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Poignant social messages in telenovela's love triangles.

Telenovelas are a source of education and information for millions throughout the world. Their message is more effective since it is actually woven into the plot of those long-running soaps, allowing for a maximum amount of personal identification among viewers.

The importance of the telenovelas as a means of enlightening, as well as entertaining, was recognized recently when Population Communications International (PCI) bestowed its EarthSavers Award on TV Globo of Brazil. The prize, first of its kind, is given to an international broadcast network or individual program that most effectively impacts on the population/environmental agenda of that country, according to David Poindexter, president of PCI.

That these messages, which become an integral part of the story, are effective can no longer be doubted, which is one reason why so many countries - from Latin America to Asia and Africa - are now regularly airing and often producing stories that focus on local and sometimes controversial issues.

The most convincing examples came from Mexico, where telenovelas with a point-of-view have been on television for many years. Serials that spoke to women about the need for birth spacing and family planning resulted in a drop in the Mexican birth rate.

Poindexter recall s that one telenovela dealing with Mexican history and adult education resulted in a 300 per cent increase in the enrollment at adult centers where reading skills were taught. The blight of illiteracy, and the disadvantages of the low status for women in many regions, is frequently dealt with.

While the emphasis is largely on population and environmental issues, and how they affect the individual - or more specifically what the individual can do about them - the topics integrated into telenovelas cover a broad range. Drugs, violence, alcoholism, even rape, are included. So are various aspects of AIDS. And, with some caution, so is "safe sex".

According to James H. Stone, executive v.p. of Coral Pictures in Miami, Fl., which sells Venezuelan telenovelas, the social and sometimes political messages are included at times because of a request by government agencies or specific interest groups, but more often because members of the pre-production group that approves the telenovela scripts feel that they serve a valid purpose.

Venezuela last year was the most prolific producer of telenovelas in Latin America, followed by Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and others. However, locally produced telenovelas are al so very popular in India, Pakistan, the Philippines and in African countries like Nigeria.

Unlike the American soaps, which run until their ratings appeal runs out, telenovelas have a distinct beginning, middle and end. In many cases, they consist of as many as 250 episodes, which has earned them the Spanish nickname, culebras (snakes).

The export market for telenovelas has widened considerably during the past couple of years, so that a Coral telenovela will be bought by some 40 markets abroad. Increasingly, telenovelas are being programmed in prime time.

They are also very lucrative since the budget for each telenovela episode in Venezuel runs up to only $30,000. The same program in the U.S. would cost in the neighborhood of $250,000. Of late there have been reports of coproduction feelers to the Latin Americans from the U.S.. NBC has acknowledged talking to Coral about its Lady of the Rose soap.

The latest to join the telenovelaboom is Pakistan where that form of highly emotional television - particularly with a message to women - has run up against religious censorship problems.

In New York recently, a young actress in the series Sania Saeed, who stars in the telenovela A Stirring Sound, told of her difficulties with the soap which tells the story of an educated couple with two female children. Although she wants no more babies, the man insists on having another one in the hope that it will be a boy. They eventually do have the child; unfortunately he dies.

Miss Saeed told of the close public identification with her character. "People would come up to me and talk about various roles as if they were completely real," she said. "One man accused me of spoiling his wife. He complained that she now asks him questions."

In India, a vastly popular telenovela, Humraahi (Come Along with Me), produced by Roger Pereira, dealt with a young girl who is forced to marry but refuses to have a child. She is ultimately pressured into having one. However, it dies in childbirth.

One of the most popular of the Latin soaps Cristal, from Venezuela, is about a woman who develops breast cancer. Its hidden message to women is to get regular mammograms. Mammogram testing in the country went up 400 per cent as a result.

In Coral's Caribe, the message speaks out against corrupt politicians, which gave the soap a unique impact in Panama where, on popular request, it was moved to prime time. Egyptian television screened a soap called The White Flag, in which greed and corruption were counterpointed by an ex-Ambassador who fought for the traditional values. Earlier this year, Helmyia Nights dealt with two Egyptian families between 1952 and the late 80's. An episode dealing with President Sadat's assassination was red-penciled by the censors.
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Title Annotation:soap operas
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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