Screening this week at Series Mania, “Doce” is a seven-part series about Portugal’s first major girl band. It is a musical odyssey in a country that was undergoing radical transformations in the wake of the 1974 revolution.
“Doce” represented Portugal in the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest and were glitzy trailblazers of a new world of opportunities for women. The project’s director, Patrícia Sequeira, is the helmer of two of Portugal’s biggest recent domestic box hits, political drama “Snu” in 2019 and the 2021 feature film “Bem Bom” which is the sister project to the TV series.
The four young female singers of “Doce” wore racy outfits and sang daring and sexually-charged lyrics, that inspired a generation, including Sequeira herself, who was nine years old when she first heard them sing. Interviewed by Variety, she explains her motivations behind the project:
Why are you so interested in this period of Portuguese history – between the late 1970s and early 1980s?
Precisely because it was a period of major change which helps us understand who we are today.
This is a project set in a critical period of women’s liberation in Portugal, written by three women and directed by you. Why were you fascinated by this story?
I was fascinated to be able to tell the story of four strong women, who were not understood by their peers, who were ahead of their time, who helped change the country, but who we can only fully understand 40 years later.
I was just a kid when Doce was set up and I grew up singing their songs and trying out their dance moves. I’ve always liked film and TV musicals, so I conceived this project as something that would be happy and fun. I had a profound conviction that I would be able to tell this story. When I faced huge obstacles, I never gave up. Over time, the project redefined itself. I realized that by talking about this band I was addressing issues that are very close to my heart: the female condition, prejudice and female empowerment. When I spoke about the project, people told me that other people had already tried to do it and failed, that the band members were no longer on speaking terms, which would make things problematic. But a little bit of fear also inspires me, when I think it’s worth taking a risk. People started to express their commitment to the project, I received different kinds of support and this helped bolster my energies.
The series identifies several foreign musical and other influences, such as Brazilian actress Sónia Braga and the American female band, The Supremes, and also the Eurovision Song Contest. Was this important in a country that had been closed off to the world for more than 40 years?
Yes. Portugal was not yet ready for change. We were slowly starting to apply models that worked abroad and that interests me.
I also find the Eurovision Song Contest very interesting because Doce’s participation in the competition renewed the image of Portuguese women. The former prevailing image of Portuguese woman as conservative and dour was replaced by bold and sensual singers. People say that Doce were the most photographed band at the Contest.
Given that the story is based on real facts and people, what is the degree of fiction in the project?
Fiction exists above all in the parts of the story that we cannot know but guess. It fills in the spaces that we didn’t know, that weren’t documented. Fiction is also used to represent relevant aspects of the epoch. For example, the fictional character, Cristina, represents the feminine condition of Portuguese women at the time – downbeat, shy, formal and shows us the impact that Doce had on women. The character Arnaldo represents Portugal that was still closely linked to the music scene just before and after the 1974 revolution, the black and white Portugal of ballads. For the intellectual elite, Doce had no value. They only symbolized feminist claims reduced to a superficial performance. I also introduced the character of Sebastião. In a series that addresses the early 1980s, I thought it was crucial to introduce the gay universe, which ceased to be invisible after the 1974 revolution, with the opening of some discos and the scourge of AIDS that started to affect Portugal in that period.
The project was supported by RTP, PIC Portugal, and the Lisbon Film Commission. Was the cash rebate system important to be able to carry out this project?
Yes. It was very important in the first place because, since we didn’t secure initial funding from the ICA – Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual we had to overcome a budget shortfall. Secondly, because the cash rebate system in Portugal has various attractions – the series benefited from 30% of eligible expenses – and we received payments in several installments, paid advance. When it works and the funds are available, as in the case of “Doce,” this offers major financial help for Portuguese producers in a country where public funding is scarce and is allocated through a very flawed system.