Past and present as Black media activism in Nego Bala’s “Sonho” (2021)

Gabriel Juliano

Keywords: Brazil; Contemporary pop media arts; Brazilian Funk; media activism

Participation: on-line

The 2021 music video clip “Sonho” (Translation: Dream) is a short film based on a real story; this media artwork is available online on YouTube. Created by the emerging ‘funkeiro’ – Brazilian funk producer – Nego Bala, it was directed by Douglas Bernardt, the same director of the 2019 Cannes Lion Festival’s award-winning Baco Exú do Blues’ short film “Bluesman” (2018). “Sonho” (2021) shows Nego Bala as a kid navigating into a juvenile detention centre and as an adult revisiting his past. While Nego Bala exposes racism, he shows Black peoples’ dreams, projecting love and hope throughout the film. Employing critical media culture analysis supported by semiotic methods of analysis (Danesi, 2009) and race identity theories (Hall, 1992), I argue this film while denouncing violence against Black peoples, proposes hope through visual and narrative plays between past and present.

“Sonho” (2021) starts with an audio of a police approach towards Bala while he confronts an officer. Shortly after, the audience is introduced to a detention centre for minors as kids sit uniformly on a patio. An officer grabs Bala (kid) from his clothing and pulls him to a cell because he mumbled a song. Even though the artist imagines him confronting the oppressor, he gets threatened and imprisoned in a cell. However, through a vision of his ancestors, Bala views them dancing in a circle and revisits his hometown outside the facility. The film’s non-linear narrative functions as a strategy for showing past and present in the narrative; it presents the connection and resonation Brazilian funk rime circles have with African dances. Thus, through this vision of Bala’s ancestors and his present, the film indexes that Black Brazilian art practices have been oppressed since slavery – i.e., today’s prejudice against Black culture has been a perpetuated hegemonic ideological construct since the modern slavery period (Nascimento, 1989). After viewing the artist in his community, the film continues with Bala as an adult engaging with other Black peoples’ dreams. Then, Bala goes back to his past and saves a friend’s life from police brutality. The film ends with the artist giving a speech to his younger self in the juvenile detention centre for never giving up on his dreams, stating that having resilience and dreaming are the keys to a hopeful future.

“Sonho” (2021) has a counter-hegemonic narrative as it proposes hope for Black peoples – through a non-linear narrative, the artist exposes how repressive State apparatuses (Althuser, 1993), like a juvenile detention centre and police force, oppress Black Brazilians and shatter peoples’ dreams but states that this hegemonic oppression will not prevail. Ultimately, it operates as an art practice of Black resistance that connects past and present for projecting a better future. By analyzing this media artwork as a cultural artifact of media activism, I seek to contribute to a discussion of how Brazilian artists utilize popular media artworks for political activism and broaden the ecologies of knowledge and identity creation from Black Brazilian popular artworks.


Althuser, Louis. 1993. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. 3rd ed. Verso. Great Britain, Redwood Books, Trowbridge, Wiltshire. ISBN 0860917843
Danesi, Marcel. 2009. Semiotics of Media and Culture. In Cobley (Ed.) The Routledge Companion to Semiotics. London: Routledge, Pgs. 135-149.
Hall, Stuart. 1992. “What is the ‘black’ in black popular culture?” In Dent (Ed.) Black Popular Culture. Seattle: Bay Press.
Nascimento, Abdias do. 1989. “Brazil, Mixture or Massacre? Essays in the Genocide of a Black People.” Majority Pr; 2nd Rev ed. Edition. ISBN-10: 0912469269.
Nego Bala. Nego Bala – “"SONHO" with Elza Soares (Official Film),” YouTube Video, 14:05. Nov 24, 2021.


Gabriel Juliano is an educator and Ph.D. student in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. He works in the Critical Media Art Studio (cMAS) under Dr. Gabriela Aceves-Sepúlveda’s supervision. In his doctoral research, he investigates popular media artifacts, such as films and music videos created by Global South artists as transformative epistemologies – through critical cultural studies and analysis, he unveils knowledge creations from Brazilian contemporary media arts projects. Juliano has presented his research at the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CALACS) congress in 2021 and at the Second International Conference on Sonorities Research – Borderline Sonorities – from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). He works at the university teaching art, design, and communication courses as an instructor and teaching assistant.