Colombia might have the largest Afro-descended population in the Spanish-speaking world, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune from some good ol’ fashioned Latin American racial ignorance. And what better place to put your ignorance on display than national television? Take for example the gross racial stereotypes paraded through Caracol Televisión’s Saturday afternoon programming in the form of the blackface character Soldado Micolta: a buffoonish, poorly spoken, and intellectually deficient caricature who happens to be a fixture on the weekly variety show Sábados Felices.
But while many may defend these humiliating representations as misunderstood and idiosyncratic cultural practices, Afro-Colombians recently made it clear that they’ve had just about enough in a massive campaign on both social media and in front of Caracol’s central offices in Bogotá. Amazingly, it seems their voices were actually heard and Caracol decided decided to formally pull the plug on Micolta with the support of the character’s creator, Roberto Lozano. Of course, Lozano did find it necessary to point out that he didn’t believe his character was actually offensive. While that might be true, suffice it to say that the guy probably won’t be up for a MacArthur Genius Award any time soon.
Some might recall that Colombia’s neighbors to the south in Perú recently had their own dust-up over their shamefully backward television caricatures when the UN condemned their unapologetically racist TV programming back in 2014. Considering that characters like La Paisana Jacinta and El Negro Mamá are still on the air over a year later, Caracol’s quick action is certainly admirable. In fact, Caracol went on to defend its racially enlightened record, citing its reputation as the only major channel to prominently feature Afro-Colombians on several of its shows.
Even so, there’s no question that Colombian media, Latin American media in general, and U.S.-based Spanish-language TV still have a long way to go before they really start to get it.