R.I.P. RUTH DE SOUZA, PIONEERING BRAZILIAN ACTRESS
August 8, 2019
On Sunday, July 28th, Brazilians lost a great legend of the stage and screen, the actress Ruth de Souza, who died at the age of 98, having left historical marks on the Brazilian society. Every community, whether in the United States or Brazil, has its Black heroes. People who opened doors and expanded barriers imposed by a racist society, becoming an inspiration for future generations, and Souza was definitely just such a pioneer.
Ruth was enthusiastic about acting since she was a girl. Her mother used to take her to watch plays and movies, encouraged her to become an actress. That childhood admiration would become a life’s purpose.
In 1945, she heard about a casting for a theater company named TEN, Teatro Experimental do Negro (Experimental Black Theater), a troupe for black artists created by Abdias Nascimento, a prominent Afro-Brazilian scholar, artist, and politician. Ruth joined that amazing and revolutionary group when she was only 17 years old.
Ruth de Souza’s 1945 stage debut, in the Eugene O’Neill play, The Emperor Jones, was historic as it made her the first Black Brazilian woman to appear at the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro. At the time, it was unthinkable that a Black woman would even be in the audience there, much less on a stage with all lights shining on her talent.
Souza spent some time in the United States, as her talent won her a scholarship at Harvard University, where she studied acting for a year. She returned to Brazil acted in dozens of films, most famously Terra Violenta (1948) and Sinhá Moça (1953), for which she was nominated for “Best Actress” at the Venice international film festival. Competing against actresses like Katherine Hepburn and Michele Morgan, Ruth de Souza lost by only two points to Lili Palmer.
In 1968, Ruth de Souza became the first Black actress to star in a television soap opera (Janete Clair’s Passo dos Ventos), and built a solid career in TV and theater, always shedding light on racial issues and fighting against racism with her art and pioneering spirit.
Ruth de Souza is an important symbol of Brazilian Black excellence. She taught us how to work, how to dream, how to achieve. And most importantly, as an artist, how to break paradigms.