Much ado has been made about Globo's decision to cut a scene of a gay kiss from one of its most popular novelas, watched by millions across Brazil. When writers announced their intention to include the scene, there was an immediate backlash, and Globo execs nixed the idea. Allegedly, one of the main reasons was not necessarily that Brazilians weren't "ready" to see a gay couple kiss, but that advertisers would threaten to remove commericals during primetime slots. But it's not the first time it's happened. As Anderson Antunes wrote about the episode on South American Way:
"It’s at least the fifth time that Globo has bowed down to conservative pressures and back-peddled on decisions to air homosexual content. At one point Globo went so far as to censor a scene from an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer Simpson kisses his long-time friend Moe."
But last week, in what some believe is the writers' way of avenging their censorship, the show took a different turn: one of the gay characters was beaten to death by a gang of homophobes. (Globo has removed the few videos that were uploaded to Youtube.)
The chilling scene wasn't just an indictment of censorship; it unfortunately reflected reality. Beatings of gays, or of people attackers believe to be gay, continually appear in the news. The most recent case was of a young man who was attacked in downtown Rio de Janeiro in broad daylight by a group of men who thought he was gay. But one of the most publicized cases was that of a father and son who were attacked in São Paulo state in July, since attackers believed them to be a gay couple. The father was brutally beaten until he passed out, and during the attack screamed "He's my son! He's my son!" When he woke up, part of his ear had been torn off, supposedly from human teeth. He had an initial surgery to address injuries to his ear, but will need several plastic surgeries to repair the tissue, and the victim says he probably will not be able to afford them. Meanwhile, police apprehended two suspects, who were brought in and questioned, and one confessed, though he claimed the crime "wasn't motivated by sexual discrimination." Despite the confession, a judge ruled not to imprison the two aggressors, who have now been freed. After the incident, the father commented, "Is it possible that a father can't hug his son?"
Though Brazil's highest court legalized gay unions in May, public opinion has not dramatically shifted. An Ibope survey from July found that 55 percent of Brazilians are against gay civil unions. It also found that 55 percent of Brazilians are against gay couples adopting children. Unsurprisingly though, the survey found that those most accepting of gay unions are those with higher levels of education, higher income levels, and those who live in more developed areas of the country. Also, women were more likely than men to accept gay unions. The biggest influencing factor seemed to be age: 60 percent of 16 to 24 year-olds said they supported gay unions, compared to 39 percent of those between age 40 and 49 and only 27 percent of those 50 and older.
After the STF's historic decision, conservative groups began planning. The right wing Democrats Party proposed a bill in the São Paulo city council to create a "Heterosexual Pride Day" as a counter to the city's Gay Pride celebrations. As Andrew Downie wrote in the Christian Science Monitor:
"[Carlos Apolinário, the man who proposed the bill] did, however, feel compelled to make a symbolic move to shore up Brazil’s eroding “morals." Mr. Apolinário, who has the support of Brazil’s powerful Protestant church lobby, said, 'The creation of Heterosexual Day does not symbolize a struggle against gays but against what I believe are excesses and privileges.'"
Gay rights groups are up in arms, and argue that the proposed "holiday" was "in extremely poor taste." Then this past week, hackers attacked the Apolinário's site, making it redirect to a page protesting the bill and describing abuses against gays in Brazil.
But does it really matter what plot lines Globo uses in novelas, especially in reference to tolerance? There's evidence that novelas may have an impact on changing attitudes, and even on development. An Inter-American Development Bank study found that women living in regions with access to Globo had "significantly lower fertility" than women without access to Globo, and concluded that women tended to model their families after novela characters, who had fewer children. The effect was strongest amongst women with lower incomes, and those with similar ages to the novela characters.
It's very hard to tell what kind of impact Globo could have by featuring more positive scenes of gay couples. But it seems inevitable, and it's only a matter of time before network executives realize that audiences are ready for whatever keeps them coming back to watch six nights a week.