Hilton Cobra on Lima Barreto

Sunday, Mar 28, 2021

On March 17, 2021, the Brazil LAB and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese hosted the third in a series of talks known as “Pílulas literárias”, in connection with Lilia M. Schwarcz and Pedro Meira Monteiro’s seminar “The Canon Re-Signified” (POR 415/LAS 425). The event was live-streamed for the public on the YouTube channels of Lilia Schwarcz, Pedro Meira Monteiro, and Projeto MinasMundo, and was hosted and moderated by Professors Schwarcz and Meira Monteiro and their students.

Last week’s guest was Hilton Cobra (affectionately known as Cobrinha), Brazilian actor, theater director, intellectual, and Black activist who, in the early months of the pandemic, starred in a live-streamed virtual performance of the monologue “Traga-me a cabeça de Lima Barreto!”. The play, written by Luiz Marfuz and originally performed live throughout Brazil in 2018, centers on Brazilian writer Lima Barreto (1881-1922), proposing a scenario in which Barreto posthumously offers his own brain to be autopsied by the Brazilian Society of Eugenics, questioning how a supposedly “inferior” brain such as his, as a Black man, could have produced literary works of such evident quality and skill. The play was also written with the intention of commemorating the 40-year-long acting career of Hilton Cobra himself. Cobra has previously starred in a theatrical adaptation of Triste Fim de Policarpo Quaresma, and has also served as director of the Centro Cultural José Bonifácio and the president of the Fundação Cultural Palmares. Additionally, in 2001, Hilton founded the Cia dos Comuns, a theatrical group composed of Black actors and actresses that strives to foment Black theater and art. 

Screenshot of an online conversation with Hilton Cobra

Hilton Cobra began his talk with a dramatic reading of one of Lima Barreto’s many short stories, “A Nova Califórnia,” and went on to discuss such diverse topics as race and eugenics, art and activism, and the connections between past and present political events. A recurrent theme was the necessity of looking at Lima Barreto’s life and work not solely as literature of a past time, but as a vehicle for understanding our world today. Indeed, Cobra filmed the interview against the backdrop of a wall designed specifically for the virtual version of “Traga-me a cabeça de Lima Barreto!”, which featured the names of Black people murdered by police violence, including George Floyd and Marielle Franco. Regarding this urgent topic, he underlined the importance of extending relations with Black artists and activists beyond Brazil. Following this discussion, the conversation culminated in a performance of a short excerpt from the play.

Hilton Cobra’s public, live-streamed talk was attended by viewers from all over the world, including but not limited to Brazil, Argentina, Austria, and the United States, who interacted with and reacted to Cobra via the live chat function on YouTube. 

The event was organized by the Brazil LAB and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and was co-sponsored by Projeto MinasMundo and ANPOCS Pública.