Fashion Rio’s invisible black model and the battle over quotas

black Brazilian women
Scarcity of black models at Fashion Rio reopens debate on quotas

As I mentioned in an article a few days ago, all eyes were on the Fashion Rio Verão 2011 (the winter edition of Fashion Week in Rio de Janeiro) to see if Brazil’s black models would fare any better on the runways. Brazil’s two most popular fashion events, this one in Rio along with the SãoPaulo Fashion Week, are consistent “blackouts” when it comes to models of color on the runway. Year after year dating back to at least 2007, black models garner more attention for their runway protests than their actual presence on the runways. Alas, this year was no different.

This year, the runways of Fashion Week in Rio de Janeiro had celebrities and even transsexual models but in a country where half the population is of African origin, the presence of blacks on catwalks was rare, reopening the debate about quotas.

Few models of African descent were seen on the runways of Fashion Week in Rio, which had until this past Saturday (14) to present 24 collections for the winter season.This is in spite of Brazil being the country with the world’s largest black population after Nigeria.

“They only call us when the runway theme is linked to black culture,” said Luana Genót, 23, one of only eight black models, of a total of more than 200, from the agency 40 Graus Models, one of the main agencies in Rio de Janeiro.

For the first time in June 2009, the SãoPaulo Fashion Week, the most important in Latin America, was forced to impose a quota of at least 10% black models after a court decision due to pressure from the Movimento Negro. But in the later edition, 2010, only eight of the 344 models that walked the runway were of African descent.

“In 2010, unfortunately, a conservative judge eliminated the quotas,” said Friar David, a Franciscan priest who runs the NGO Educafro, which is committed to facilitating the access of black and indigenous people to the labor market.The organization demanded that the quotas again be implemented just a few days before the opening of Fashion Week in SãoPaulo.

“We cannot discriminate against blacks in Brazil, where 51% of the population is black or mixed race. I think the prosecution will respond favorably to our pressures and this decision will influence the environment of fashion around the country,” said the priest. In education, Brazil adopted quotas a few years ago to facilitate the access of blacks to universities.

The organizers of Fashion Week did not respond to queries about this issue from the press, although in a previous report, they affirmed that “racial discrimination doesn’t exist” in the industry.

Luana Genót


Luana Genót (both photos), who besides being a model, studies advertising at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio (PUC), described her difficulties in reach the runway: “They often say to me, ‘What are we going to do with your hair?’ They put my makeup on last and so that the brush doesn’t get stained with very dark tones.”
“They also say that the winter collection is for whites in Europe, or even that blacks have a lot of hips and buttocks. It amazes me to see that in Brazil, where half the population is descended from African slaves, there is so little space for us”, she added.
The young woman, who argues that the runway should show the miscegenation that everyone sees on the streets of Brazil, organized in November at her university, during the Week of Black Consciousness, a discussion of ethnic diversity in the fashion world.
Sergio Mattos, director of the agency 40 Graus Models, acknowledged in a statement to the newspaper O Globo this week that “the fashion weeks are cruel to the models of Rio that have more curves and tanned skin.”
The blue-eyed blonde Bruna Loureiro was discarded from a catwalk because of her skin being “very golden when the brand of clothing preferred the skins that are very, very white.”
The debate about quotas was featured in the new edition of the popular reality show “Big Brother Brazil” on Wednesday. Asked about the need for quotas, Daniel Chaniz, the only black person among the twelve participants and a professional model, said that he was “against” them, a minority among blacks, but defended by people who say these quotas “aggravate racism.”
“There should be no quotas in this sector. We are all alike, under the skin we all have red blood,” he said.
Chaniz’s comments were blasted in various comments sections online by many black Brazilians and members of the Movimento Negro. Conservatives of Brazil’s right, certain academics and even Brazil’s most popular television network, O Globo, have been ruthless in their attempts to undermine and totally reverse any system of quotas in Latin America’s largest country. For example, over the past several years, one of the country’s leading geneticists has been using his DNA analysis of Brazil’s population in order to show that quotas based on race make no sense in Brazil, as most of the population is of varying degrees of mixed race. 

The comment by Chaniz is also not the first time that the Globo TV has used a character or actor in one of its programs to promote the views of the network. In 2008, a character on a popular Globo soap opera portrayed by an Afro-Brazilian actress was shown reading a copy of the book Não Somos Racistas (We Are Not Racists), written by Ali Kamel, the director of journalism at the television giant. 

I will say this. The existence of racism has been well documented in Brazil for a number of years in Brazilian, American and European academia. This blog offers only a small sample of the daily experiences of racial discrimination in the lives of black Brazilians. And if Brazil is to live up to the myth of “racial democracy” that it has promoted since the 1930s, it could start by assuring that it’s runway models don’t all look as if they came directly from Europe.

* – The Globo Network (Rede Globo) is the top television network in Brazil,  the fourth-largest public TV commercial network in the world and one of the largest producers of soap operas. 

About Marques Travae 2898 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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