Note from BW of Brazil: I’m sure anyone who takes the issue of black representation seriously can probably remember having that Naomi Campbell moment. You know the moment when you realize how beautiful she really is. Or the moment when you see her as the only black model representing black women on some of the top runways around the world during top fashion shows. Or buying a magazine that you normally don’t purchase simply because you see Naomi on the cover. In other words, the British-born model has been of huge importance to black women around the world who grow up believing the racist ideology that black women can’t be seen as beautiful. Or that black women can’t represent certain products because non-black people won’t buy it.
Yes, for almost three decades, Campbell has been that presence in which black women can look to, see themselves and realize that they too can accomplish things that seem impossible. With all of this coming in a brown-skinned, nearly six-feet tall frame, one can imagine what her very existence has meant for black women in Brazil who rarely see themselves represented in any of Brazil’s mainstream media in any positions of prominence (beyond the gyrating ‘mulata’ during Carnaval). Which is perhaps the reason why Campbell returned to Brazil (a country of which she’s spent quite a bit of time of the years) to share her spotlight with a number of prominent black Brazilian women in the world’s most popular and most representative medium of the fashion industry, Vogue magazine, the Brazilian edition.
In the multi-page layout, Campbell posed with a number of afro-brasileiras who have graced the pages of our little blog over the past few years as well as the few that we unfortunately have yet to feature (but rest assured they’re coming up). Of the eleven women who posed with the internationally recognized supermodel, only shoe designer Lane Marinho, plastic artist Sônia Gomes and singer Alcione haven’t been featured on this blog. Not because we weren’t familiar with them but simply because we haven’t gotten to them yet! Without a doubt, the one of the three who is the most well-known would be the incomparable Alcione, a woman who has earned her rightful place in the history of Brazilian music, releasing a long list of popular albums (yes, she’s been around since vinyl albums) and CDs and representing for black Brazilians perhaps the place occupied by Aretha Franklin in the United States, Susana Baca in Peru or Cesária Évora in Cape Verde.
The only negative thing that comes to mind from this feature is the fact that it would be (and is) much easier for an internationally recognized top model such as Campbell to make the cover of the Brazilian edition of Vogue than a black Brazilian women as the number of black women featured on the cover of Vogue Brasil in its 41 year history can be counted on one (or is it two now) hand. The magazine has been sold on Brazilian newsstands since 1975 but only in 2011 did it feature its first cover with a black Brazilian woman! Campbell in fact had been featured on the cover of Vogue Brasil before a black Brazilian woman! A shame that it takes a black woman from another country to bring some shine to Brazil’s own beautiful women of African descent. Oh well….guess that’s why Black Women of Brazil (the blog) exists!
Naomi Campbell covers Vogue Brasil, poses with 11 prominent Afro-Brazilian women
Courtesy of O Povo and Super Combina
With three different covers, the May issue of Vogue Brasil celebrates 41 years of the magazine and is a tribute to the beauty of black women of Brazil. In it, Naomi Campbell posed alongside leading figures in different areas. The photo shoot came from an idea of Naomi herself, in conversation with Giovanni Bianco.
In the spread are: TV host Adriana Couto, volleyball player Fabiana Claudino, shoe designer Lane Marinho, journalism student Nathália Santos, singer Alcione, businesswoman Heloísa (Zica) Assisi, plastic artist Sônia Gomes, actress Cris Vianna, journalist Maju Coutinho, the first black judge in Brazil Luislinda Valois and politician Marina Silva.
In some meetings, Naomi wept with emotion, as when he was with Alcione, the most exciting moment. A fan of the singer, the top model threw herself at the feet of the singer, said she is a goddess and that it was a dream to meet her live. Giovanni Bianco began translating for Naomi what “Marrom” (Alcione) was saying, but the top model said to him, “you don’t need to translate, I understand everything she says.” In her Instagram, Naomi posted the albums signed by Alcione with hashtags like #queenofBrazil #unforgettable #whataday
Journalist Maju Coutinho is another who appears on one of the pages and was melted by Naomi. “At 45 seconds, she appeared wrapped in a blue light, dancing sensually. Fifty-five seconds later, she was slipping through a door casing, singing the following verse: ‘I think I’ll make myself a little happy’. Twenty-three seconds ahead, the verse that she babbled was ‘I only hope you understand that sometimes the clothes do not make the man.’ At 2 minutes and 29 seconds of the song, she was the first to sing the chorus ‘Freedom, Freedom’ from the video by George Michael.”
For Cris Vianna, it was a unique experience participating in the celebration and said it was “a beautiful editorial. I am very happy and honored to be a part of this article.” According to the magazine’s website, the photo, also posted on Instagram, generated comments from the public saying that Cris could be even more beautiful than the model. The magazine is now on newsstands.
The photos are by renowned photographer Bob Wolfeson.
Maju Coutinho, jornalist
The São Paulo native debuted on television as a host of news program on TV Cultura in 2005, but definitely conquered the public with her casual way of speaking when she took on the post of weathergirl on Jornal Nacional, last year, since 2013, she eventually presented the forecast on JN and on Jornal Hoje. After her success, Maju also became the target of racist comments on the internet that gained national repercussions and a hashtag (#somostodosmaju meaning ‘we are all Maju’) in her defense. The daughter of teachers and activists (her parents were part of the Conselho da Comunidade Negra Estadual – Council of the State Black Community), she wants to be known as Maju, the journalist, woman, that is also black. “Recognized for the work, that doesn’t have color,” she says.
Marina Silva, politician
Marina’s trajectory looks more like an enredo de novela (soap opera plot). The daughter of a black father and white mother, she was born in (the state of) Acre, in a rubber tapper community of (capital city) Rio Branco, where she worked in the extraction of the latex. “My mother was in love with my father and hoped that the children were born black. I only knew prejudice when I moved to the city at age 16,” she remembers. Illiterate until then, she was a maid, learned to read and write in Mobral (Movimento Brasileiro de Alfabetização or Brazilian Literacy Movement) and earned a degree in History. In the 1980s she embraced the environmental cause and got closer to rubber tapper leader Chico Mendes. In 1994, at 36 years of age, she was elected the youngest senator in the country – and one of the first to defend the reduction of gases of the greenhouse effect. Today she already has 30 years in public life, between legislative positions, one executive and two candidacies for the presidency.
With a career of more than 40 years, the charismatic native of (the state of) Maranhão, who is one of the icons of Brazilian Samba, entered the musical universe early singing and playing in parties of friends and relatives – her father, a police officer, was a music teacher and Military Police band leader and taught his daughter to play wind instruments at the age of 13. Since her youth, “Marrom” (meaning ‘brown’, as she is known) was trained as an elementary teacher at the age of 20, was encouraged by him to be independent and not obey any man. From a misciginada (mixed) background (black, Indian and Portuguese), the singer always debated prejudice at home. “There is nothing more beautiful and powerful in the world than being a woman.”
Sonia Gomes, plastic artist
She was the only Brazilian woman to participate in the Bienal de Veneza in 2015. In her works, the 67-year old native of (the state of) Minas Gerais brings fashion references, in old fabrics, that she borders and twists, transforming them into sculptures. One of her greatest influences is her grandmother, a faith healer and midwife, who also liked to collect old findings, such as pieces of clothing. “Whoever looks at my work perceives at that moment that I am a woman and black,” says Sonia who, before discovering her vocation for art, only at age 45, graduated with a degree in Law.
Heloísa (Zica) Assis, businesswoman
Born in a favela (slum/shantytown) in the Tijuca region of Rio de Janeiro, and today present in the lists of the most powerful businesswomen in Brazil, Zica never wanted to straighten her hair, but did want to highlight the beauty of curls. For ten years, she would develop products to leave them more silky and with the right volume, while she worked as a maid. In 1993, at age 33, she founded the Instituto Beleza Natural (Natural Beauty Institute), the largest network of salons in the country specializing in cabelos crespos e ondulados (kinky/curly and wavy hair). “The situations in which I felt discriminated against gave me the strength to change paradigms.”
Fabiana Claudino, volleyball player
Before becoming an athlete, the dream of the volleyball player from Belo Horizonte (capital city of the state of Minas Gerais) and two-time Olympic champion (2008 and 2012) was to work as a model. “I was always fascinated by sports, my mother practically obligated me to play volleyball and today I thank her for that. But I still want to take a modeling course,” says the Selecão (National Team) capital. She and her brother were used to talking about prejudice at home. “There are people who prefer to avoid the subject, but talking is a great weapon for dealing with it.”
Lane Marinho, shoe designer
After working in large companies, the baiana (native of the state of Bahia) decided, in 2013, to pursue a solo career and quickly conquered space in fashion with her shoes, handcrafts made from leather, natural strings and stones, that represent with precision typically Brazilian luxury. The vocation for handmade runs in the family: her mother sewed, her grandmother made trinkets and her aunts were embroiderers. The daughter of a philosopher, she always demanded of herself to grow professionally without letting prejudice rule her life. “I preferred to respond with my competence.”
Adriana Couto, Journalist
Since 2009 the host of the TV Cultura program Metrópolis, the 42-year old journalist grew up in Itaquera, in São Paulo’s east zone. Her mother, a housewife, and her father, a bricklayer, had little formal education, but they battled so that their four daughters could go to college. Adriana graduated from PUC and had a sister 10 years older that is a professor. “Because of having entered college before, she brought this militant discourse home, that we were capable of everything.”
Cris Vianna, actress
The daughter of a nurse and a upholsterer, the São Paulo native worked as a babysitter until discovering a love for the stage, while still a teenager. “I did work as a model to pay for the theater course,” she says. Since then, she already participated in successful novelas (soap operas) such as América, Fina Estampa and A Regra do Jogo. She’s already been the rainha de bateria (queen of the drumbeat during Carnaval) for the Grande Rio samba school and today occupies the same post with the Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school. “I follow my mother’s slogan: racism will only be a problem if you let it. I don’t permit for prejudice of others to take away my strength.”
Nathália Santos, Journalism student
Owner of the You Tube channel “Como assim cega?”, the Rio native and journalism student was interviewed by Regina Casé on the program Esquenta in 2012. Spontaneous and well articulated, she ended up becoming a regular commentator. At the age of 23, she says that all quotas belong to her: a woman, black, blind and poor. Two years ago, she switched colleges after being assaulted by five students that twisted her forearm back. At home, her parents always taught her to be independent. “Still, I’m put to the test all the time,” she says.
Luislinda Valois, judge
Impetuous, the 74-year old baiana, today retired, challenged a teacher in her childhood that discouraged her from studying in order to “serve feijoada in the homes of white people.” “I’m going to be a judge and come back to arrest you,” she retorted. At age 14, Luislinda lost her mother, a laundress, and helped her father, a trolley motorman, to raise three siblings, who are engineers today. Because of this, her dream of earning a degree in Law happened later, at age 39. In 1984, she became the first black woman judge in the country, and in 2011, the first chief judge.