Most countries in the world are known for some export product or another. When it comes to Brazil, its actual major export product is transport equipment, but if you ask most people what product they associate this country with, many will say “telenovelas”.
Although the majority of people call these Brazilian production soap operas, they differ from them in that they rarely continue for more than a year. The first telenovelas were produced in Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico, such as Sua vida me pertence (“Your Life Belongs to Me”, Brazil, 1950). The main producer of telenovelas in Brazil is Rede Globo, and its smallest competitors are TV Record, SBT, and TV Bandeirantes.
What makes Brazilian telenovelas different from productions of other countries? It must be their realistic feel, their touch of controversial subjects, and the fact that oftentimes chapters are shot only a couple of weeks before their airdate, so the team can respond to public reaction.
But let’s see some of the most famous Brazilian telenovelas that you too have probably watched or at least heard of:
Escrava Isaura (Slave Isaura, 1976)
Produced by Rede Globo, the telenovela is based on the novel of the same name by Bernardo Guimarães, a 19th century abolitionist. The protagonist is Isaura, a mixed race slave living in the time of the Brazilian Empire. She was raised as Dona Ester’s own daughter and she is very educated and beautiful. Isaura’s situation complicates when the main antagonist, Leoncio steps in and becomes obsessed with her, doing anything to cause difficulties to Isaura. Escrava Isaura was one of the most successful telenovelas ever and it was broadcast in more than 80 countries. It was one of the first foreign television series allowed to air in China, and the first telenovela aired in the Soviet Union. It was broadcast even in the United Kingdom under the name Isaura the Slave Girl.
Terra Nostra (Our Land, 1999)
Terra Nostra tells the love story of two young Italian immigrants who meet on their way to Brazil at the end of the 18th century, but are separated after their ship docks. After further complications depicted in over 200 episodes, including each of the two being married to someone else, the two eventually reunite. This production by Rede Globo was written by Benedito Ruy Barbosa and Jayme Monjardim. The action is set in Brazil on a time when slaves were being freed and the need for workers on coffee plantations resulted in a large number of Italians immigrating to Brazil. The telenovela was so successful because characters were not larger than life, but they were everyday people, which allowed viewers to relate to what was happening in the story. The gray personalities of characters made many moral issues to arise and caused a fruitful debate among television viewers.
O Clone (The Clone, 2001)
Lucas, a happy teenager, is in love with an Arabic girl from a strict family. Their plans don’t come true, as life separates Lucas and Jade – they both marry different people and try to get over their love story, in spite of seeing each other again several times over the years. At the beginning of the story, Lucas’s twin brother, Diogo, dies in a helicopter accident. His godfather, geneticist Albieri, creates a clone of Lucas to replace Diogo, who later becomes a man who looks just like Lucas and makes Jade fall in love with him. Who will Jade choose of the two men, after all, and what will happen to everyone involved? Aside from romantic love, the television series also touches some very controversial aspects – the ethical aspect of cloning, the effects of drug abuse, and the relationship between religion and society, while also keeping the story funny with some colorful characters. The Clone was considered by many the best telenovela of the beginning of the 21st century and people loved the way creator Gloria Perez mixed so many delicate subjects.
Lacos de Familia (Family Ties, 2000)
This is another telenovela from Rede Globo touching a controversial subject – a mother and a daughter falling in love for the same man. Helena is a successful businesswoman aged 45 who meets a 25-year old doctor called Edu after being involved in a car accident. The two are caught in a love story that people around them are not willing to accept because of the 20 years age gap. Meanwhile Edu meets Helena’s daughter, Camila, a Literature student and after a while they realize they are in love with each other. In spite of their respect for Helena, they can’t resist and finally enjoy the fulfillment of their love story. The story complicates when Camila is diagnosed with leukemia. Only a marrow donation from a sibling with the same parents can save her, and Helena sacrifices her relationship with Miguel to become pregnant with Camila’s father, a nasty man called Pedro. A strong family drama transcending the genre of telenovelas, which viewers can still remember years after the television series was aired.
Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue, 2012)
Also produced by Rede Globo, the last item on our list is about a young girl whose life was ruined by an unscrupulous woman and who seeks revenge as an adult under a new identity. The telenovela was a big hit with audience in Portugal, and it was both a critical and a commercial success. The cast received 108 nominations and won 36 awards. Brazil Avenue was the most exported Rede Globo telenovela, surpassing Da Cor do Pecado. It was licensed by more than 150 countries and dubbed into 19 languages. The main strengths of the production were the plot twists, the credible performance of actors, the beautiful scenery, and the high-quality soundtrack created exclusively for the television series.
These productions show us that telenovelas are not necessarily a mindless occupation for those who have nothing to do with their time. The deep and controversial subjects that some titles treat can represent food for thought for many people in the audience, while they are also enjoying good quality entertainment. What about you, which is your favorite Brazilian telenovela and why?