With the appearance of televisions in Polish homes, series that gathered masses of viewers in front of their screens every week. "Czterej pancerni i pies", "Come in 07", "Stakes greater than life" or foreign productions such as "Kojak" or "Weather for the Rich" attracted a lot of attention. But the biggest hit was the show that many considered to be synonymous with kitsch.
We are talking about the first soap opera in the People's Republic of Poland - "Slaves of Israel". The plot is loosely based on the abolitionist book by Bernardo Guimarães about a fair-skinned slave and her owner, Leôncio Almeida, a cotton planter. It was a classic Latin American soap opera with a love story as its main plot. Of course, there were a lot of obstacles on the way to the title character's happiness. The series also had a standard aesthetics for this genre, characterized by, among others long shots of the actors' faces, building tension and emphasizing the emotions that haunt the characters.
The main roles were cast by TV debutant, 18-year-old Lucélia Santos, and Rubens de Falco, an actor in his forties, known both from films and theater. It was supposed to be another costume production for regular lovers of the genre. Unexpectedly, however, this soap opera became one of the most popular in the history of (also Polish) television. In addition to Latin American countries, it conquered, among others France, Italy, Austria, Finland, Hungary and China. In total, it was broadcast in 130 countries, attracting not only ordinary citizens, but also celebrities such as Fidel Castro.
The "Slaves of Isaura" madness was not only characterized by high ratings. In France, the number of car accidents dropped during the show's broadcasting hours and in Hungary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was filled with envelopes with money for which the main character was bought from Leôncio's hands. The funds were finally transferred at the invitation of the main characters to the country.
However, the production was the most popular in the Middle Kingdom, as evidenced by the Chinese TV Lucélia Santos awarding the best actress. It was the first such award in the history of this country for an artist from abroad.
The phenomenon of Isaura also reached the Vistula - although at first it was not predicted to be a great success. However, it quickly turned out that not only Leôncio was not alone in escaping from the charm of the slave.
Isauromania on the Vistula River
The times of the People's Republic of Poland are undoubtedly a fertile period for Polish cinema and television productions. Directors, screenwriters, actors and other creators involved in the production of films and series climbed to the heights of possibilities, creating works appreciated by both the audience of that time and our contemporaries.
Therefore, buying "Slave Isaura" at the Cannes TV fair, Lew Rywin was not entirely convinced that the series would be widely recognized in our country. Nevertheless, he needed some production for Tuesday evenings, and the representative of the Brazilian TV station Globo not only offered to donate the pilot episode for free, but also threw a nice discount on the others. This way Isaura ended up in Polish homes and the rest became history.
The main role played by Lucélia Santos.
The first episode aired on February 19, 1985 at 8:15 pm. The original version of the series consisted of 100 episodes lasting less than 30 minutes. In Poland, they were combined and slightly trimmed, which resulted in 15 episodes of approximately one hour. The pilot had 43% viewers in front of their TVs, which was slightly above average, but very quickly the viewership of "Slave of Isaura" started to grow, exceeding 90% at its peak (with an average of 81%).
During the broadcast, the streets literally depopulated, and some establishments (e.g. hairdressers) worked shorter hours, so that customers and employees could catch the next episode of the soap opera. The range of viewers was extremely wide, representatives of almost all groups gathered in front of the TV sets, including Wislawa Szymborska. The desire to know the fate of the heroes was so great that TVP was inundated with requests for a morning rerun of the series.
Dear Television! We, the three-thousand-strong staff of Zakłady Przemysłu Reklamy "Bytom" in Bytom, kindly request to broadcast the movie "Slave of Isaura" for the second shift because we watch every other episode. This series is very interesting and we would like to know the further fate of the heroes of this series in its entirety.
The madness also translated into other spheres of life, including naming newborns. Izaury, Tobias and Malwiny began to come into the world, and discussions about the fate of the heroes could be heard almost everywhere - in a shop, park or university walls. For over three months of broadcasting, Poles gained the opportunity to cut themselves off from the gray reality and focus their attention on something completely different, which gave them a respite from everyday life.
Escape from the gray reality
The popularity of the series was so great that Polish Television decided to invite to the country the actors of the main roles - Lucélia Santos and Rubens de Falco. The emotions accompanying their tour were later compared to those of the papal pilgrimages . Wherever they appeared, they were greeted by crowds, which at times became even dangerous for the idols, preventing them, for example, from getting out of the car or leading to the faint of Isaura's role.
Seeing all this, many people, including film critics, were catching their heads. How did the exaggerated and kitschy story take almost the entire nation? As psychologists and sociologists later proved, "Slave Isaura" not so much appealed to Poles as to their needs at the time. And the greatest of them was the desire to escape from the gray reality of the People's Republic of Poland. For viewers, the series has become an exotic novelty in an accessible edition, which allowed them to escape from what was happening in the streets and in politics for a while.
05.1985 Krakow Visit of Brazilian actors of the very popular series "Slave Isaura" N / with Lucelia Santos and Rubens de Falco.
A sentimental story about an innocent and oppressed slave escaping from the influence of a bad master and being taken care of by a good and rich Alvar, it was also a respite from what Polish productions of that time presented. Of course, this was not the only level on which the series was received. Many Poles identified with the enslaved Isaura due to the situation prevailing in the country , there were also people who received the show very personally.
I feel like this Isaura, being humiliated, chased by Leôncia. Men can be cruel. I experienced it on myself.
It was Leôncio who became a slave, you could say:a slave of love. When a man loves so much, he becomes a slave. I can say something about that.
"Slave Isaura" shot perfectly into the moment, as no other series has repeated its success. The following years brought both political and cultural changes. The TV schedule began to expand and fill with Western productions, drawing masses of viewers in front of glass screens. However, it was Isaura that turned out to be the biggest surprise on Polish television, not only paving the way for subsequent productions from Latin America, but also leaving a strong mark on cultural and social memory.
- Wajda, "Slave Isaura" won the hearts of Poles in the People's Republic of Poland , Focus.pl, 15/06/2020 / accessed:19/09/2021.
- Warsaw went crazy when the actors of "Slaves of Isaura" came to Poland. People shouted in the streets, "Leoncio, you pig!" , metrowarszawa.gazeta.pl, 10/10/2018 / accessed on 19/09/2021.