Daughter of a laundress and of a peasant, Ruth de Souza (1928) was born in Rio and was the first Afro-Brazilian woman to become an actress. In 1945, she founded the Afro-Brazilian Experimental Theater. She was the first Afro-Brazilian in the dramatic arts to play the role of Desdemona, a William Shakespeare character. Along with her colleagues, she was prohibited from entering a reception, an episode of prejudice that, in 1951, gave rise to the first Brazilian law against racism.
In love with movies since her youth, Ruth de Souza heard, whenever she expressed her desire to become an actress, this answer: “You cannot be an actress because you are an Afro-Brazilian.” With a 60 year old career, Ruth is living proof of the victory of tenacity against prejudice. “Racism was not much different from what it is today.” Confronting it, however, seemed absolutely natural to her. “I was always much respected,” she affirms, “but Afro-Brazilian women are still invisible.” Making way in the dramatic arts required her to confront the beauty standards of her time, which did not include Afro-Brazilians. “I am sure that my acting career helped change the perception that Brazilian society had of Afro-Brazilians,” she says. Being the first Afro-Brazilian to go up on the stage of the Municipal Theater is one of the marks of Ruth's career. Her dedication to the theater had as a result a scholarship to study dramatic arts in the United States. Pioneer in Brazilian cinema, her debut was in 1947. Ruth starred in 22 movies, once as the main role, and she was nominated for the award of best supporting actress in the Venetian Film Festival, along with Katherine Hepburn and Lili Palmer. Ruth's professional trajectory is linked to the beginning of Brazilian television, where she began working in 1952. Dedicated to her career, Ruth did not get married and she did not have children. But she did not make of this a way to escape of feminine standards. “It simply did not happen.” She lives alone and believes that solitude helps bring her peace of mind and concentration. Among the various public recognitions of her work, Ruth highlights the badge of Official of the Rio Branco Order, with which the Brazilian government recognized her enormous contribution to the theatrical arts.