Short film explores race, exclusion and the deferred dreams of black children living under Brazil’s "dominance of whiteness"

Cores e Botas (Colors and Boots) is a short film by Juliana Vicente (See film at bottom of page)

It focuses on the aspirations of a little black girl who wants to participate in one of the most popular children’s TV shows in all of Brazil. The host of the show is one of Brazil’s most popular women of all-time, Xuxa Meneghel. Here is how the film is described in its summary:

Director Juliana Vicente

“Joana has the same dream as all young Brazilian girls in the 80s: she wants to be a “Paquita”, a dancer on Xuxa’s TV show. Her family is wealthy, and will support her. However, there is a problem: she is black and Xuxa never had a black Paquita on her team.”

 
 
 

Although television host Xuxa Meneghel is popular throughout the world, a little background is still necessary for readers who have probably never heard of her.

 

Maria da Graça “Xuxa” Meneghel

Maria da Graça “Xuxa” Meneghel has been an extremely popular TV personality in Brazil for nearly three decades. Her various shows have been broadcast in Portuguese, Spanish, and English and she is the richest woman in Brazil with a fortune estimated to be about US$1 billion. Her show Mundo da Xuxa is transmitted to more than 100 countries through Brazil’s Globo TV’s International channel. Xuxa has hosted a string of children’s TV programs over the years including the current Xou da Xuxa, Planeta Xuxa, Xuxa Park, Conexão Xuxa, Planeta Xuxa and TV Xuxa. Her film career which began in 1982 include titles such as Xuxinha e Guto: Contra os Monstros do Espaço(2005), Xuxa Twins (2006), Xuxa em Sonho de Menina (2007) and 2009′s Xuxa em O Mistério de Feiurinha. The Xuxa brand is also very popular in music where she has sold more than 60 millions records in her career, a huge accomplishment in the Brazilian music industry.

 
Xuxa
 
 

To understand her influence in the music world consider the fact that in the Brazilian music industry, an artist currently reaches gold and platinum status with sales figures of 40,000 and 80,000 units sold respectively, down from 2003 qualifications of 100,000 and 250,000 copies sold. In the US, gold and platinum awards are given at the 500,000 and 1 million mark. In Brazil, diamond sales figures are awarded at the 300,000 sales mark today, down from 2003′s 1 million. In the US, diamond sales figures are awarded at 10 million album/CD sales. Since 1985′s Xuxa e Seus Amigos album, Xuxa’s albums and CDs have consistently gone gold, platinum, double and triple platinum with many selling double and triple diamond. Among her most popular titles is the series Xuxa só para Baixinhos (Only for the Shorties), Volumes 1-10.

 
Xuxa só para Baixinhos
 

For most of career, Xuxa has been a blond although she recently caused a huge media frenzy when she recently became a brunette. Throughout her career, Xuxa’s white skin, blond hair and blue eyes have undoubtedly been her most valuable assets. Born in 1963 in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Xuxa’s beginnings were the part of the country that is the most European, both in terms of its culture and its population. Having attracted millions of European immigrants between 1870 and 1940 during the Brazilian government’s policy of whitening the country, southern states such as Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná have the largest percentages of persons who consider themselves to be white being 85.7, 81.4 and 71.3% white respectively.

Xuxa and the Paquitas

 As we have pointed in several articles on this blog, the Brazilian media has for years portrayed Brazil as a white country at the exclusion of Brazil’s large black, brown and Indian population. As Brazil’s children of color rarely see role models that look like them, the vast majority of them idolize TV shows and hosts such as formerly blond Xuxa. During the 1990s, Xuxa introduced a young group of singers/dancers on her show known as the “Paquitas”. The “Paquitas” were all adolescent girls with white skin and blond hair. As Xuxa’s show was THE show for Brazilian children, many of them dreamed of becoming one of Xuxa’s “Paquitas”. Similar to other media outlets in Brazil such as print media, TV programs, men’s and women’s magazines which featured few Brazilians of visible African ancestry, Xuxa’s show followed suit even more so. In the short film Cores e Botas, you will see the little black girl dancing and singing along with the “Paquitas” who appear in the background on television.

Xuxa’s “Paquitas”

Here is how James Thomas Michael Turner summed up his findings of Xuxa and her Paquitas:

One such totem in Brazil is Xuxa, who Radcliffe & Westwood (1996: 139) argue came to be taken as the yardstick of beauty within Brazil, her blondness being unattainable for the majority of Brazilians, whilst being viewed as superior and more beautiful. Xuxa is a useful medium through which to conceptualize whiteness in Brazil because she functions as an agent of transcendence, who performs a magic healing of fissures in Brazilian culture by reinforcing a variety of conflicting views of the dominant society, especially those regarding gender and race (Simpson, 1993: 6).


It is for this reason that I argue that Xuxa can be seen as embodying a totemic whiteness, she is cast as a vehicle for transmitting a particular racialized ideology of white superiority and desirability to the nation via the medium of television.

Through the course of her incredibly successful career the whiteness that Xuxa embodies was unchallenged on the screen. The majority of the guests who appeared on her show were also white, and the music featured was a pop music influenced by America, and almost exclusively performed by white people, with very little traditionally Brazilian music, which is often associated with black Brazil, being featured (Simpson, 1993: 84). Xuxa surrounded herself with the Paquitas, a group of blonde adolescent assistants who functioned as junior clones of Xuxa herself, and as she was the most famous celebrity in the country, becoming a paquita was the dream of many young girls in Brazil (ibid.: 138). 
Some of my blonde friends told me that they were nicknamed “paquita” as children, but this most valued of roles was a job with an effective color bar, the majority of Brazilian girls could never hope to realize their dream because they were simply not white enough. 

Xuxa and her Paquitas

Beauty and success came to be represented in the media as attributes of the blonde, leading to something Simpson (1993: 164) describes as the “tyranny of the blonde.” I think that it is an accurate reflection of the place of whiteness and blondness in the construction of female beauty in Brazil when Wade (2009: 186) argues that [t]he success of the Brazilian model and TV presenter Xuxa shows the striking dominance of whiteness as the norm of female beauty. Xuxa’s Aryan blonde looks and her manipulation of her sexual image converted her into a Marilyn Monroe-style sex symbol who, through her pervasive media promotion, both reflected and strongly reinforced the value attached to whiteness.

That the promotion of Xuxa was, and continues to be, a sign of the racist etching of beauty onto blonde hair and white skin within Brazil is, in my opinion, beyond doubt….

It is against this backdrop that Vicente directed her short film in exposing Brazil’s racist exclusionary practices and its effects on millions of the country’s non-white children.

Please check out this revealing short film (with English subtitles).

Cores e Botas

Source: Globo, Simpson, Amelia. Xuxa: The Mega-Marketing of Gender, Race, and Modernity

Turner, James Thomas Michael. “Aquela loirinha, baixinha, não sabe dançar…”: An ethnographic account of the accomodation of whiteness within the discourse and practice of the Brazilian female sexual subject in Florianópolis, Brazil.

Wade, Peter. Race and sex in Latin America.

About Marques Travae 3322 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

4 Comments

    • Truth, not all black children are ugly and disgusting! Would you rather have them with low self-esteem and thinking that they have to be white in order to be accepted as beautiful?

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