By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Tuesday, November 3rd, the Delegacia de Repressão a Crimes de Informática/DRCI (Police for the Suppression of the Computer Crimes) a department of the of the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro, opened an investigation to determine if comments left on Afro-Brazilian actress Tais Araújo’s Facebook page profile picture were racist or racial slurs, both punishable crimes in Brazil.
The incident began on October 31st when after posting an image of herself with natural hair as her Facebook profile picture, Araújo’s post was flooded with both offensive and later, supportive comments. There are over 16,000 comments at the time of this report. Some of the original negative comments, when roughly translated from Portuguese, read “Who posted the picture of this gorilla on Facebook”; “Lend my your hair I want to wash the dishes”; “I did not know the zoo had a camera”; and “How can someone find that hair beautiful.”
In Brazil, both racism and racial slurs are considered crimes. Those found guilty of racial slurs can face up to three years in prison, while racism is a considered a more serious crime and came be punishable with up to five years in prison.
“The Internet is not a blank page, you can not publish anything irresponsibly,” Alessandro Thiers, the delegate investigating the comments told Agência Brasil. “Posting on the internet generates a responsibility. A person can be held accountable not only for the crime, but also for moral damage or anything else.”
During the weekend the offensive comments caused outrage on social media, leading to the creation of the hashtag #SomosTodosTaísAraújo (#WeAreAllTaísAraújo), in support of Araújo.
A well-known actress, Araújo at the age of seventeen stared in the Rede Manchete novela (primetime soap opera), “Xica da Silva.” That role made her the first black actress to play the lead in a Brazilian novela.
During the years that followed, Araújo has appeared in multiple novelas including “Da Cor do Pecado”, “Cheias de Charme” and most recently, “Mister Brau,” an O Globo network novella in which Araújo and her real life husband, actor Lázaro Ramos play a middle-class Afro-Brazilian couple, also a first for a Brazilian novella.
The now thirty-six-old Araújo has also worked in films as well as theater productions. During the weekend of the Facebook post and the uproar that followed, Aráujo was performing in the Teatro Faap, in São Paulo, as part of cast of the play “O Top o da Montanha,” an adaption of the American play “The Mountaintop.” In the production, Araújo plays the maid Camae and her husband Lázaro Ramos plays Martin Luther King Jr.
On Sunday, November 1st Araújo responded to the offensive comments, by posting on Facebook; “It is very boring, in 2015, to still have to talk about it, but we can’t be quiet: last night, I received a series of racist attacks on my page. Absolutely everything is registered and will be sent to the federal police.”
Adding, “And I won’t delete any of those comments. I hope that all will feel the same as I felt: the shame to still have cowardly and small people in the country, in addition to the feeling of shame that people are so poor of spirit. I’m not going to be intimidated, don’t bow your head. I will do what I do best: work. If my image or the image of my family bothers you, the problem is yours only!”
“Due to irony of fate or not,” Araújo continued, “this occurred at the time when I was on the stage of the Faap theatre performing “O Top o da Montanha,” a work about none other than Martin Luther King Jr. A work that is precisely about affection, tolerance and equality. I would like to invite you, you little coward, to see and hear what we have to say. I think you’re really needed to hear some things about love.”
“I thank the thousands who came to support, denounced the others, and showed the world that any form of prejudice is tacky and criminal,” Araújo concluded. “And I want this episode to serve as an example: whenever you encounter any form of discrimination, report it. Do not be silent, show that you are not ashamed to be who you are and continue to bother the cowards. Only then will we build a more civilized Brazil. My only answer to that is love!”
The investigation into the offensive comments and the collection of data by the DRCI are reportedly ongoing.