For a long time, the 1959 film Black Orpheus served as a crowning reference of Black Brazilian culture. Orishas, samba and majestic melanin took center stage against the backdrop of carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Fast forward many years to 2003’s City of God, which followed two young Black men as they took vastly different roads out of Rio’s favelas, and the more recent Café com Canela, the 2017 indie film about a long night of revelations amongst five friends.
However, for a country with an estimated 80 million people who are of African ancestry, Afro-Brazilians do not see much of themselves on screen. Enter: Netflix’s Girls from Ipanema. While the 1960 set drama centers around four women who forge a bond around Maria Luiza, who has been royally wronged by her husband, it’s Adélia (played by Pathy Dejesus) the domestic worker-turned-entrepreneur from “the hills” who made us dig into the series.
Truthfully, Adélia’s storyline in the first season is minimal. Even though Adélia becomes Maria’s equal partner in the launch of a music club, Adélia’s authority as a business owner would rarely surface in scenes unless she’s directing workers to clean up. At her club, Coisa Mais Linda, she’d often be background or sitting quietly as the other three White leads carried on their complicated lives. It’s not until Adélia’s at home do we see her layers: she’s in a struggling relationship with Capitão (Ícaro Silva) who has painfully discovered their daughter Conceição (Sarah Vitória) is not his.
But in season two—now streaming—that all changes. Dejesus’s Adélia broadens so widely there’s nearly a whole episode dedicated to her and Cap’s wedding, which introduces her estranged father (Val Perré) and jubilant mother-in-law (Eliana Pittman). The new season also anchors Ivonne (Larissa Nunes), Adélia’s little sister, who’s finding her own way out of the hills.