“I think that I’m in this world to break down barriers in the same way that I did when I was a model.”
The model turned actress turned DJ. Cliche as it may sound in the streets of Hollywood, we at Parlour know that real talent knows no boundaries. Enter Brasil’s Patricia DeJesus. One of the leading women of color in the heavily whitewashed beauty and television industry of South America, Patricia has graced the pages of international magazines and ad campaigns, starred in major television novelas (soap opera) and is now making headway as one of Brasil’s top DJs. Recently on lazy Sunday, Patricia sat down with the Parlour crew over brunch to talk modeling, acting, music and of course, where to get the best shoes in Sao Paulo before heading back to Brasil to work on her new acting gig. Check it out and be sure to come back for part two later this week!
Parlour: You career has been so consistent. How did it all begin?
Patricia: I was discovered in 1994 while walking through the streets of Sao Paulo. A casting director was looking for people to audition for a Benetton campaign. During that time, I worked and went to school. I went to the audition and got the job. On the day of the photo shoot, the top makeup artist and hair stylist Mauro Freire was intrigued by me and called FORD Models Sao Paulo and asked them to send a booking agent to come by the shoot to see me. Beginning that day, FORD Models and I started a partnership that lasted almost fourteen years!
Wow! So we are sure that there weren’t many Black women signed to FORD in 1994. Can you explain how the type of work you did was different than your white counterparts?
When I started working as a model, the jobs that they offered me were always something exotic. It was never traditional commercial photo-shoots. It was like “you’re exotic, so we’ll put your hair up and put you in freaky clothes.” I said “I don’t want to do that, I’m not going to do that, I don’t need to do that.” I had other jobs and I wanted to continue working and go to college t0 study marketing. I didn’t want to be a model so I thought “I don’t need to do that, that’s ridiculous.” But, I think that my strong personality showed them that I was much more than physical beauty. So, then they started to pay more attention to me. When I had the opportunity to show who I really was inside, I started getting a lot of work and I did everything. I started doing runway, photo-shoots and television commercials. I started doing things that white models did and that was really interesting because the casting people had all white models and they needed to add a black model and it always had to be Patricia. It really started because they had to have one black model and that was me. After a while, I started to realize that I was getting jobs not because I was black, but because they wanted Patricia—me—independent of the color of my skin. We want to work with you because you’re Patricia. Your color doesn’t matter. It was hard.Â It took about three or four years.
Were there other black models that you looked up to?
Yes. Brasil always had one black model each season. They would discover one black model that would do everything for like one year [and then she would disappear].
Why do you think you’ve had a longer career?
I administrated my career. Ford never told me ‘you will do your hair like this.’ They tried, but I said ‘No, never.’ So, I changed my physical look. I tried to change things everyday and come fresh for [each] season. I always wanted to reinvent myself so that it wouldn’t seem like I was Patricia from last season. I think [that’s] what made the difference. When I learned how the market worked. They want new things, if you stay the same, you won’t make it.
So how’s the transition been from modeling to acting?
I cried for like two months every single day thinking I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to be a model anymore. But, I never thought about acting as an option because every model wants to be an actress. It’s cliche so I didn’t want to do this. One day, Primo [Patricia’s fiance at the time] told me, ‘you do all of the commercials on TV, I think it would be best for you to go to acting school to learn how to do that and make more money.’ So I thought ‘O.K.’ and when I stepped into the acting school and acted for the first time, I felt something so special and my heart started beating really fast so I thought ‘yes, thatâ€™s it.’
So no more modeling, just acting?
I don’t know because the word ‘never’ to me doesn’t exist so maybe one day, but right now I’m so focused.
Now that you’re acting, what types of roles are offered to you? When we were in Brazil, we didn’t see a lot of black actresses on any novelas unless they were maids, taking care of kids, or prostitutes. This was surprising considering there are so many black Brazilians. Do you think that black actors are becoming more popular?
Maybe. Of course, five years ago, there are like five black actresses in Brazil. We have more, but there are only five big ones. All five of them are beautiful girls “ Tais Araujo, Camila Pitanga, etc stereotypical. But, I think it’s changing. Slowly, but it’s changing. I think that I’m in this world to break down barriers in the same way that I did when I was a model. Something inside me tells me that I’m going to make a difference in in the same way where as I was a black model and there weren’t many black models and today that are lots of them. Many mothers of the girls and many of the new models come up to me and say ‘I want to be like you when you.’
Interestingly, race is everything in the United States but in Brasil “ you’re Brasilian first and black second. Recently, more Brasilian films, even “Cidade de Deus” or “City of Men,” talk explicitly about race. In every episode or movie, whenever there are black characters, there’s a conversation about race instead of the character just being Afro-Brazilians and a natural part of the plot. Taking that into account, do you think if we see more Afro-Brazilian actors there will be a more diverse depiction of blacks?
You know, black people in the TV industry are always connected with favelas (ghettos), the guy with the gun. When I did my first novela, the writer told me ‘I don’t want you portraying the image of the favela.’ When I added my personality to the character, nobody told me whatever character that I played, it had to be black. The old school people who’ve been working in television for a long time complain a lot about that, you only enter into the role when it’s written for a black person. If there’s a standout role, you don’t audition for that. But, there are some people like the writer of my last novela who think that a role doesn’t necessarily need to be written for a black actor. And, all of the black people that were apart of the novela—one was a lawyer, I was an ex-model who had money, was well-traveled and cultured, he thought ‘I can write the roles for whoever.’ Some people in the industry are changing this, but it’s something that’s going take a long time for people to understand, that there can be a black, middle class family on Brasilian television.
Be sure to check for Part II of Patricia’s interview here!