Loud, coarse, but hard-working and supportive, the fictional denizens of a Rio suburb hold a mirror up to Brazil’s emerging middle class in a wildly popular soap opera.
Brazilian telenovelas have traditionally depicted the melodramas of the elite, but Globo TV’s “Avenida Brasil” breaks new ground by turning the spotlight on the millions of Brazilians now making up the so-called C class.
Rising prosperity in the emerging regional powerhouse and social programs introduced by former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva have pulled some 40 million people out of grinding poverty over the past decade.
Now the increasingly prosperous C class, partly made up of former slum dwellers, makes up nearly 50 percent of the country’s 194 million people.
“It was a great idea to base the show on the emerging middle class,” said sociologist Geraldo Tadeu, of Rio’s University Research Institute.
“This is a reflection of the new Brazil, of the families who made it, acquiring money but not necessarily good manners.”
An estimated 38 million Brazilians tune into the show every evening at 9pm, with millions commenting on its every twist and turn via Twitter and other social media. Rio taxi drivers have even been known to watch while driving.
According to the Ibope polling institute, the show — which debuted in March and ends Friday — reached its highest 49-point rating ever and a 76 percent market share on Monday.
“Avenida Brasil” fever even forced President Dilma Rousseff to reschedule a Sao Paulo campaign rally in support of a candidate in the upcoming mayoral election so that it would not coincide with the show’s last episode.
The plot revolves around the quest for revenge by young Nina, who as a child was abandoned in a Rio garbage dump by her evil stepmother Carminha and her boyfriend Max, after they rob Nina’s father Genesio and push him to his death.
Years later, Nina returns and gets a job as a cook in the suburban mansion of Tufao, a rich and cuckolded former football star who is now married to Carminha.
Other characters include ignorant members of the nouveaux riche notorious for their poor taste and bad Portuguese.
But “Avenida Brasil” also includes entrepreneurs, hard-working people still struggling to move up, and fun-loving, beer-drinking Rio suburbanites, fond of eating rice and black beans and reading gossip magazines.
“It is an emerging class, which consumes and is proud of itself. This is very important,” Mauro Alencar, an expert on Brazilian teledrama, told Globo News in a recent interview.
The name of the show refers to the main avenue which links the city center with the northern Rio suburbs, where the fictional Divino neighborhood is located.
The residents all know each other; they meet in the one and only bar and they shop in a store owned by the president of the local soccer club.
The characters say they lead humble lives of which they are proud, but Divino is a long way from Rio’s periphery, where hundreds of thousands of people still live in slums riven with drug violence.
Brazil is now the world’s sixth largest economy and will host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in a sign of its growing global presence, but economic growth has slowed in the last year and a half.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]