Black Orpheus (1959)

The first twenty minutes of Camus’ film introduce us to Orpheus, his fiance Mira, Serafina (Eurydice’s cousin) and Eurydice. We learn that Eurydice has come to visit Serafina (her cousin) because a man has been stalking her at her home (Death). We also learn in this opening sequence that Orpheus is a notorious womanizer.

As you continue to watch, notice how the backdrop of Carnival – and the performance / dance they are preparing – serves to allegorically represent the characters (Mira is “Queen of the Day” and Serafina is “Queen of the Night” according to the boy Zeco (is he a cupid figure? what about the other boy Benedito?). There is also much emphasis on Orpheus as a musician who enchants the animals, who makes the sun rise with his music, etc.

Death comes stalking Eurydice, and is only temporarily fooled when she takes Serafina’s place in the parade / performance of Carnival as “Queen of the Night.” As you continue to watch, consider (and take notes on) the intertextual connections between the Ovidian version of the myth and the film; how the relationships between the characters in the film offer a rereading of the Ovidian version of Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as how the film functions in its own cultural moment: thinking about the Oliviera and Rankine articles, how does this film represent race, culture, and identity through this myth of Black Orpheus?

Once you have viewed the film and made some notes, please compose a 250-300 word response to the film’s intertextuality. You may address any of the questions immediately above, or any of the articles below, or you can innovate in your comments with the theorists / ideas / questions from our Literary History Site. I WILL BE COLLECTING THE WRITINGS in HARD COPY THE DAY AFTER SPRING BREAK. Please type your response.


The readings you had for the film, Rankine and Oliviera, were to serve as models for the construction of an annotated bibliography en route to your research paper. I am including below a SAMPLE annotated bibliography for you to peruse. It is also available in the Dropbox folder (writing assignments). Feel free or encouraged to reference any of it in your brief writing on the film (instructions above).

Please read the following basic background on annotated bibliographies:

The resource above ends with this observation, which I exhort you to heed: “You can focus your annotations for your own needs. A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to draft.”

For a sample annotated bibliography, check here:

Again, from the source above:  “As mentioned elsewhere in this resource, depending on the purpose of your bibliography, some annotations may summarize, some may assess or evaluate a source, and some may reflect on the source’s possible uses for the project at hand. Some annotations may address all three of these steps. Consider the purpose of your annotated bibliography and/or your instructor’s directions when deciding how much information to include in your annotations.

Please keep in mind that all your text, including the write-up beneath the citation, must be indented so that the author’s last name is the only text that is flush left.”


Sample Research Topic:

Let’s say I am interested in a research paper focused on the film below, this would be an initial bibliography focused on secondary sources only. Notice that I am providing a summary and brief analysis, but also that I am evaluating the source in terms of how I can best utilize it in my paper.

If my instructor asked me for primary sources, I would also need an entry on Ovid (and his section focused on Orpheus, including a summary, brief analysis, and my particular interest or focus; I would also need an entry about the film, where I describe the film (summary) as well as provide a brief analysis and explain my focus.



You can download a sample template for an MLA annotated bibliography here:



Student Name

Instructor’s Name

Course Number



Topic: Adaptation of Myth in Marcel Camus’ Orfeu Negru (1959)

Thesis statement (tentative): Not sure yet – but I am definitely interested in the representation of the sexualized female body and / or the racialized black body. I want to reexamine the Ovid to find seeds of Eurydice’s sexualization,

Annotated Bibliography

Fredricksmeyer, Hardy. “Black Orpheus, Myth and Ritual: A Morphological Reading.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition, vol. 14, no. 1/2, 2007, pp. 148–175. This article begins by charting different critical reactions to Camus’ 1959 film and its explicit parallels with the myth of Orpheus; while some suggest that the connections are superficial correspondences, Fredricksmeyer charts the archetypal and morphological patterns of the tale in order to better illuminate Camus’ innovative restructuring by resituating the tale in an “Africanized ‘New World’” (152); he also posits the inclusion of Afro-Brazilian culture as a reshaping of the original myth. Aware of his different audiences (see 152), Fredricksmeyer helpfully organizes his long article into sections which include summaries of the myth and the film, a discussion of the use of music in the film, archetypal narrative patters and symbols (particularly separation-liminality-incorporation and the heroic journey), and an analysis of the film’s originality. Fredricksmeyer helpfully includes other films as examples of directors who manipulate myth in similar ways: introducing, yet restructuring, archetypes or altering symbolic associations and characters to create something new. Camus’ film reinvents the myth with a more psychologically complex characters, while restructuring the use of music to function as an enduring, continually reviving consolation.  This article is helpful to me as I think about archetypal patterns across literature and I agree with the conclusions, especially about Zeca’s role as the “new” Orpheus. Fredricksmeyer’s reading of the patterns is especially helpful when he cites other mythological tales as examples (such as Persephone in the underworld); I will focus on his discussion of Eurydice’s body in the “liminal” phase of myth: whenever a female is raped or transformed, it is usually in a place or frame outside the “normalcy” of cultural and social practices where protective cultural norms cannot shield her (155). Additionally, although I do not foresee using it in my paper, I was particular interested in the discussion of the Apollonian and Dionysian elements as related to Nietzsche’s argument in The Birth of Tragedy (162-5).

Oliveira, CD. “’Orfeu Da Conceicao’: Variation on a Classical Myth.” Hispania-A Journal Devoted To The Teaching Of Spanish And Portuguese, vol. 85, no. 3, 2002, pp. 449–454. Oliviera traces the source of Camus’ film to a play produced in Brazil in 1956: Orfeu de Conceicao by Vinicius de Moraes. Moraes was influenced by Modernist poets, such as T.S. Eliot, and his play reflects Eliot’s ideas about the function of classical myth in modern literature. The emergence of the play and the film in this postwar period demonstrates a fascination with the myth of Orpheus after the Second World War. After tracing several other musical and literary works focused on the myth of Orpheus, and helpfully guiding us through the major variations in representation, Oliveira reminds of the classical version, providing a useful summary of Orpheus and Eurydice before charting how Moraes adapts the myth to his play which is set during Carnaval. Moreas manipulates the timing of the events to highlight certain moments (the death of Eurydice) and to emphasize the role of the women (Meanads in the myth) as they surround and dominate Orpheus. While this article does not address the Camus film or Ovid directly, it is helpful historical context for my essay as it provides a cultural backdrop to the popularity of the myth of Orpheus in the twentieth century. It also explains the character of Mira in the film, who enters from Moreas’ play as Eurydice’s rival and the one who instigates both Eurydice’s and Orpheus’ death.  This article actually complicates my comparative study of Ovid’s Orpheus and Camus’ Orpheus because there are clearly many other intertexts at work, including not only the literary and musical texts charted by Oliviera, but also the cultural intertexts of Carnival, Brazilian music, class and race in Rio. (I am disappointed that Oliviera did not address the class and race issues as much as I expected.) While I don’t intend to address all of the above in my paper, I will present these areas as other possible focal points to indicate that I have read widely and am aware of these racial, class, and cultural tensions. I found the quotes Oliviera includes from T.S. Eliot about myth and history to be helpful as I analyze how Camus’ film utilizes the myth of Orpheus to give “a shape and significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history” (453).

Rankine, Patrice D. “Orpheus and the Racialized Body in Brazilian Film and Literature of the Twentieth Century.” Forum for World Literature Studies, vol. 3, no. 3, 2011, pp. 420–433. Rankine’s article examines the use of classical sources to reinvent discourses of race, nation, and cultural identity from a post-colonial perspective, including the concept of omophagia (symbolic cannibalism) where “Brazilian artists were to consume all influences, national and foreign” (423). Rankine’s essay is particularly useful in the close attention it pays to the historical circumstances of colonialism and slavery in Brazil and the subsequent complexities of race relations in a population of indigenous peoples, imported slaves, and colonizing Europeans (primarily Portuguese). Rankine then focuses on the concept of “black identity” in Brazil, charting the constructing a genealogy of Black Orpheus (starting with Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay about Negritude poetry), and the trope of double-consciousness in the symbol of Black Orpheus as representative of black identity in Brazil. Rankine traces Sartre’s influence on Vinicius de Moraes1956 play Orfeu de Conceicao to explain the influences on the depiction of the black body in Camus’ film. Intriguingly, Rankine also charts the figure of Black Orpheus in a more recent remake: Orfeu directed by Diegues in 1999. This film modernizes the setting with multi-racial social interactions in the low-class favela, rampant violence, and afro-reggea, rap, samba, and pop, joining the Bossa nova soundtrack (431). Ultimately, Rankine’s article suggests that the versions of Orpheus as remade and racialized throughout the twentieth century are a recurring – yet often failing – attempt to regenerate the classical tale in opposition to the violent histories of racial and colonial oppression, to reconstitute an identity and meaning from the destruction and dismemberment. Rankine’s article is helpful in is social history and I am very interested in the trope of the Black Orpheus and the negritude movement which will certainly appear in my research paper.