Tropical Multiculturalism

A Comparative History of Race in Brazilian Cinema and Culture

Tropical Multiculturalism

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 432 Illustrations: 136 photographs Published: December 1997

Author: Robert Stam

Latin American Studies > Brazil, Media Studies > Film, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

Tropical Multiculturalism provides a major study of race in Brazilian culture through the most complete critical analysis of Brazilian cinema in any language. Focusing on representations of multicultural themes involving Euro- and Afro-Brazilians, other immigrants, and indigenous peoples in the rich tradition of Brazilian fictional feature film, Robert Stam puts Brazilian culture at the center of a wide-ranging analysis of race, representation, history, and film. Drawing parallels between the histories of colonialism, slavery, and immigration in Brazil and the United States, he also contends that questions of ethnic and racial representations are best viewed within the larger context of a comparative analysis of racially plural societies.
Stam examines the broad historical and cultural links that connect Brazil and the United States before considering multicultural imagery in Brazilian film as it has changed from the silent era to the present. His analysis moves through the comic chanchadas of the 1930s and 1940s, to the Hollywood-style films from Sao Paulo in the 1950s, and the diverse phases of Cinema Novo beginning in the 1960s. He explores a wealth of subjects, including the submerged "blackness" of Carmen Miranda, the anti-racist agenda of Orson Welles’s never-released Brazilian film It’s All True, the international background behind Black Orpheus, the career of Grande Otelo (Brazil’s greatest black film star), the allegorical "cannibalistic" films like How Tasty Was My Frenchman, and "indigenous media"—the attempt by Brazilian "indians" to use camcorders and VCRs for their own cultural and political purposes. Tropical Multiculturalism is simultaneously a history of Brazilian cinema from the standpoint of race, a history of Brazil itself through its cinematic representations, a comparative study of racial formations in Brazil and the United States, and a theorized analysis of racialized representations.


Tropical Multiculturalism is one of the best books ever written on Brazilian cinema. In the current climate of enthusiasm for the rebirth of filmmaking in Brazil, the presence of sophisticated scholars such as Robert Stam can only be positive for this still understudied field. The several polemical points raised here—and many others—testify to the book’s passionate stance on critical issues. If you are interested in film studies, Brazil, race relations, the African diaspora, multiculturalism, the relation between history and cultural production, political oppression and cultural images, or any combination thereof, do not miss this book. It is indispensable.” — Idelbar Avelar, Luso-Brazilian Review

Tropical Multiculturalism’s exemplary comparative cultural studies methodology, impeccable film scholarship, and astute theorization of a nonessentialist multicultural approach to image studies recommend it as an essential text. It is well organized for pedagogical purposes and a pleasure to read for all concerned with generating more critical consumption and production of multicultural representation in film and video.” — Anne-Marie Gill , Film Quarterly

“One of the biggest strengths of this book, and of Stam’s work in general, is its immense erudition. . . . Stam’s study is also highly original on matters concerning Brazilian music and ethnicity, both inside and outside of the cinema.” — Catherine Grant , Screen

"Tropical Multiculturalism establishes Robert Stam as the foremost authority on the intersection of race, culture, and film in Brazil. Some think of blacks in Brazilian film as samba and sound but Stam liberates us all with a gorgeously argued relational text that is destined to become a classic in film criticism." — Robert Farris Thompson, Yale University

"With Tropical Multiculturalism, Robert Stam—one of the most sophisticated theorists of contemporary cultural representations—provides a much needed, historicized model for the analysis of non-European and Afro-diasporic cinemas and cultures." — Monthia Diawara, New York University


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