Note from BW of Brazil: Today, we take on a topic that will undoubtedly be part of any conversation about the imagery of Brazil: sex tourism. Let’s face it, Brazil has long promoted itself as a country of sexual freedom, sensuality and beautiful women. But these images often portray Brazilian women as simply another commodity available for consumption in the global economy while ignoring the fact that these persons have lives, challenges and aspirations. Filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo took on this topic in one of his many important documentaries. Below is a brief review of the film, with comments from the director. See the trailer (in Portuguese) at the bottom of the page.
Cinderelas, Lobos e um Príncipe Encantado
by Angélica Feitosa and Amilton Pinheiro
The social place of black women is one of the themes approached a documentary by filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo about the world of sex tourism in Brazil
A 13 year old girl taken by her mother to the Institute José Frota, in Fortaleza (1), after being assaulted by a customer/exploiter: the girl made of BR-116 (2) the point of her own exploitation, in the selling of her immature body. On Christmas, a young woman strolling hand in hand with a stranger, as she tells the camera that she will soon be traveling out of the country, but another prospective husband. In Berlin, the sound of Fascinação, a “mulata” dancer dances samba on her tiptoes, in a thong swimsuit, for the audience of native Germans. All are negras (black women). The scene is similar in much of the Northeastern capitals or with some connection to the region. So common and trivialized, they come to be seen as passive and even permissive.
The documentary Cinderelas, Lobos e um Príncipe Encantado, meaning “Cinderellas, Wolves and a Charming Prince”, filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo, comes to us remind that it is with eyes of estrangement that these images need to be observed: that without judgment. The allusion to the fairy tale could not be more appropriate. The film gives us a significant sample of this web of dreams, illusions, exploitation and terror, with some spasms of a happy ending, of Brazilian sex tourism. In Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and Salvador, Joel Zito interviewed a good part of those involved in the web of prostitution: women, men and transvestites working as garotos and garotas de programa (call boys and call girls), but also taxi drivers, and especially foreigners. In Berlin and Rome, the director also met dancers from several states in northern and northeastern Brazil, entrepreneurs who often visit Brazil and couples formed by Germans and Brazilians.
“My film is not only about sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in the northeast. The central theme is the universe of sex tourism. My initial intention was to understand the imaginary of foreign men who see sex tourism in Brazil and Brazilian women and youth that are the objects of ‘gringo’ (foreigner) desire. However, I realized that the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, along with trafficking in human beings, are the biggest shadows of this world.”
It’s not possible to touch on such a serious matter as this without addressing these issues. But the exploitation of children and adolescents is a problem in all regions and is, shall we say, very ‘democratic’ in the profile of exploiters. It happens in rich and poor households in urban centers in the interior and coastal areas of the country, on the coast. Children and teens seduced and exploited coming from poverty and lower middle class families disrupted by unemployment.
These children that, mostly suffering the first abuse within the home, “sometimes at the hands of their own fathers”, says the filmmaker, when he speaks of the most fragile side of this process, which involves power relations that constitute every society. In understanding the issue and how Brazil is facing one of its greatest challenges, which goes beyond the socio-economic issues and is aggravated by now, a few voices with first-hand knowledge of this underworld will suffice.
“I started prostituting myself 12 years after my father put me out of the house. And I’m in the Pelourinho (historic downtown area of Salvador, Bahia, one of the most popular tourist spots in the city) since then. Today, I’m 32 years old (the interview was conducted in August 2007) and I continue prostituting myself. If I could choose between a white man and a black man, I would choose a white man to limpar a família (clean or lighten the family) (laughs). When I say this, I’m serious.” – Luciana, prostitute, 32. (4)
Although not the focus of the documentary, the race issue is at the heart of the discussion. “I found a fact that helped to guide the documentary: 75% of the object of desire of foreign tourists are afrodescendentes (African descendants) Obviously, it comes embedded, especially from their point of view,” says the filmmaker, in an interview with O Povo by phone. If foreigners say that black women are nicer and at the same time “hot” or sexually loose, these women confirm the stereotype. “This is one of the few points that elevate their self-esteem. The more negroid (in appearance), the more they will be seen as ugly and undesirable in Brazil.” In the view of the foreigner, they realize that there is an appreciation of their aesthetic. This is seen by these women as security. At the same time, they say they don’t want to marry a man of their own skin color; “to clean the blood”, as one of the interviewees came to affirm. The question that remains is whether this lasciviousness wouldn’t be closer to permissiveness; if, because of low self-esteem, they wouldn’t allow any type of situation, even though aggressive or against their wills.
In an important study that became a book, A Exploração Sexual de Crianças e Adolescentes no Brasil – Reflexões teóricas, relatos de pesquisas e intervenções psicossociais (The Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in Brazil – theoretical reflections, research reports and psychosocial interventions), by researchers Renata Maria Coimbra Libório and Sônia Maria Gomes Sousa, edited by Casa do Psicólogo e UCG. 2nd edition, 2007, the authors mention that the sexual exploitation of children and young people, turning into a commodity, became commercialized, generating dividends for their exploiters (businessmen, politicians, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and family).
According to them, after the Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente (ECA or Statute of the Child and Adolescent), Brazilian society became more intolerant of sexual violence and that, paradoxically, this led mobilization and organization to combat this problem. It’s fitting that governmental and non-governmental organs construct the citizenship of these children and youth, restricting the non-violation of their rights by punishing those responsible directly and indirectly of this sad phenomenon, i.e. criminally responsible individuals who sexually exploit these people. Identifying these culprits, however, is not an easy task because many come from the family itself (the so-called silent and painful domestic violence), as well as businessmen and politicians who are rarely punished.
Another serious problem of this complex phenomenon is its quantification; few agencies oversee and generate data so that public policies are more effective. One of the non-governmental agencies that helps with actions that restrain the exploitation of children and youth is the Ceará Forum for Combating Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents, coordinated by Márcia Cristine de Oliveira, also coordinator of policy implications of Associação Curumins (Curumins Association), in Fortaleza, Ceará, created in 2001.
“We try to equate the sad and inhuman reality of this problem through various actions, for example, helping in the improvement of public education, in the training of citizens with critical sense, the articulation of the movements of the women who are directly connected to this issue and the regulation of entertainment venues,” explains Márcia Cristine de Oliveira.
“Like everywhere, what is missing here is employment; a lack of employment, education and culture. Girls 8, 9 and 10 years, who spend the night in Ceasa (3) selling coffee, it’s common that the camarada (man) torar [has sex] in bed for R$2, man, for R$2 (he says with emphasis), why? The people there in the extreme periphery (of the city) don’t have anything to eat, anything to drink, anything to do. The house is usually mud. They have almost nothing in the house but what does it have? A television that orders you to buy what you cannot buy, eat what you cannot eat, hang out with those who you cannot and should not. When I’m driving through places of prostitution it’s common to see girls showing their hairs, and many don’t even have hair, of the vagina for men, putting his hand on her private parts. All this shocks and revolts and nobody does anything.” – Carlos Careca, taxi driver in Fortaleza, Ceará
In the documentary, Joel Zito shows relationships that have at the center the financial issue and lack of affection. The logic is completely outside of romantic love. Many of them say they don’t care who they can marry. “The more a man pays us, the more we fall in love”, was a hilarious testimony, a transvestite interviewed in the documentary.
As an interviewer, Joel Zito stands out. He is direct and incisive without being disrespectful. He has sensitivity and questions at the right time. “Sometimes they revealed too much, sharing very intimate facts and I, out of respect, decided not to put them in. Even with foreigners, I really exposed their contradictions,” he compares. One of these men, an Italian, condemns the policy of sex tourism, although confessing that is one of its users minutes later.
The director chose to invest in a tone that was not always serious. The lighter moments are in the final part when the director interviewed Brazilian women married to German and presents the culture clashes of the relationship, in a fun way. “There are few success stories, but they exist. A journalist asked me why the movie ends with a happy story, of a wedding. Well, why can our middle class friends marry foreigners and be happy and the poor girls can’t?”.
Note from BW of Brazil: The topic of the sexual tourism industry continues to attract new, fresh research and interpretation of this underground world of sex, money, rewards and disappointments. Erica Lorraine Williams, a professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia in the US recently released a book entitled Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements based on her own field research on this topic. In an interview about her research, Williams revealed some very interesting details about the sex trade in the state of Bahia. For example, Williams found that the concerns of many sex workers revolved around police violence, clients not paying for their services and the view of sex with foreigners opening avenues of new opportunities and a means of escaping certain restrictions that life in Bahia imposed upon them.
Along the lines of some of the stereotypes regularly featured on this blog, Williams also found that many everyday Afro-Brazilian women who were not involved in sex tourism were often mistaken for sex workers in tourist spaces of Salvador, Bahia. Due to the myth of black hyper-sexuality, these women found themselves constantly having to negotiate how they were perceived by tourists who viewed all black women as being available for purchase. Interestingly, because of the difficulty in Salvador’s job market, some black women who didn’t have higher levels of education believed that domestic or sex work were perhaps the only viable avenues of employment for them, even finding sex work to be more advantageous than domestic services.
While I haven’t had the chance to read this book, judging from the reviews and the interview that can be found on Mark Anthony Neal’s blog, Left of Black, it’s sure to bring another perspective to the lives of black Brazilian women who are most often not given the opportunity to tell their own stories. See the Williams interview here.
1. The capital city of the northeastern state of Ceará.
2. A federal highway and one of the longest and most important highways in Brazil.
3. Ceasa or Centrais de Abastecimento do Ceará S/A is a mixed economy society of Ceará which controls the supply center installed in the Industrial District in Maracanaú, in the Metropolitan Region of Fortaleza, the capital city of the northeastern state of Ceará.
4. As has been highlighted previously on this blog, the ideology of the embranquecimento (or whitening) of one’s offspring is very common among black Brazilians. The ideology of “cleaning the blood” was actually a policy of Brazil’s elites in the 19th century with the objective of the eventual disappearance of physical traces of blackness through racial mixture (see here and here). Luciana’s comment, like others made and featured on this blog (here and here) show how persons of visible African descent are either taught or pick up somewhere along the way in their lives the low social value associated with blackness.
Clip from documentary “Cinderelas, Lobos e um Príncipe Encantado”