She perfumes herself and caresses herself with creams day and night while getting very emotional about this thing, of gradually returning to the “feel of a normal life”. She is frustrated, however, with her injured knee, which has recently deprived her of her daily four-kilometer run and kept her away from Pilates. At 77, actress and singer Zezé Motta celebrates her vanity and rebels against what she calls dictatorship of acceptance. “If people call you old and you accept it, you really get old. For now, I’m fighting the limits”, he cries, with the same firmness with which he engaged in the struggle of black movements since the beginning of his career, 40 years ago, when a word, a raised fist, a frown cost much more than the possible end of a work trajectory.
With more than 35 novels, 40 films and 14 records in his curriculum, Zezé opened up spaces for black artists in the seventies, eighties and nineties and made history in dramaturgy by starring xica da Silva, in the 1976 film by Cacá Diegues. While playing in front of the cameras the enslaved black woman converted into a madame, the actress claimed in the streets of real life her black power, the beauty of his broad nose, his traces of ancestry. That’s what, at that moment, she hadn’t heard the words of Lélia Gonzalez that would mark her for the rest of her life: “We don’t have time for whining anymore. We have to roll up our sleeves and turn this game around”, said the exponent of black feminism, in 1980, in a class at Parque Lage, in the same Rio de Janeiro where Zezé grew up, feeling, since she was little, that there was something “out of order” in the world.
During her adolescence, she lived in a lower middle class building in Leblon, where “blacks, whites and even people who thought they were white but weren’t white” mixed together, this discomfort began to take shape. “My classmates said my nose was flat, my ass was big, and my hair was bad. With no intention of offending, they ran their hands over my black and they said: ‘Wow, it looks like a wickerwork, why don’t you smooth it out?’ I felt really inferior and ugly”, she remembers. To make herself more beautiful, she started to straighten her hair and saved money to buy a haircut wig. chanel, success at the time. He even thought about buying green contact lenses and researched the existence of plastic surgeries to reduce butt. “I went through a phase of complete denial of my origins.” Until he found the words of Lélia Gonzalez and decided to travel to the United States in 1969, at the height of the movement black is beautiful. “I saw those beautiful black people with their heads held high, and that helped me a lot in rethinking my own racial issues. I was much safer, even as an actress”, she says.
In addition to establishing her name in the history of Brazilian art, along with others such as Ruth de Souza, Antônio Pitanga and Grande Otelo, Zezé Motta always put her militancy at the service of her peers and created in 1984, alongside her colleagues, the Information Center and Documentação do Artista Negro (Cidan), a catalog for Brazilian actors of African descent around the world, which benefited more than 500 artists. It was also in reverence to all of them that she returned to the stage to present, on July 25th, the musical Zezé Motta – Black woman, to commemorate Black Women’s Day, instituted to honor quilombola leader Tereza de Benguela. There, she was beside the writer Conceição Evaristo, the philosopher Djamila Ribeiro, the singer Iza and the influencer and former BBC Camilla de Lucas, whose core of work, for all, is, in one way or another, black feminism . “The new generation says I’m an inspiration to them, that they have a lot to learn from me, but actually I think I learn more from them. The artist, after all, cannot remain stagnant, she has to keep up with time”, says Zezé, with his open, sincere and modest smile. It is in this spirit that she reflects on the importance of the ancestral words of her own generation, shouted in protests in the streets, staircases or classrooms, being broadcast today on social networks and on television. “It’s just a matter of being attentive to see that Camilla de Lucas, for example, echoes these speeches.”
Zezé Motta knows himself to be the protagonist of history, but he does not claim for himself vanities beyond his own care for his body and well-being. I laugh a lot when it is remembered, for example, that Grande Othello said in the documentary La femme enchantee, of 1987, that she is the “expression of the Brazilian people”.
“About compliments, I always say that we hope they come and that we should be grateful when they do. But boasting myself, without false modesty, is not part of my temper. I’m very self-critical. I never think I’ve done much”, he reveals.
About the many threats to art and democracy itself in current times, Zezé Motta is categorical: “Democracy in Brazil has never been and will never be as long as racism is the pillar of our country, of our society. I have always denied the fallacy of racial democracy and I remember that when we started talking about a black movement to fight racism in Brazil, they said that we were importing a problem from the United States. They said that to me, I belong to the time when blacks didn’t enter the main doors of luxury buildings”. She remembers that she got involved in the black movements precisely so that her descendants could find, in her words, a better world. “I have six grandchildren and we’re not there yet. This little light at the end of the tunnel will take a while to appear”, he laments.
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