Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 223-225
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Black Brazil: Culture, Identity, and Social Mobilization
Black Brazil: Culture, Identity, and Social Mobilization, byLarry Crook and Randal Johnson. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Studies Center, 1999. 400 pp.
In its interdisciplinary breadth, compelling depth, and thematic focus, Black Brazil: Culture, Identity, and Social Mobilization provides, in a single volume, what most learned associations aspire to produce after a major conference. And a conference it was: held at the University of Florida, Gainesville, in April 1993, on the same theme, it brought together a mix of scholars, activists, and artists from across the Atlantic. As the editors point out, "Black Brazil's cultural practices are not only necessary in order for Brazil to become truly democratic, but they are also absolutely essential in order to mobilize the mass population of Afro-Brazilians" (9). This collection not only legitimizes the relevance of Afro-Brazilians and their culture in the humanities and social sciences, it equally provides new research directions in Brazilian and African Diaspora Studies as contributors grapple with the persistence of racism in a culturally diverse, rich, yet contradictory country. All of these issues are well captured in the subtitle; for how can there be social mobilization when a significant portion of the country is marginalized and only celebrated either yearly during carnival, or during more frequent cultural manifestations such as Capoeira, Candomblé, Bumba-Meu-Boi, among others? Mobilization for whom, by whom, and for what purpose? Some of these questions are profoundly addressed in the nineteen essays as well as the introduction by the editors.
The six-part book design confirms the richness and diversity of the topics while extending the scope beyond academic orientation to views from politicians, activists, and cultural producers. Part one, "Voices from the Black Movement" (15-58), enlists Benedita da Silva, Thereza Santos, Antônio Pitanga, João Jorge Santos Rodrigues, and Maria José do Espírito in a discussion of how racism affects Afro-Brazilians and the different political strategies they employ to ensure equality, decency, and respect. Part two, "Perspectives on Race, Class, and Culture" (59-101), provides two [End Page 223] complementary views on the sociology and anthropology of stratification and modernization while emphasizing the limits of cultural resistance to socioeconomic stagnation and racial stereotypes. Part three, perhaps one of the most compelling, "Brazil/Africa" (103-97), puts together three seminal essays by Anani Dzidzienyo, Henry John Drewal, and Femi Ojo-Ade where myths confront realities in terms of racial relations within Brazil as well as between Brazil and Africa. Drewal's essay, which may conveniently be located in the sixth part on "visual media," examines not only the dynamic survival of Yoruba sacred artistry and mythology in Brazil but its function as a binding agency between both cultures.
The second section of the book explores views on religion, cultural manifestations, and visual arts. Part four, "Religions, Culture, and Resistance" (199-245), brings together perspectives on religions such as Candomblé, Umbanda, and Pentecostalism as seen by three anthropologists, Júlio Braga, Diana DeG. Brown, and John Burdick. Part five, another compelling section, "Music, Carnival, and Identity" (247-310), sums up how cultural manifestations such as carnival and popular music are becoming more and more a source of resistance and affirmation of identity, as seen by Antônio Risério, José Jorge de Carvalho, and Kazadi Wa Mukuna. The final part, "Blacks in the Visual Media" (311-75), focuses on an aspect of Brazilian culture that is beginning to catch the attention of scholars in recent times: images of Afro-Brazilians on the screen and on television. Robert Stam, Denise Ferreira da Silva, and Michael Leslie offer incisive views into Afro-Brazilian religion, Brazilian soap opera (Telenovelas), and commercial television as they represent blacks stereotypical roles.
While these essays have been written by established and key players in the field, their contents balance first-hand experiences, interviews, and research, hence a stimulating and informative array of cultural, political, and aesthetic realities especially as they concern issues of race, identity, and spirituality...