Pioneering Afro-Brazilian Actress Ruth de Souza Dies at 98


Pioneering Afro-Brazilian Ruth de Souza died today at the age of 1998 in Rio de Janeiro from complications of pneumonia. A member of the Black Experimental Theater (Teatro Experimental do Negro, TEN), she was a trailblazer for black actors in Brazil, and had a successful and prolific career in film, television, and theater in the South American country.

Born on May 12, 1921 in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro, she was the daughter of a laundress and of a peasant. From a very young age she knew she wanted to be an actress. She joined the Black Experimental Theater that was created to combat racism and create opportunities for black talent. In 1945 she made history becoming the first Afro-Brazilian actor to perform in the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro playing the role of an old Native-American woman in Eugene O'Neill's play The Emperor Jones.

De Souza’s film debut was in the 1948 film Terra Violenta by Edmond F. Bernoudy and Paulo Machado. Her most iconic role in film was Sabina in the 1953 filmThe Landowner's Daughter /Sinhá Moça by Tom Payne and Oswaldo Sampaio. The Brazilian drama participated in the official competition at the Venice Film Festival, where de Souza landed a nomination for Best Actress, marking a first for a Brazilian actress. The Brazilian film also participated in the official competition at the 1954 Berlin Film Festival.

A Brazilian Gone with the Wind, The Landowner's Daughter is set in the 19th century during the fight against black slavery and is based on the novel by Brazilian author Maria Camila Dezonne Pacheco Fernandes. The film also starring Eliane Lage, Anselmo Duarte, and Esther Guimarães, tells the story of Sinhá Moça, who falls in love with a young lawyer.

De Souza acted in over 30 films including the American film Macumba Love by Douglas Fowley (1960), A Morte Comanda o Cangaço by Carlos Coimbra and Walter Guimares Motta (1961), Assault on the Pay Train / O assalto ao trem pagador by Roberto Farias (1962), A Glass of Rage / Um copo de cólera by Aluizio Abranches (1999), and Daughters of Wind / As filhas do vento (2004) by Joel Zito Araujo, for which she received the Best Actress Award at the Gramado Film Festival. Additionally Souza had an influential career in television, participating in over 20 soap operas.