Brazilian Innovation in Ecological Education through Soap Operas

I have previously written a number of different articles here about the incredible achievements of Brazilian writers, producers and actors in creating some of the world’s greatest soap operas. The reason is that they have managed to break out of the typical soap opera mould and create far more highly elevated television dramas with transcendental themes such as Buddhism, karma, reincarnation, See for example In Praise of Joia Rara – Globo TV’s Buddhist Soap Opera, Além do Tempo Fever Explodes in Brazil and Love, Peace, Elightenment and the End of Joia Rara.

Credit: Um Pé de Que?

The current soap opera airing in the 9pm slot is Amor da Mãe (The Mother’s Love), starring singer and actress Regina Casé  in the lead role. Casé is a hugely interesting personality here in Brazil and she has previously produced and hosted a programme which was created to teach people about trees and their ecological importance.

© Photo: Globo/João Cotta

Amor de Mãe premiered on Rede Globo on the 25th of November last year. The main writer is Manuela Dias, in collaboration with Mariana Mesquita, Roberto Vitorino and Walter Daguerre, and directed by José Luiz Villamarim. The soap opera tells the story of three different women, Lurdes (Regina Casé), Vitória (Taís Araújo) and Thelma (Adriana Esteves), who come from three different social classes and who all have great challenges in their lives which become increasingly intertwined.

Amor de Mãe has been breathtaking in its ambitions, in the narrative, the acting, the character development, the drama, and the social and ecological themes it has explored. The story lines are complex and there are many more characters who discover surprising connections between each other as the story unravels and expands. Each episode has been emotionally compelling, and the social themes such as adoption, social class, police corruption, violence, education and teaching have been portrayed in a fantastically sympathetic manner, seen through the eyes of characters who are not typically either all good or all bad, but who are allowed to experience a range of emotional episodes and differing degrees of ethical responses.

Due to the complexity of this soap opera, I just wanted to focus on one strand which I know will be of interest to all of you who read my blog, and that is of the way in which the drama has included sustainability and ecological awareness as one of the major plot strands.

Photo: Globo

The chief villain of the drama is Álvaro da Nóbrega (Irandhir Santos) who we first see in court, represented by his brilliant lawyer Vitória, who has just managed to be found not guilty in a large corruption trial. Álvaro is the president of PWA, a plastics company with its industrial plant in Rio de Janeiro and which environmental activists have been monitoring due to its incessant pollution of the sea.

© Photo: Globo/João Cotta

Leading the fight against PWA is Davi Morett (Vladimir Brichta) who runs a plastic recycling business in addition to his activism. This is an extremely relevant story-line which parallels the current situation in Rio de Janieiro, which has seen  residents complaining of falling sick after drinking the water, and environmentalists blaming the crisis on polluted rivers, a lack of basic sanitation and decades of mismanagement.

Photo: Globo

We have just reached a quite thrilling point in the drama where Álvaro has been ousted from the company by his main business partner Raul Camargo (Murilo Benício), someone who has evolved significantly having seen his activist son shot dead on the orders of Álvaro himself. Raul now has the ambition to turn PWA into a force for good, wanting it to become Brazil’s biggest plastics recycling business, but Álvaro has other ideas and is doing all he can to scupper Raul’s dream and to regain power.

Photo: Globo

It is by no means easy bringing the theme of sustainability, regeneration and ecological awareness to the mass viewing public, and television viewers could quite easily have decided to turn away from this soap opera. But the brilliance of the writing, acting, direction, production and artistic design of this intelligent drama have brought these issues to millions of people in Brazil in a way in which more traditional activist and academic activities have never previously managed.

Photo: Globo

While it is difficult to establish the exact number of viewers, the most recent statistics from Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics (IBOPE) show that this programme is now reaching approximately one third of all television screens in the country, making it the most watched programme in Brazil. That is an incredible achievement by any standards.

Photo: Globo

Another notable initiative which Globo have been supporting is Generation of the Future, designed to promote the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals, and they are doing this by including short educational videos during the advertising breaks. While this is not a new initiative from Globo, by embedding these video shorts inside of a drama which shows the importance and necessity of ethical and ecological corporate activities and actions, the impact is amplified considerably.

Photo: Globo

I really do wish to congratulate every member of the cast and crew of Amor da Mãe, with special credit particularly going to Manuela Dias for the complexity, intelligence and empathy of her narrative writing. I really cannot think of any other soap opera which has managed to integrate social themes so compellingly into a drama, and in a way which has captured millions of viewers’ attention. Brazil quite possibly produces some of the best television drama in the world, and if Amor da Mãe does happen to be available in your particular country, I can strongly recommend it as both hugely entertaining and ecologically and socially educational at one and the same time.

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