Her career spans for three and a half decades filled with creativity and success. Her first work for television, Escrava Isaura, 1976, (based on the novel by Bernardo Guimarães) is probably one of the most famous telenovelas ever made. Her portrait of a slave in imperial Brazil was acclaimed in Latin America. Dubbed versions have been watched in nearly seventy countries. It has charmed audiences in Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa and Asia, transforming Santos into an international star.
Lucélia Santos was the first foreign actress to win the Golden Eagle prize in China. In 2004 she was honored with the “Jóia da China” medal, conferred upon her for her outstanding efforts to bring together the Chinese and Brazilian cultures.
Santos has also been successful as a director, particularly with her documentary "Timor Lorosae - O Massacre Que o Mundo Não Viu" ("Timor Lorosae - The Massacre The World Did Not See"), that investigates the killings that took place before the independence of East Timor. The documentary was produced by her company, Nhock Produções Artísticas Ltda.
Currently, she plays Suzana Mayer in the series "Donas de Casa Desesperadas", the Brazilian version of the "Desperate Housewives".