Last Updated on January 30, 2024
Today’s film, music, and entertainment industries are at a fascinating crossroads. With the advent of digital technology and social media, the reach and impact of artistic endeavors have expanded exponentially. These industries are no longer just about providing entertainment; they have become powerful platforms for cultural dialogue and social commentary. However, despite their expansive reach, issues of representation, diversity, and inclusivity remain at the forefront of industry discourse. The call for a more equitable and reflective artistic community has never been louder or more urgent.
Enter Juliana Silva de Sales, a Brazilian performer whose career is as vibrant and diverse as the cultures she represents. Silva de Sales’ journey in the arts began with a deep-seated passion for music and theater, honed through formal training at the renowned GRITE Ensemble Company in São Paulo and the prestigious Baccarelli Institute. Her relentless pursuit of excellence led her to further her education in New York City, where she immersed herself in acting and playwriting at The Acting Studio. From recording with a Grammy-winning label to captivating audiences on major Brazilian television networks and performing with the internationally recognized Heliópolis Choir, Juliana’s achievements span the breadth of the artistic spectrum.
However, what truly sets Juliana apart is her unwavering commitment to using her performing art as a conduit for social change and diversity. In an exclusive interview, Silva de Sales shared profound insights into her vision and the deliberate steps she’s taking to realize it. Join us as we delve deeper into her life-changing work.
Thanks for having us, Juliana. Let’s dive in. What personal experiences or influences inspired you to use your artistic platform for social change and diversity advocacy?
I grew up with limited privileges in Brazil, but I was fortunate to be around great community groups and institutions that supported children and young adults by providing cultural and educational programs. I couldn’t grasp the importance of being surrounded by these people and groups at a young age, but they helped shape who I am as a person and an artist.
Social change often aims to address inequalities and promote justice. It seeks to eliminate discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and more. By advocating for equal opportunities and fair treatment, social change works toward creating a more just and inclusive society.
Can you share a moment or project where you felt your storytelling significantly impacted your audience’s understanding or empathy towards a social issue?
One of my first professional plays, “Acorda Brasil,” discusses the power of art and music to transform lives. The story navigates through poverty and crime in São Paulo, Brazil, in public school system. However, after an opportunity is presented to the students, they can start to dream about a future outside the walls of violence, and a future they never imagined begins to take shape. Jurema, my role, was the leader of students that helped the young cast fight against the injustices present on the show.
It’s a play about equality, social justice, and cultural evolution.
What have been some of the most challenging aspects of integrating social themes into your art, and conversely, what have been the most rewarding outcomes?
Statistics show that in professional theater, white actors occupied 58.6% of roles during the 2018–2019 season despite representing only 32% of the population in New York City. The representation of Black artists improved, accounting for 29% of roles in the 2018–2019 season, according to the AAPAC (Asian American Performers Action Coalition). However, Latina representation decreased from 6.1% to 4.8%, and Asian American representation dropped from 6.9% to 6.3%.
In the film industry, the debate is similar; Hispanics and Latinos remain underrepresented. According to a new report from the University of Southern California, this trend has persisted for 16 years. Even when films featured Hispanic or Latino characters, they were often stereotyped as immigrants or of low income.
Over the examined 16 years, only 75 (4.4%) lead or co-lead actors were Hispanic or Latino. Less than 1% of all lead/co-lead roles since 2007 were assigned to Afro-Latino actors, while 2.6% of all lead actors were US-born Latinos.
I’m glad you are discussing this matter, but there is still a long way to go. I’m so happy to be cast as a Guest Star Actor in Mass Transit Theater, Love Payne, and Vampingo Productions 2024/2025 season, all groups that are also concerned about those matters.
How do you ensure that your work not only talks about inclusivity but also actively practices it, whether through casting, production, or narrative choice?
The answer lies in your question: hiring diversity in all instances, not only in acting but also in writing, producing, and more. For example, Lin-Manuel Miranda and partners recently founded a project called RISE Theatre Directory, a national personnel directory created to promote the visibility of individuals who work backstage, behind the scenes, and in support of theater-making. The directory is a public service tool available to everyone, created with the understanding that amplification is particularly powerful for those often overlooked, including but not limited to people of color, women, trans, nonbinary, deaf, and disabled theater professionals.
Looking forward, how do you believe the relationship between the arts and social activism will evolve, and what role do you wish to play in that evolution?
Artistic expression can ignite conversations, challenge perspectives, and inspire action. Building networks and collaborations between theater organizations, production companies, and Latino artists is essential for fostering increased representation.
Being a Latina on a stage in NYC is powerful. Being able to be a performer in one of the most important cities in the world is an important tool I’m not taking for granted.
Lastly, what advice would you give to emerging artists who want to use their craft to make a difference in issues like diversity and social justice?
Foster creativity, encourage dialogue and contribute to movements and causes for positive social impact through the performing arts.
Juliana’s advice encapsulates the essence of what it means to be an artist in the realm of diversity and social justice. She encourages emerging artists to harness their creativity as a force for change, to stimulate conversations that might otherwise remain silent, and to actively participate in movements that aim to shape a more equitable and just society. By doing so, artists not only enrich their own practice but also contribute to a larger dialogue, one that has the power to transform perspectives and foster a deeper understanding across communities.
As we reflect on the power of art to challenge, inspire, and communicate, it’s clear that those willing to embrace their craft with the intention of making a difference hold the potential to influence not just the art world, but the very fabric of society itself. Juliana’s words are a poignant reminder of the responsibility and opportunity artists have to shape a better future through the power of their creations.