A ground-breaking new stage production of French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” features a boy with an afro.
The musical, which opened in September in Sao Paulo, is the first production of “The Little Prince” in Brazil to cast a black actor in the title role, and as fans young and old know well, the titular character has golden hair.
Nine-year-old Levi Asaf has a big afro instead and with his sparkling eyes, infectious smile and pint-sized charm, the Brazilian actor is Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “extraordinary little fellow” to a T.
“I think he would have liked it,” Asaf, a bubbling actor from the northeastern state of Bahia, said of the late French aviator author, who published his fanciful tale of the planet-hopping young prince in 1943.
“I think he would have thought it was really cool to see his little white prince with golden hair, now played by a boy with a black-power afro. Because I am representing black people. I’ve heard the sad story of black people who used to be enslaved, and that made me sad. But now, people must respect my crown!” he told AFP.
“If you watch old movies, or even more recent ones, you’ll see that there are not many black people in them, maybe just one or two. Now, for a nine year-old boy to play the leading part of such a classic tale… It’s very important, you know?” says a 11-year-old Brazilian student Alex Imoto Mendes and he underlines the importance of Levi’s job.
Decked out in the Little Prince’s signature teal tunic, Asaf sings, dances and bounds through the production, from his famed introductory request to the pilot-narrator: “Please… draw me a sheep.”
It is a rewarding role for a child actor who has already been a victim of racism at his young age.
At school, classmates used to harass Asaf, calling him names such as “steel-wool head,” said his mother, Rosane Luiz Eloi.
“That was one of the less offensive remarks,” she said.
“But I’m very proud of him. He never let it get to him.”
She said she herself finds inspiration in her son’s career, which started in 2018.
The following year, when he was six, she was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was a battle to beat it. And I have to say, seeing him fight and overcome the way he has, it’s given me so much strength,” she said.
“I hope he’ll inspire other black children like him who need more opportunities.”
Asaf says the role is more than just an entry on his growing resume, which already includes modeling, commercials and a Netflix film.
“By playing the Little Prince, I’m representing black people, respect my crown!” he added, laughing, with a dramatic toss of his afro.
“My son suffered racism in school”
The production, captained by general director Fernanda Chamma, opted for having four actors playing the title character: besides Levi, there’s a teenage white boy, a young white girl, and a blonde white boy.
This arrangement also proved useful in dealing with local legislation regulating the work of child actors, which imposed long hours of rest between performances, making it impossible for a single performer to meet the play’s weekly schedule of five performances compressed from Friday to Sunday.
Asaf was born in Juazeiro, Bahia, and began his artistic career as a model in 2018. After participating in several commercials, he started acting. He has already appeared in productions for Netflix and Brazilian GloboPlay.
His mother, Rosane Luiz Eloi, is delighted with his success, but remembers harder times, when her son suffered racism at school. “He was called names, especially because of his hair. But he never let it get him down,” she says.
Brazil, a country of 215 million people, abolished slavery in 1888, the last country in the Americas to do so.
More than half of the population is black or mixed-race.