Created by Bernardo Guimarães
Country of origin Brazil
First episode date 11 October 1976
Network Rede Globo
Number of episodes 100
Developed by Gilberto Braga
Original language(s) Portuguese
Final episode date 5 February 1977
Program creator Gilberto Braga
|Genre Drama, romance, telenovela|
Starring Lucélia SantosRubens de Falco
Cast Lucélia Santos, Rubens de Falco
Similar A Escrava Isaura, Escrava Mãe, Los Ricos También Lloran, A Lei do Amor, Mulheres de Areia
Escrava Isaura (Portuguese: slave Isaura) is a 1976 Brazilian telenovela produced by Rede Globo, originally broadcast between October 11, 1976 and February 5, 1977 at 6 p.m. (UTC-3). Based on the novel of the same name by 19th century abolitionist writer Bernardo Guimarães, it tells the story of the struggles of Isaura, a white-skinned slave, to find happiness during the Brazilian Empire. It was starred by Lucélia Santos in the titular role, and Rubens de Falco as slave owner Leôncio Almeida, the main antagonist. It was adapted by Gilberto Braga, and directed by Herval Rossano and Milton Gonçalves, running 100 episodes.
Escrava Isaura became one of the most popular telenovelas in the world, being broadcast in over 80 countries. It was a major hit in South America, the Eastern Bloc, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Africa and the People's Republic of China. It was among the earliest foreign television series allowed to air in China, and the first with a foreign actress playing the main character. It was the first soap opera aired in the Soviet Union in 1988-1989 (reduced to 15 hour-long episodes), and in Poland in 1985. Escrava Isaura is one of the only foreign language telenovelas aired in the United Kingdom, being broadcast on Channel 4 in 1987 as Isaura the Slave Girl. It was also the first show broadcast dubbed into Galician when Galician-language channel TVG was launched in 1985.
The story is set in Brazil in the 1860s, 20 years before the emancipation of slaves. Isaura, a white-skinned slave (actually mixed race, but played by a white actress) lives in the house of Comendador Almeida and his wife Dona Ester, in Rio de Janeiro. Dona Ester raised her as her own daughter, she is educated and beautiful but very modest. Almost everyone likes her, especially Januaria the cook, who is a mother figure to her, but her master the Comendador is not particularly fond of her and he forbids Dona Ester to let Isaura dine with them as if she were a family member. Another person who hates her is the black slave Rosa who detests the privileged life Isaura leads.
At the beginning of the story Leoncio, the Comendador's son arrives home from Paris where he attended university but did not acquire a degree as he was more interested in debauchery. He takes a liking to Isaura and tries to seduce her but she resists. Dona Ester, Leoncio and Isaura soon move to the Almeidas' countryside residence in Campos, where we meet new characters: Francisco the cruel overseer who led the plantation in its owner's absence, André, the newly bought slave who incites Francisco's hatred by his dignity and bravery, and neighbour plantation owners Dona Alba and her children Tobias and Thais. Tobias and Leoncio start to hate each other when Tobias witnesses Leoncio's cruel treatment of a sick slave. Later Tobias meets Isaura who is taking a walk, and they fall in love, but Tobias doesn't know she is a slave. Also, Miguel, the overseer at Tobias's plantation confesses to Isaura that he is her father.
Almeida arrives and introduces Leoncio to Malvina, the daughter of a friend of his. Malvina doesn't know how evil Leoncio is, and she marries him. She is very kind to Isaura. Her maidservant Santa is happy because now she can be close to her beloved André. Dona Ester dies, her last wish is that the Comendador manumits Isaura, which he promises but then he doesn't keep his promise and doesn't give the signed document to Isaura. Tobias learns that Isaura is a slave, and offers to buy and marry her. Leoncio doesn't agree but Dona Carmen, the Comendador's new wife steals the emancipation document and gives it to him. Isaura is now free and preparing for her wedding, but Leoncio kidnaps Tobias and keeps him in an abandoned mill, planning to kill him, and he burns the document that granted Isaura's freedom. Later Malvina discovers Tobias in the mill and frees him, but before they could exit the mill, Leoncio and Francisco – who believe it's Isaura in the mill with Tobias – close the doors and set the mill on fire. Santa witnesses this, but is threatened by Francisco. Leoncio, pretending to be in mourning, goes on a travel, but not before condemning Isaura to regular slave work, in spite of the fact that his friends, including Malvina's brother Enrique, all believe he set her free.
When Leoncio comes back, he's still obsessed with Isaura and offers her a choice: either to become his mistress, or to go to a plantation, where she'll cut sugar cane 14 hours a day. Isaura repeatedly refuses, and Leoncio orders her to be tied out and orders her to be whipped in the morning. When André learns about this he attacks Leoncio, so they tie him out too. Santa alerts Miguel who helps Isaura and André escape.
Isaura, Miguel, André and Santa are on the run, and Leoncio sends slave hunters after them. They settle down on Dona Carmen's estate in a small town in Minas Gerais, Barbacena. Isaura, who now pretends to be a white lady named Dona Elvira, meets and falls in love with Don Alvaro, who is one of the richest men in Brazil. He is also very modern, and already set all his slaves free. But she knows she can't stay with him as they aren't safe in Brazil, Miguel already bought the ship tickets to the United States where slavery has been abolished three years before. Before they would leave, Isaura agrees to attend a ball with Alvaro. Here a man called Martinho, who read Leoncio's newspaper ads about his runaway slaves, recognizes her and makes a scandal. Despite help from Alvaro and his lawyer friend, Leoncio manages to take Isaura, André and Santa home, and sends Miguel to prison. He promises Isaura that he will let Miguel be released from prison and sets her free if she marries a man of his choosing – Beltrao, the hunchbacked gardener, whom she doesn't love. Isaura accepts, to set her father free, and also because Rosa wrote a fake letter that makes her believe Alvaro forgot her and married. At the wedding before she marries Beltrao, Alvaro arrives, and reveals that in the past months he managed to pay all those to whom Leoncio owed money, and since the money he owed was way more than his whole property, Leoncio is destitute, and the house, the plantation and everything belongs to Alvaro now. While Leoncio is trying to run away, he meets the overseer Francisco, who has decided to reveal how Leoncio murdered Malvina and Tobias. After a fight with Alavaro, desperate Leoncio shoots himself, and Alvaro, the new master frees all the slaves and asks for Isaura's hand. Rosa tries to poison Isaura but accidentally drinks the poisoned drink herself.
The LP containing the original soundtrack of the telenovela was released on 1976 by Som Livre. It contained the following tracks:
- "Prisioneira" - Elizeth Cardoso (Isaura's theme)
- "Amor Sem Medo" - Francis Hime (Álvaro's theme)
- "Retirantes" - Dorival Caymmi (opening theme)
- "Nanã" - Orquestra Som Livre
- "Banzo" - Tincoãs
- "Mãe Preta" - Coral Som Livre
Escrava Isaura around the world
Escrava Isaura achieved worldwide success. According to a research conducted by Good Morning America, it is the most dubbed program in the history of world television.
It was the first telenovela broadcast in Hungary under the title Rabszolgasors (English: Fate of the slaves). It was picked up by János Horvát, a Magyar Televízió executive, who started the telenovela craze with Escrava Isaura. According to an urban legend, Hungarian viewers collected money before the happy ending of the telenovela to free Isaura. Later Lucélia Santos visited the country. After the success of the series in Hungary, other communist countries also aired the show. In 1984, it became the most popular program in the history of Polish television, achieving an 81 share. Since then, it was aired at least two other times in the country.
Lucélia Santos became the first non-Chinese leading actress of a television show broadcast in the People's Republic of China, in addition to being the first telenovela shown in the Soviet Union, where it had a broad appeal. The word "fazenda" (Portuguese: farm) jokingly became a synonym for the small land plots used for dachas. In the show, "fazenda" is used as a synonym for plantation.
It was broadcast in communist Albania in the eighties, many parts of the series put together. Izaura is a famous name among babies born at that time, and so are few more names from the cast. Small FIAT police vans were for a while called "Isaura", a reference to the slave-like treatment that awaited most of those that were unlucky enough to ever be dragged into one. A running joke was that Tefta Cami, the minister of public instruction, went to the national TV station to see the last part of the series, in order to see it before the others.
Escrava Isaura was also first telenovela broadcast in former Yugoslavia - It was broadcast with unexpected success in Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia in second half of the 1980s. Although the series has been extremely successful, the telenovela craze in former Yugoslavian countries did not continue until ten years later with Esmeralda.
The novela was criticised by the Afro-Brazilian movement for the decision of director Herval Rossano to cast a white actress to play the leading role. Later in an interview, writer Gilberto Braga declared that he wished to cast Louise Cardoso to play Isaura, also a white actress. It was, however, one of the first telenovelas to feature a large black ensemble cast.