Ancient Myth in Brazilian Cinematography: Black Orpheus

  • Lada Stevanović Institute of Ethnography SASA, Belgrade
Orpheus, Black Orpheus, antiquity, colonialism, film, Brazil


The paper deals with two film adaptations of the myth of Orpheus that were made in Brazil in 1959 and 1999. In view of the fact that in both films Orpheus appears as Afro-Brazilian, these two versions of the myth may be related to Sartre’s concept of Black Orpheus, and the movement of Negritude that appeared in Paris in the 1930s as an answer of the black francophone intellectuals to racial myths and colonial stereotypes. Regarding the fact that the European attitude towards ancient Greece is also characteristic of another kind of colonialism that is cultural, based on the claim of exclusive right to this past, the ancient myth that often appears only as a mirror of this relationship, functions in these films as a space for subversion and resistance to different types of colonial power. The films that are the focus of this paper are Black Orpheus (1959) directed by Marcel Camus, which is a French-Italian-Brazilian co-production, and Orpheus (1999) by Carlos Diegues, an entirely Brazilian production. Both films were inspired by the theatrical play written by Vinícius de Moraes, Orfeu da Conceição (1953). Although he himself participated in the production of Camus’s Black Orpheus, in the end he refused to be credited because in the film, the main idea of his drama was lost, which was to show Afro-Brazilians as the main protagonists of the Greek myth pointing out injustices and difficulties of Afro-Brazilian people in social reality, but also in the context of cultural and racial hegemony that clearly claimed the ancient Greek myth to be the heritage of European white men.  Similarly, disappointed, Carlos Diegues decided to make another film together with Vinícius de Moraes. However, the plan was interrupted by Moraes death in 1980, but Diegues succeeded in filming it in 1999. The paper compares the two films focusing on the question to which extent these films challenge or confirm European cultural elitism, racial stereotypes and class inequalities.


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How to Cite
Stevanović, Lada. 2020. “Ancient Myth in Brazilian Cinematography: Black Orpheus”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 15 (2), 401–416.