Brazilian soap operas are no strangers to scandal, but talk of a kiss between two men in Friday night's finale of a popular telenovela has the country re-examining one of its few taboos.
Fans of the TV Globo novela "America" are eagerly waiting to see whether Junior, the son of a powerful ranch owner, will go so far as to kiss Zeca, one of the hired hands. If he does, it will mark the first time two men have engaged in a passionate kiss on Brazilian television.
In 1998, the TV drama "Tower of Babel" featured a lesbian couple, but until "America" the subject of a homosexual relationship between men had been largely taboo.
If Junior and Zeca do kiss in the final chapter of "America," it could have repercussions well beyond Brazil's borders, said Green, a professor of Brazilian History and Culture at Brown University.
Globo's novelas are translated and exported across Latin America and as far away as Russia, where they are immensely popular. For its part, Globo is being coy about whether or not the kiss will take place. The controversy has already driven up ratings and triggered a debate about the acceptance of homosexuals in Latin America's largest nation.
The telenovela's final scenes are "an absolute secret," a surprise for viewers from author Gloria Perez, Globo's press office said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Globo's telenovelas are immensely popular across this nation of 183 million people, and final episodes of the most popular novelas have been known to register audiences equal to 90 percent of the viewing public.
According to Globo, since Perez announced last week that the scene was being planned, the network has received a flood of telephone calls and e-mails, with about 53 percent of them opposing the kiss and 47 percent in favor. On Monday, however, the network said about 80 percent of the reaction had been in favor of the kiss.
Globo is no stranger to controversy. It has long used its novelas to open public discussion about controversial subjects such as divorce, which became legal in Brazil only in 1977, and abortion, which is still illegal.
Brazil's Roman Catholic Church had no comment on the possible kiss. And while Portuguese-speaking Brazilians are generally more tolerant of homosexual conduct than their neighbors in Spanish-speaking Latin America, the country remains something of a paradox.
Judges have granted foreign partners in gay relationships the right to residence and have authorized civil unions that bestow many of the same benefits of marriage to gay couples, but many segments of society remain openly hostile to homosexuals, AP reports.