When rappers crossover: new video by rapper MV Bill provokes accusations of sell-out, whitening and elitification of Brazilian Hip Hop

Rapper MV Bill in new music video "Vibe da Noite"
Rapper MV Bill in new music video “Vibe da Noite”

Note from BW of Brazil: What do BET (Black Entertainment Television), American rapper Ja Rule and Brazilian Hip Hop have to do with each other? As the artist that is the focus of this article is not widely known outside of Brazil, the back story of the following piece will be necessary. Below is the introduction to the article. Please stay tuned below for a further analysis and the answer to the question.

Rapper MV Bill generates controversy with his latest music video

Rapper, actor, social activist MV Bill
Rapper, actor, social activist MV Bill

By Brasil 247

Rio rapper releases the song “Vibe da Noite (Vibe of the Night)” from his new album. Recorded in Santa Catarina with innovative production in the sound and visual, the video caused controversy among fans. Some see this change as a possible elitização, elitization or gentrification of the artist.

Long time Rio rapper MV Bill released a new video in December of 2013. According to the site Enraizados, meaning enrooted, “Vibe da Nite”, recorded in Brusque, Santa Catarina, is a very different production from previous videos, with a danceable musical style and more elitist profile of participants, generating controversy among fans.

Scene from "Vibe da Noite" video
Scene from “Vibe da Noite” video

On YouTube, one viewer goes on to say that the musician “is becoming more and more pop and is distancing himself from protest rap that shows the reality of the periferia (periphery/favela/slum) and social inequality.” However, most of the reviews are positive.

Still from "Vibe da Noite" video
Still from “Vibe da Noite” video

The song, that has the participation DJ Nyack and rapper Camila CDD, is from the new album of the artist. Wilson Nenen, founder of the clothing brand Jah Bless, was who organized and produced the video. Since the posting on YouTube, on Christmas Eve, the video has already amassed over 12,000 views.

MV Bill featuring Kamila CDD (official video)

Note from BW of Brazil: Brazilian Hip Hop is quite an intriguing genre both analyzed from the perspective of Brazilian music and well as from the perspective of what one could call the Hip Hop Diaspora. Brazilian Hip Hop in itself has always been rather diverse. Depending on one’s taste, one could choose from a number of styles within genre from the more pop-oriented, to mixtures with Reggae and Rock. But Brazilian Hip Hop’s 1980s roots are deeply connected to the “Bailes Black” dances in various major cities throughout the country where African-American Soul and Funk music was a dominant style and influence. With such a strong influence coming from the US black community, it was perhaps not surprising that Hip Hop music and culture would also become a major import to Brazil’s black community. As the genre became more popular, it was inevitable that Brazil would develop its own homegrown idols as its audience continued to grow. In the 1980s and early 1990s, artists such as the Racionais MCs (once described as a fusion between Public Enemy and NWA), Thaide and DJ Hum, RZO, Rappin’ Hood and others would soon stand out as bona fide stars.

Brazilian Hip Hop: (Clockwise from top left) - Racionais MCs, RZO, Thaide and DJ Hum, Rappin’ Hood
Brazilian Hip Hop: (Clockwise from top left) – Racionais MCs, RZO, Thaide and DJ Hum, Rappin’ Hood

From Cidade de Deus, the same Rio de Janeiro neighborhood that spawned the international hit film of the same name (City of God in English), a rookie calling himself MV Bill (MV meaning Mensageiro de Verdade or Messenger of Truth) would release his first album in 1998. From 1998 to 2010, MV Bill (Alex Pereira Barbosa) would release four CDs, a number of music videos and garner a reputation as one of Brazilian Hip Hop’s most controversial, socially conscious rappers shining the spotlight on the violence and lifestyles that affect young people living in the poverty-ridden city peripheries known as favelas. The track “Soldado do Morro” (Solider of the Hill or favela) attracted criticism from those who saw the song as Bill defending a criminal lifestyle.

2005 book, 2006 documentary
2005 book, 2006 documentary

After visiting 20 favelas to learn why young people turned to lives of crime, the rapper released a critically acclaimed book called Cabeça de Porco (meaning pig head) (2005) and a documentary entitled Falcão – Meninos do Tráfico (2006) that put a face on society’s forgotten, rejected and stereotyped youth. The documentary was featured on one of the Globo TV network’s top programs. His social activism would also lead to the creation of the NGO CUFA (Central Única das Favelas) that develops projects of education, culture and sports as a means of guiding young people into more positive outlets of leisure, personal and professional development.

MV Bill with Chuck D (left) and Mos Def (in white)
MV Bill with Chuck D (left) and Mos Def (in white)

With such accomplishments, it’s not surprising that MV Bill yields much influence as a representative of Brazil’s black, poor and oppressed communities. Over the years, he has been featured in articles and videos meeting with popular American rappers such Chuck D. of Public Enemy fame, Mos Def and was also featured in the Brazil portion of the Black in Latin America documentary series of the Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates. And in a nod to a highly influential rapper in Brazil and seemingly on the rapper himself, MV Bill also narrated a documentary about the last days of the slain American rapper Tupac Shakur. 

MV Bill with Henry Louis Gates in documentary "Black In Latin America"
MV Bill with Henry Louis Gates in documentary “Black In Latin America”

On a personal level, while this writer has never met MV Bill personally, a friend who also grew up in the Cidade de Deus favela and knew Bill personally would speak of Bill from time to time. It was always interesting to perceive how this friend, who I will call “Tia”, would mention how Bill’s fame was growing and the type of women who would keep his company. Once, I remember “Tia” telling me how Bill’s girlfriend at the time (sometime between 2002 and 2005) was “light-skinned but at least she was black”; this in the context of the reputation that Afro-Brazilian men have for preferring European-looking women. This short overview about MV Bill is by no means meant to be a biography as a 15-year career can’t possibly be summed up in a few paragraphs, but it does provide at least a little background for the discussion that is to come.

The debate about Brazilian Hip Hop, its image, content and artists cannot be judged in a vacuum, independent of a multi-billion dollar genre that has planted its seeds all over the world. Hip Hop, particularly of the American variety, has come a long way. From an underground musical style that critics believed wouldn’t last more than a few years to the production of films and TV shows with Hip Hop as a backdrop, to rappers who have become well-known attractions in the movie industry, and rappers-turned-entrepreneurs who have successfully crafted their images into multi-million dollar business conglomerates, the genre has gone far beyond anyone’s expectations. American Hip Hop has gone through various periods, starting out as party music, passing into black consciousness rap, gangster rap and on to the “bling-bling” genre and its extreme representations of money, women, clothes, champagne and over the top lifestyles of excess. In some ways, American Hip Hop of the mid to late 1990s on cannot be separated from the fortunes of the first black-owned television network in the US, BET, or Black Entertainment Television.  

2004 book, "The Billion Dollar BET: Robert Johnson and the Inside Story of Black Entertainment Television" by Brett Pulley
2004 book, “The Billion Dollar BET: Robert Johnson and the Inside Story of Black Entertainment Television” by Brett Pulley

Although negative, caricatured images of blacks on American television would seem to have been the initial reason for the creation of the first black-owned television network, Brett Pulley argues otherwise. Speaking on the rise of the network and its CEO Bob Johnson, Pulley writes:

“Because of his network, a fledgling and original musical style known as rap emerged from the ghetto to infiltrate mainstream America and become a major multibillion-dollar business. Because any teenager or young adult with cable could switch on BET, the entire hip hop culture moved beyond its black urban roots and deeply penetrated white households in suburban and even rural America. A new generation of young, swaggering multimillionaire athletes and entertainers emerged, and BET became the place where the entire country could go to witness this profound cultural shift.”

But this rise in the corporate world did not coincide with the acceptance of social responsibility.

“Unlike so many black entrepreneurs before him, he (Johnson) did not worry about his company being perceived as one that consciously uplifted the race…Johnson never shied from making it clear to anyone who questioned BET’s purpose: It was all about making money”.

And as more and more people began to question BET’s real objective, Johnson continued to move forward with his goal regardless of any criticism:

“But some of BET’s original fans slowly grew to despise the network for its heavy rotation of music videos rife with flashy cars and scantily clad gyrating derrieres, as well as its lowbrow comedy shows. As it became successful, BET garnered both love and contempt in the black community, and Johnson was reviled as much as revered.”

It is against this backdrop that I will contextualize the controversy surrounding perceived changes in the career direction of MV Bill. Rising out of the slums of a notorious Rio favela, throughout his career, Bill has earned the admiration of millions, particularly those who have similar origins, for his seemingly tireless dedication to black and poor inhabitants of Brazil’s forgotten ghettos. But, in some ways, the seeds of the changes that people are criticizing today may have possibly been planted some time ago. For those who have followed MV Bill, it is well known that his CUFA NGO has a partnership with the Rede Globo TV network, the largest network in Brazil and the fourth-largest commercial TV network in the world.

Cast of Globo novela "Malhação"
Cast of Globo novela “Malhação”

In 2010, Bill garnered criticism and questions about his appearance on the teen-oriented Globo novela Malhação, a program associated with the “playboy” crowd, meaning upper-middle white families. On the air since 1995, the show, which has been described as a sort of Brazilian Beverly Hills 90210, rarely features black characters. This lack and stereotyping of black characters was the theme of a 2012 article entitled “Malhação reproduces prejudice limiting roles of black actors.” In 2010, MV Bill himself in discussing his decision to join the cast admitted: “I was always very critical of novelas and I always questioned the presence of people from the favela and blacks. In the novela itself in which I will participate, I also never saw myself.”

Censored by the Globo Network: "Beyond Citizen Kane" (pirated version translated as "Muito Além do Cidadão Kane")
Censored by the Globo Network: “Beyond Citizen Kane” (pirated version translated as “Muito Além do Cidadão Kane”)

Invisibility and continuous stereotyping of black characters has long been a heavy criticism of Afro-Brazilians against the television giant. But this is but one criticism. For those who consider themselves to be a part of the “conscious community,” Rede Globo is the evil monster that continues to indoctrinate and “dumb down” an unsuspecting viewing audience that is not even aware of the network’s deceptive mechanisms. In 1993, the British documentary about Rede Globo, Beyond Citizen Kane, which detailed the network’s controversial founding, power, influence and political ties, was banned within Brazil and to this day has never been broadcast on Brazilian airwaves (see the full documentary here).

In December of 2013, rapper GOG from the nation's Federal District, soundly rejected an invitation from the Globo network to perform at a World Cup-associated event
In December of 2013, rapper GOG from the nation’s Federal District, soundly rejected an invitation from the Globo network to perform at a World Cup-associated event

More evidence of this anti-Globo network stance can also be observed in the most successful Brazilian Hip Hop group of all-time, Racionais MCs, which vowed to never perform on a Globo network program. Also, recently, highly respected rapper GOG declined an invitation from the network to perform on a FIFA-sponsored World Cup event. At the time, FIFA and Globo were in the middle of controversy for allegedly replacing two black actors with two white actors for the important televised Final Draw of World Cup teams event. From his Facebook account, GOG wrote: “I don’t accept the invitation, I don’t negotiate with you, don’t look for me anymore, forget my name,” said the musician. Explaining his decision, the rapper also wrote: “You sponsor Brazilian apartheid,” called the network a “band of racists” and requested that the network remove Nelson Mandela’s name from their “dirty reports.” At the time, the network was continuing full coverage of the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela

MV Bill’s connection and collaboration with Rede Globo, a station that consistently mocks and ignores the black population, is another reason that critics have labeled the rapper a “sell out”. To top all of this off, among some black women, the fact that Bill, who has always celebrated the value of black women, married a white woman is yet another signal that the social activist is seeking “crossover appeal” and “selling his soul to the devil.”

Memes about Globo found on Google images. Left: DANGER! Globo Network: Risk of damage to your brain", right: "Smile, you are being manipulated"
Memes about Globo found on Google images. Left: DANGER! Globo Network: Risk of damage to your brain”, right: “Smile, you are being manipulated”

Perhaps Bill took the message of American rapper Ja Rule to heart. In the latter half of the first decade of the 21st century, the New York rapper had maintained quite a bit of popularity in Brazil. No one knows for sure how the rapper known as Jeffrey Atkins actually caught the Brazil bug, but it could have been in 1999 when he traveled to Rio de Janeiro to record the video for his hit song “Holla Holla”. Speaking on his experience, Ja Rule said:

“At that point in Hip-Hop, it was still about your niggas in the video with you. We flew out to Brazil, and it was magic instantly. We set up cameras, scouting ladies. There were mad beautiful chicks coming to the camera, and on the beach topless. All types of shit, man! I was extra amped! We turned the cameras on, and the girls started flocking. We only brought one professional girl (Gloria Velez), and the rest were just girls from Brazil that wanted to get down.”

Clearly Atkins, like others who come to Brazil, no doubt went away went a certain image of the country that is certainly skewed to say the least. But Atkins went beyond simply performing in a town in a foreign country as many artists do. He also made appearances and granted interviews on top rated Globo TV programs such as Altas Horas and Caldeirão do Huck. But it was perhaps an interview session with some of Brazil’s own well-known rappers that were most revealing about the attitude of American rappers. In a session with rappers Nega Gizza, Black Alien, Rappin’ Hood, Thaíde and others, Atkins responded to random questions. Here are a few Q&A’s from that session.

Rapper Ja Rule in Q&A session with audience on Globo TV variety program  "Altas Horas"
Rapper Ja Rule in Q&A session with audience on Globo TV variety program “Altas Horas”

MC Macarrão: Why does rap in the US no longer contest being something empty, which only speaks of women, cars and money? Every woman is a bitch, and the guy has to be rich man. What happened?

Ja Rule – Money. You know what else? Why am I going to be fighting against the government, against this or that? You know when I’m going to win? Never. Instead of fighting, I make money from them. Sex sells. Just watch TV in Brazil. What do you see? Booty and breasts. And the funk (music) from Rio, what is it? What the *&%$ are you talking about? What can I do? Keep blasting Bush? “Damn Bush, son of a @#$ %”? Nobody cares, people just want to chill, they elected Bush twice! @#$% that, I have to take care of me!

Nega Gizza: What do you hope to achieve with your lyrics?

Ja Rule – People don’t want to hear about politics, they want songs that make them want to move they ass, dance, chill. If I meet a Brazilian MC, I’m gonna say, where are trying to go? You can’t sit around watching life go protesting. You need to pay the bills, feed the kids.

MC Funkero: What do you know about Brazilian Hip Hop?

Ja Rule – I know Fadz that brought me here. He lives in New York, but he’s Brazilian, he sings in English and Portuguese. There’s also a guy I heard, MC Diego. Hip Hop in Brazil is not so great, but we’re here to help it happen.

Thaíde: In what way can American rap contribute to Brazilian rap and vice versa? If it were you what do you think we could contribute…

Ja Rule – American hip hop is the foundation. There are guys who came from the ghetto, were dope dealers and are now millionaires. You have to learn from them. This is a business, no joke. What can Brazilian Hip Hop can teach us? I don’t know, you tell me. Put the two together on a scale and see who is who. I know we can do a lot for Brazilians, but they have to change their attitude. You have to evolve, feel me? That’s why Hip Hop in the US rules. It’s a billion dollar business, with movies, TV, clothes. Brazilian MCs have to do the same. They will not change the world or Brazil. How do work without money? Hungry?

Rappin’ Hood: There are a lot of people here working in the community, playing for free. Why charge?  R$30 (about US$15 at the time) is a lot for Rocinha (largest favela in Rio)…

Ja Rule – By chance, do you do shows for free all the time? This is how I live. How can I come here to play for free? If it was something from Unicef​​, the UN, I’ll do it. Now, I need to know where the money is going, because someone always gets it. Show me where the money goes, especially here in Brazil, then I’ll do it.

Anyone who has followed or studied American Hip Hop anytime between its 1970s beginnings and now can note a dramatic change in its imagery, production and lyricism. In short, Hip Hop has gone from the ghetto projects to the penthouse and this is reflected well in Ja Rule’s comments. For many in Brazil’s Hip Hop movement, American and Brazilian Hip Hop in their developmental stages were sources of pride, militancy, social commentary and, for some, even a catalyst for the develop of black identity. In having “made it” in the racist, exclusionary segregation of the United States, sometime in the post Biggie/TuPac era, rappers lowered their black fists and then raised it again, but this time with champagne glasses. Ja Rule’s words perfectly summarize this shift in mentality and ideology as he, a representative of the imperialist US empire, proceeded to act in a manner similar to US foreign policy. In other words, you should all strive to “be like us (or is it US?)” For his new video, perhaps MV Bill was listening as he stepped to the beat, got his drink on and surrounded himself with beauties. This new direction in the image of music generally associated with lower-class black Brazilians can also be noted in the “funk light” sound of singer Anitta and a “bling-a-fied” style known as “ostentation funk”

Another point of interest from the video is the skin color of the participants. In the “money, clothes and hoes” era of American rap, various reports alluded to the predominant selection of light-skinned black and Latina women as leading ladies and extras in the music videos of black American rappers. As this is Brazil, where embranquecimento (whitening) of the population has always been the promoted agenda, black Brazilian singer/musicians rarely bother with including black, mulata or mestiça (mixed-race) women, usually going directly to the European-looking model, thus in some ways, this isn’t a surprise. After all, the video was recorded in the southern state of Santa Catarina, which is one of the whitest states in the country. Perhaps his fans thought that, as black women are routinely shut out of the media, Bill would be the one exception to the rule. Maybe the whiteness of the extras in the video was the entrance fee into mainstream success.

Of course it goes without saying that MV Bill is truly the only one who really knows what’s going on with MV Bill, but with all of these details in mind, we will now consider the rapper’s previous image and videos and the reactions to his new video in the comments posted below. Comments were accessed on the Portal Geledés, Brasil 247 websites as well as Facebook (original comments n Portuguese posted at bottom of page). To have something for comparative purposes in MV Bill’s image, here are a few videos from earlier in the rapper’s career. 

MV Bill – Soldado Do Morro

MV Bill – Soldado Morto

MV Bill – Só Deus pode me julgar

Li

Of the 41 people that I saw in this video, 35 are white. In a rap video by a black MC. Typical of the black Brazilian; gives opportunity for whites and fuck over blacks. Check yourself negão!!! You played yourself with me! Take a look at the videos of black Americans, idiot!

Maurílio

Many people say that Racionais (MCs) needed to “evolve” as musicians because times change and it’s necessary to occupy spaces of the oppressor to expose your work. I don’t agree woth this, an example of this is this video by MV Bill. Man, where are the dudes from the morro (favela, slum)? RIDICULOUS!

Flávio

People are right to make these comments; it would good to know what MV Bill thinks about the video, and the reason for this change, of this Americanization of his music and his style. Estilo cafetão (pimp style), ostentation and everything else that the video presents that people like me that don’t identify with musical reading that MV Bill made in this video. But, on the other side he has the right to want his space, that he deserves….

José

Radically speaking, (it’s) whitening Rap…the rest is with you that consume this sound…

Lais

Wow, you’re right, you have to really mix it up. There’s nothing in staying segregated in any aspect. What’s important is the talent and there’s no words for Kamila, this black woman is pure axé!

Miro

Expect what…The guy is from Globo…He’s a Globo network employee

Uerica

Wow, it’s delicious…whoever speaks bad and like a sucker…I think that he has the right, the song is his and the pretty girl so its their right to make the video how they wanted I think…it’s my opinion…I loved everything and it’s reality…A good party and that brings out the emotions and complicity among whoever is at the party

Benedita Rufino

I THINK THAT OVER TIME BILL HAS GONE PLACES NEVER FREQUENTED BY OTHER BLACKS AND his MUSIC HAS BEEN HEARD EVERYWHERE. THE VIDEO IS VALID INDEED. WE NEED TO CLIMB EVERY SPACE OF SOCIETY AND I’M SURE THAT BILL WILL NEVER FORGET HIS ORIGINS AND WILL CONTINUE TO THE DENOUNCEMENTS THAT HE HAS TO DO, NEVER HAS ANYONE DARED TO DO WHAT THIS MAN HAS DONE HOWEVER…PATIENCE

Maisa

After ostentation funk, now it’s time for ostentatious rap. And to be “inclusive”. In the video there are more whites than blacks. Particularly, I liked the singer more and less MV’s “pimpish” presence and the “with nothing” of the song’s lyrics. From what it seems, the “market” managed to alter the rapper’s self-esteem.

Márcia

It’s the same as the American style, many Brazilians have done ​​it, it’s enough just to look at Naldo and company. Here few create, but they copy everything. It is purely commercial. I hope MVBill remains the artist he has always been.

Edim

People confuse too much a change of style and ideology with evolution…to me it is regression!

Roseli

It is … too many white people, too Americanized, too many dizzy lyrics…I prefer the MV Bill of his beginnings.

Cesar

I also thought that there were a lot of people in this video

Sthefania

Simply ridiculous! Nothing more…

Luiz

Money will change anyone, the only thing missing now is his starting to whiten himself

Alexandre

I didn’t see anything controversial…American rap does this and no one criticizes why are they criticizing it now?

Andreza

Disappointing, another one that sold out!!!

Hugo

MV Bill managed to make a video like “Kong”

Li

Hugo…I don’t think so, you know why? The video of that other idiot named Alexandre Pires had more black women than this; it was the only time that Alexandre used black models in his videos. Tendentious, don’t you think!? The “negao” is such an idiot that they called him racist after the video and went on TV defending himself and saying he wasn’t racist and it’s obvious that he’s not, racism between the same ethnicity doesn’t exist, this is called self-discrimination…he’s stupid as if he doesn’t have a notion of the definition of racism. He has to marry a blonde “mermo” because the black women that I know are intelligent and stylish and certainly don’t want him. Afroabraços (afro hugs)!!!

Laila

Blacks enjoying a party, no problem, but to make a video with 90% white people to say that blacks also like to party is a little strange

Flávio

With no conditions, where are the black women? These people are not even for the black crowd, a video full of playboys and patricinhas (upper/middle class young men and women) that go to the other side of the street when they see a black guy!! It doesn’t represent me!!!

Denise

It’s simply a replica of rappers from the new generation of the US that epitomize themselves in party and women. Far from original rap!

Kamila

The thing now is O$TENTATION!!!!

Glauber @ Diovane

MV Bill bling-bling??!!?

Juliana

What’s sad is that the black himself is racist, the black himself diminishes his equals, the profile that he presents in the video is a successful black man with a white woman at his side (higher status), the few blacks who are in the video are quotas rejected by society, the man is corrupted by appearing on TV and having money in his pocket. Denying all the historical struggle and making use of misery, poverty and prejudice to ascend, another opportunist of the ills of Brazil, the issue is not having blacks and whites, but I question why in Santa Catarina, why this excess of whites? Why?

Cristiane

Wow, he looks like Snoop Dogg…strange…

Leonardo

Man, it’s God that forgives me! Even 2Pac produced videos like this and no one was complaining, in Brazil you have to watch your step.

Andréia

It’s fucked up…We’re already short on guys who speak up in defense of black ideas, then here’s the guy who has power in the media and he makes this shit, going in the opposite direction…It’s fucked up 10,000 times

Jonathan

(In) American rap videos, the muses (goddesses) are black women

Li

It would be great if he would have imitated the sick Michael Jackson, he would be less of a black idiot

Riane

Lázaro Ramos is also from Globo, he never forgot his roots, it’s always whoever can achieve projects…It has nothing to do with being or not being from Globo

Daniela Gomes

And I would remain quiet, but it’s no use. I would try to wash the dirty laundry only in the house but I can’t. I started being a fan of MV Bill while I was still a teenager when I heard “Traficando a Informação” (slanging information), for me he was the greatest expression of rap outside of São Paulo. With the passing of time songs like “Só Mais Um Maluco” (Just another crazy one), “Preto em movimento” (black man in movement) and “Só Deus pode me julgar” (Only God can judge me), made me admire his work even more.

Until the moment that I realized that he is attached to Globo, appearing in Malhação, I discovered his marriage that was exactly the opposite of everything that he preached, the appreciation of the black woman that he always mentioned in his lyrics and speeches. Hypocrisy to me doesn’t have its turn, the person has to sustain that which he/she says.

For the person that sang “Da militância sou refém” (of militancy, I’m a hostage) to make a piece of trash song like this, saying that “beleza refletida no sorriso e não na raça (beauty is not in the race but in the smile)”, showing that he is a paga pau (d*ck rider)’of the white elite, excuse me, but it’s the bottom of the barrel for me. Total deception.

I won’t stop believing in Hip Hop in Brazil and seeing people selling themselves so cheap hurts me a lot.

Source: Brasil 247Portal Geledés, Pulley, Brett. The Billion Dollar BET: Robert Johnson and the Inside Story of Black Entertainment Television. Wiley, 2004.

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About Marques Travae 3115 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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