aldri Anunciação, the issue of representation of Black people in Brazilian arts is very current. Particularly in the dramatic arts, it is still very common to find resistance to casting Black people in leading roles. What does Black theater represent for you?

The theater is a space where you introduce something uncomfortable to the reality in which you are inserted — I’m talking about the creator as well as the spectator. Nobody goes to the theater just to feel good about the reality they are living in. People go to the theater to try to find out why they feel this existential, social and/or even aesthetic discomfort. So, the theater is the uncomfortable place. As much as it has its comic configurations, it’s a space that brings together “failed” characters, troubled subjectivities.

Brazilian theater brings that crossing of colonized culture, it brings all that conscious or subconscious discomfort of a colonization that is still imposed—both economically and culturally. Black theater, even though its history is not completely made official through academic institutionalization or visible in media, brings all these qualities together. And its unfolding is still taking shape because it is going through the pain of colonization, which exceeds that of non-black Brazilians, since it is going through the structural and institutional racism we are still experiencing today.
From the movie “Medida provisória” [“Executive Order”]. Alfred Enoch (left), Taís Araújo and Seu Jorge (right) From the movie “Medida provisória” [“Executive Order”]. Alfred Enoch (left), Taís Araújo and Seu Jorge (right) | Photo: Mariana Vianna

More about the Movie

Medida Provisória (Executive Order) is a film by director Lázaro Ramos based on Aldri Anunciação’s play Namíbia, Não! The film is set in a dystopian Brazil in the not-too-distant future. Antonio, a lawyer, sues the authoritarian Brazilian government for reparations for all descendants of African slaves. In response, the government orders that all citizens of African descent be forcibly sent to Africa. The order results in a hunt by the police and the military. Antonio joins a resistance group that fights against this injustice.

“Namíbia, Não!” speaks to an urgent debate going on in Brazil. Its adaptation to the screen, the film “Executive Order” (2022), confirmed this. Could you talk a little about this world where “people with accentuated melanin” are being hunted, captured, and sent “back” to the African continent?

I would like to return to the question: why does fiction exist? Because both the author and the spectator or reader are uncomfortable with the reality in which they live. There is something bad about this reality and that is why people write fiction. Executive Order brings this allegorical perspective, which is what people are experiencing in various places across the country and around the world. The “provisional measure” [literal translation of the film title] is something that has existed for a long time in Brazil, from when you’re invited to leave some places or when you cannot get into some professional or social spaces. All that is awful.

The space of fiction is a space for presenting crisis.

Brazil is a patchwork quilt. We are made up of very diverse peoples, and that diversity is our creative and economic power. I think that it’s a great lack of wisdom not to include these bodies and these consumers in the economic fabric. Economic exclusion is synonymous with a great lack of wisdom. The “provisional measure” is an allegory of all of this, of these small measures of exclusion that we experience daily.

On the heels of building a national identity that would unify the Brazilian people, how does rescuing “Negritude”, “Pan-Africanism” and “Amefricanity” contribute to a reclaiming of an Afro-Brazilian identity (or various Afro-Brazilian identities)?

The space of fiction is a space for presenting crisis. Black identity has great potential for fiction because it is an identity in crisis. If you put American, Brazilian, and European fiction in a compendium, in a single anthology, you will see that all of them are talking about the same subject, strengthening one another. The film Executive Order, for example, is creating the possibility for dialogue with screenwriters from several other places. We won the best screenplay award at the Pan African Film Festival – so you can understand that we are talking about the same subject, and that there is unique power in this.
From the movie “Medida provisória” [“Executive Order”]. Alfred Enoch and Taís Araújo From the movie “Medida provisória” [“Executive Order”]. Alfred Enoch and Taís Araújo | Photo: Mariana Vianna Is it possible to talk about Afro-Brazilian identity and overcoming racism? How do you approach these issues in your works?

For me, in the sense of a crossroads, Exu [the Afro-Brazilian deity], is the most emblematic figure to situate Brazilian identity because the deity is a cultural crossroads, where you receive all peoples in a formative way. This means that it is possible to speak of an Afro-Brazilian identity, but not in the sense of postulations, as in “this is that.” I bring this to my works and present issues that I call “drama-debates.”

Based on the thinking of William Edward Burghardt “W.E. B.” Du Bois (1868–1963), when he talks about the “double consciousness” of the black individual, who understands himself as either Black or American, we can also think of a double consciousness in the sense that “am I Brazilian or am I Black?” You’re both!  The Brazilian is a bit caught up in this duplicity of meaning. If you take the Black individual, thinking about the issue of African and Brazilian ancestry, it is possible to understand Afro-Brazilianness based on this duplicity.

Brazil has been going through a unique time politically, we are seeing a rise in extremist, racist, and conservative movements, which have given power to hate speech, hateful acts, and violence. How do you see this wave of appropriation of national symbols, such as the flag, by the extreme right? How does one rescue this “national identity?”

I see this as a kind of game, not looking at it like “oh, they stole the national flag.” That is what was took shape at that moment. Brazil actually elected the president [Jair Bolsonaro]. So, it means that the national flag subscribed to that type of extremist organization, however, I do not see it as theft, I see it as an articulation of a symbolic game. Symbols are created artificially or spontaneously. It is important to be part of them, to go back to having the courage to use the green and yellow in the streets without being confused, to rescue the flag to add new meanings to it.

From now on, let’s create a new story.

It’s not about accusing someone of theft. They [Editor’s note: supporters of conservative and extremist movements] are also Brazilian and can use it as they wish. Now, we can think: how do we empower these symbols? Perhaps by bringing people, fiction writers, together, creating works that dialogue with this symbolic redemption. From now on [Editor’ note: the election of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva], let’s create a new story. Let’s give new meaning to these places and colors. My greatest hope is that the crises of Black identity be determined by this new symbolism. And I hope to be able to contribute through fiction so that this can increasingly take shape.