Born Sebastião Bernardes de Souza Prata, Grande Otelo was one of the most important Brazilian actors of the twentieth century. He was born on October 18, 1915, in Uberabinha (now known as Uberlândia), Minas Gerais. His stage name derives from his experience as an aspiring operatic tenor whose African ancestry presumably destined him to play the part of Othello in Verde's opera and from an ironic reference to his diminutive stature. He joined the circus at the age of eight and began to perform in traveling shows. He later received an education after being adopted by a wealthy white family in São Paulo. In 1942 the North American director and actor Orson Welles, who saw him perform in nightclubs in Rio de Janeiro and became his friend, called him "the greatest comic actor of the twentieth century." From 1935 into the 1990s, he appeared in an estimated 100 films, most of which were comedies. Often the only black actor in any given movie, he frequently played the role of a malandro, living outside of the law and by his wits. From the 1940s on, he sought ways to affirm his Afro-Brazilian heritage in his roles. One of his greatest parts was that of the title character in the 1960 film adaptation of the Mário de Andrade literary classic, Macunaíma (1928). He also wrote songs and screenplays. He died in Paris on November 26, 1993.
See alsoCinema: From the Silent Film to 1990 .
Moura, Roberto. Grande Otelo: Um Artista Genial. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará, 1996.
Silva, Marília Trindade Barboza da. Depoimentos de Grande Otelo, Haroldo Costa, Zezé Motta. Rio de Janeiro: Museu da Imagem e do Som, 2003.
Stam, Robert. Tropical Multiculturalism: A Comparative History of Race in Brazilian Cinema and Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.
Andrew J. Kirkendall