Note from BW of Brazil: I know how some will react to today’s topic. “Why are you bringing the race thing into Carnaval? Carnaval is all about fun and a good time among people of all races without any of controversy about race.” Well, as with any topic we discuss here, there’s the myth and then there’s the reality. Simply because people prefer to ignore or deny a topic doesn’t mean it isn’t a significant factor. Many of the topics we discuss here on the blog are things that many black Brazilians have whispered or discussed among themselves for years. So when we talk about an apparent policy of genocide against black males, it’s because people see this and talk about it. When we discuss an apparent preference of Afro-Brazilian men for white women, it’s because black women see it and talk about it. Today’s topic is also something Afro-Brazilians have discussed for a number of years: an apparent slow takeover of a space traditionally held by black women of their respective communities.
As as been consistently pointed out here, while Brazil touts itself as the world’s greatest ‘melting pot’ of races, beneath this promotion of mixed-race pride, Brazil has a serious issue with white supremacy. In contradiction to the great ‘mestiço (mixed-race) nation’ tag, nearly every realm of Brazilian society is dominated by persons who look as if they’re ancestry is primarily European. In fact, the only areas where one finds a consistent presence of Brazilians of visible African ancestry in the media are in the areas of sports (particularly futebol), music (particularly Samba) and during Carnaval parades. But for a number of years,there have been rumblings coming from the black community that roles traditionally held by black women in the Carnaval celebrations are slowly being taken over by white women. It wouldn’t be a new phenomenon.
No matter how one wants to define Brazil in terms of race, the fact is that on television, film, on modeling runways, politics, advertising, prestigious university courses and many other areas of society, we don’t see a ‘melting pot’ at all. In fact, if we were to judge from the overwhelming majority of faces we see in these areas, it would be easy to think we were seeing people from Italy or even Germany. Carnaval, even though a growing number of black women reject their images continuously being presented in this manner, is the one time of year when black women can see their images in spaces of prominence in the media. But as Carnaval has become a huge investment/money maker over the years, it seems that bosses don’t want to see “too many” black women there either!
Again, this is not new. Consider the commercials from last year’s World Cup hosted by Brazil. Women’s Day ads and the beauty contest connected to the World Cup. The evidence is easy to find. For example, back in 2010, the Devassa beer company held a contest to represent the brand during Carnaval in which the finalists looked more Nordic than Latina. Here’s how it was reported that year.
Devassa generates revolt in mulatas because of campaign that focuses on blondes
By Matheus Vieira
While platinum hair turns the heads of the Devassa brewery – that will elect its muse out of four louríssimas (ultra-blonde) candidates – the revolt in the samba world is widespread. The four pre-selected beauties – Models Julia Dykstra, Sunessis Brito, Juliana Sales and Camila Macedo – will pass the scrutiny of an expert in American Beauty. Hugh Hefner, founder and editor in chief of Playboy, arrives in Brazil on Sunday and will give the casting vote. For the beauties of revelry, a Brazilian woman he understands very little.
“When this Hefner gentleman arrives, we’ll take him to the Buraco Quente, to Pedra do Sal, to Intendente Magalhães. When he sees a mulata dancing samba, he will bitterly regret the decision he made,” opined Rafaela Bastos, 30, the muse of Mangueira.
Queen of the Drumbeat of the Leão de Nova Iguaçu samba school, group D, Luciane Soares, 31, does not see any grace in the competition. She thinks she is “quite devassa” of the parade; much more so than the brewery’s candidates. “I don’t think it’s cool! Beer is for everyone. Why are there only blondes? Carnival is of the mulata!”
Elaine Ribeiro, 29, muse of Porto da Pedra, is also against the sovereignty of louronas (super blondes), and defends the democratization of the competition. “I think it could even be a redhead! But it has to be a mix. Brazil has Japanese with German, with black – mitigated, but putting a little more fuel to the fire then: – The muse can even be blonde. But she has to like Carnival. Only pretty face advances what? A model is a model. And not meant to be muse of Carnival.”
Note from BW of Brazil: During Carnaval, for decades, Afro-Brazilian women have usually filled important posts such as rainha de bateria (queen of the drumbeat) and madrinha de bateria (godmother of the drumbeat) but people have been noticing changes over the years. Actress Juliana Alves, who has participated in Carnaval for a number of years noticed changes also. The report below is also from 2010.
Juliana Alves says that (having a) blonde in the samba is a contradiction
Courtesy of O Fuxico
After (actress) Cris Vianna had been chosen to be the new Queen of the Drumbeat of the Acadêmicos da Grande Rio samba school in 2011, replacing Paola Oliveira, many actresses said that they loved seeing the black race representing the samba. Juliana Alves also made a point of saying that she was very happy with the choice, made almost a month ago by school officials.
“I am very happy for Cris, she’s wonderful and deserved the Rainha de Bateria post. I don’t understand why there are so many blondes in the samba, I’m not against (them) and I think they’re all beautiful, but I’m trying to understand this strange statistic, you know? It ends up being a contradiction, right? Since we have so many beautiful morenas (mixed/brown women) and negras (black women) that they also know represent the Brazilian woman very well,” said Juliana.
Note from BW of Brazil: And to be sure, the shift in spaces normally filled by Afro-Brazilian women has also been a topic in academia. For example, in a 2014 research piece, Daniela Novelli saw similarities with the larger spaces in Carnaval being filled by white women and the Brazilian edition of Vogue magazine, which has been ultra-white since its inception. Speaking on Vogue Brasil, Novelli wrote:
“The [white] European body standard exerts a decisive influence on the production of covers and editorials of Vogue Brazil in the first decade of our century, consecrating Brazilian models of global presence, with many gaúchas (state of Rio Grande do Sul natives) and European descendants (1). White, young, sexy and extremely thin, they occupy a central place in the [white] imaginary of the Brazilian elite and personify the [white] body of fashion and luxury, contributing greatly to certain body aesthetic perception by the Brazilian readers of Vogue and the hierarchical socialization of taste together with the Brazilian readers.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Seeing a similar rising trend in the world of Carnaval, Novelli noted that:
“Throughout the 2000s, is has been noted the embranquecmento (whitening) of “rainhas de baterias”, marked precisely by replacing the traditional mulatas (from the very communities that they represented) by mulheres brancas (white women) (considered Muses of Carnaval), being mostly actresses, models and/or performers of Brazilian television, such as Grazi Massafera and Adriane Galisteu who paraded in 2007 and 2008 for the Grande Rio and Unidos da Tijuca samba schools respectively.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Below, in an excellent text originally posted at the Blogueiras Negras blog, Gabi Porphyry puts this phenomenon into an historical perspective.
Queens and Godmothers of the Drumbeat: where are our black women of the communities?
by Gabi Porphyry
I confess that I went through many stages before starting to write this text (perhaps by the end of it I will advance a house or go back five…). The first motivation was the discomfort caused in black feminist friends of the choice of the stamped figure when it comes to cultural appropriation, Claudia Leitte (2), as rainha de bateria da escola de samba (queen of the drumbeat of the samba school) Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel.
Claudia Leitte, a white woman who has little or nothing to do with the world of samba (a song she recorded with Ricky Martin called “Samba” is pop), with some samba no pé (dancing the samba), it is true, the “nêgalora”, chosen to occupy a prominent position in a five time champion school of Rio’s Carnival, with themes such as “Vira virou, a Mocidade chegou”, and “Chuê chuá, as águas vão rolar”…
I can’t evade the question that, deep down, an uneasiness to all those who that are uncomfortable with the Claudia Leitte, Sabrina Sattos and Suzana Vieiras (about her, I have important concessions to be made): if these white celebrities were chosen and invited to occupy spaces of queen or godmother of the drumbeat to the detriment of other women, what are we women talking about?
Now we’re speaking of women within the community that are part of the school’s history and the day to day of those who have the associations between their sacred values, such as religion and futebol. And of course, these community women are mostly black women, and to whom the samba is indeed relevant.
Here, it’s worth noting the difference between the “rainha de bacteria” (queen of the drumbeat) and “madrinha de bateria” (godmother of the drumbeat).
Until the late 90s, the difference between queen of the drumbeat – a woman of the community, chosen by the drummers – and godmother of the drumbeat – a woman from inside or outside the community, but that occupies the post by invite of the school’s directors – was respected . After that, schools began to use the term “queen of the drumbeat” to describe the woman who was representing the wing. However, one has to draw attention to what we can say had been the first invitation made by someone from outside the community to occupy a prominent place among the wing of the passistas (Carnaval dancers). In the 60s, Natal – then patron of Portela – invited Marisa Marcelino de Almeida, a resident of Olaria, to join the group of the association: she was born the “Nega Pelé”, who soared to higher flights and won the Estandarte de Ouro (Gold Standard) in 1977. Together with her, Gigi of Mangueira – a white woman, blonde with green eyes and from middle class Ipanema – in 1962; Monique Evans in 1984. The truth is that – godmother or queen of the drumbeat – the practice may not be new, but Carnival didn’t have the media appeal that it has today.
What I DO NOT mean is this: that white women should not hold office as queen and/or godmother of the drumbeat – even I am in favor, since they are raised in the community, like Bruna Bruno – queen of the drumbeat of União da Ilha do Governador. However, we must also look at the issue that the white woman will always be more easily accepted in a space that the black woman, since the first is within the socially accepted standards of beauty – even though this acceptance falls only on skin color. Even though this space is historically relevant to black women.
What I want to say is this: we, black women, already occupy so few spaces of highlight – be it in Carnival, on television, in a company, in society as a whole – that any space that is taken away (we’ll see why “taken” and not just “denied”) further reduces our representation, which has direct effects on our self-esteem, because we see ourselves losing (more) of this space to a social group whose representation is enormous.
Thus, it’s gratifying to see that of the twelve samba schools of the special group of Rio de Janeiro, seven bring black rainhas de bateria (the Beija-Flor samba school, with Raissa Oliveira; Imperatriz, with actress Cris Vianna; Mangueira with Evelyn Bastos; Salgueiro, with Viviane Araújo, São Clemente, with Raphaela Gomes; Unidos da Tijuca, with actress Juliana Alves, and Viradouro, with the former director of the wing of the passistas, Angela Santos);
Of the five schools whose queens are white women (or socially read as white), two of them are born and raised in the neighborhoods of schools: Patrícia Nery, born and raised in Madureira, is rainha de bateria of Portela; Bruna Bruno, born and raised in Ilha do Governador, is the queen of the drumbeat of the school that bears the same name of the neighborhood. In my review, I don’t include the third coronation of Susana Vieira as queen of Grande Rio, displacing names like Deborah Secco and Paloma Bernardi.
I believe that every appreciation that one can give an older woman is valid: in a society where older people are undervalued, having a woman of 72 in a post held by women almost priority 30 years younger is to celebrate (my reservations about the Grande Rio are due to other factors …). “It’s gratifying”, but it doesn’t seem enough because, in respect to the white queens of the drumbeat that are part of the community, we can’t help but ask, but how many black women there are in these communities that could well occupy these places?
And then I return to the issue we are not only dealing with a denial of space but of appropriation itself.
If we look at the origins of the parade of Escolas de Samba (samba schools), we find the Ranchos Carnavalescos dos baianos e baianas da Pequena África (Ranchos Carnavalescos of Bahian Men and Women from Little Africa) (3) in Rio de Janeiro at the end of the nineteenth century, early twentieth. Together with Ranchos, the so-called “Blocos de Críticos” (also called “Blocos de Sujos” or “dirty blocks”) they were also precursors of today’s associations. Such blocos used irony and acid critiques to talk about politics and needs of the populations.
Both Blocos as well as Ranchos used a important tactic – the so-called “penetração urbana” or “urban penetration”: enter black culture, their music, their memories in urban areas almost always restricted to their own spontaneous circulation of black people. Therefore, this urban penetration dealt with an important weapon of black cultural resistance, Afro-Brazilian values.
The music, rhetoric and urban penetration were legacies of Ranchos and Blocos Críticos welcomed by the first Samba Schools that transformed the center of Rio de Janeiro in its stage during Carnival, imposing a lead role on its black population. Carnival was the moment of highlight of black people, despite the white elites. Although dealing with a short period, this time was always wisely used as an opportunity for the open exercise of black resistance – that happened all year, but was displayed proudly during Carnival. And not: it is not dealing with a white concession. It was rather an achievement of our ancestors.
However, over time, government contributions (especially at the hands of President Getúlio Vargas) and afterward, the Cultural Industry eventually co-opting much of the meanings of black resistance meanings over the years – which culminated in the current model of Carnival of Samba schools in Rio and São Paulo. Nevertheless, they entered into history classic parades of traditional Schools – such as Portela, Salgueiro and Vila Isabel – sometimes portraying and re-launching spotlights in the thematic, aesthetics and discourses of resistance. How can anyone forget Kizomba bringing in the A “Festa da Raça” (party of the race) of Vila, or the drums of Salgueiro or Madureira, where my heart (in particular) is led to Portela?
Vila Isabel – Kizomba, a Festa da Raça (1988)
And it’s this current Carnival model that opens the way to seeing Claudia Leitte and Sabrina Sato occupying places of black women and/or those of the community: this is one of the proofs that the Rio Carnival is now a major industry. I don’t risk saying it’s just an industry that serves, for example, the interests of big media. This is because there are community and history behind these schools: a community that supports and is proud of names that are recorded in the history of samba such as Natal, Candeia, Cartola and Ismael (all legends of Samba).
However, the choice of (sub) celebrities to defend a post as the queen of the drumbeat is, in the words of Maurício Mattos, president of Acadêmicos of Rocinha, only “a great marketing for schools”, since “the queen of the drumbeat doesn’t have the authenticity of the passistas [of the School].” In other words taking advantage of the opportunity to honor and value the women who grew up there and, in that space, and their places, place those that they have to pay more. Despite some queens being invited and they don’t pay them to occupy this post, like Viviane Araújo with Salgueiro or Luma de Oliveira with Tradição, in some schools, whoever has more money dethrones the predecessor and consecrates herself rainha de bateria. It’s Carnival as commerce selling the place that is historically of black women of the communities.
The issue doesn’t end here and there are many nuances to be understood and taken into consideration, such as: cultural appropriation; the image of the black woman that goes on in times of Carnival; whoever sponsors and why they sponsor themes such as “Soy loco por ti, America – A Vila canta a latinidade (I’m crazy about you, America – Vila sings Latin-ness” with a 10-meter (33 feet) high Simon Bolívar parading for the Sapucaí (4) (this parade was sen-sa-tion-al). But it’s necessary to advance the debate and not dwelling on the criticism of this or that celebrity. They are the splinter of ice on the surface of the tip of an iceberg. Down below is what o bicho pega (the beast catches) (and also plays…) (5)
Note from BW of Brazil: The issues involving the representation of black women in Carnaval and an apparent movement toward slowly replacing them with more European-looking women is complicated but also sad. It is complicated because Carnaval is normally the only time of year where these women receive a place of prominence in the national media. The representation represents a challenge as sensuality and sexuality are often the only images that Brazilians and non-Brazilians alike have of black women, besides domestic service. As such, it is a difficult balancing act to be able to argue in support of positions that black women have always proudly staked their claim while simultaneously rejecting ideologies of hyper-sexuality that comes along with the territory.
A perfect example of this was reaction of the three black women who denounced the choice of the Devassa beer company in choosing among only blonde women to represent the product during Carnaval. Devassa is the same company that was denounced by black women’s organizations for a sexist advertisement linking black women with sexuality a few years ago. Many black women are obviously willing participants in an industry so strongly connected to the projection of sexuality which would appear to be a direct contradiction to the struggle against such images. How does one simultaneously argue in favor of maintaining this space for black women while at the same denouncing it?
In fact, it’s not at all a contradiction. As we have argued previously, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with sensuality and dance. In fact, some have argued that the role and art of black Carnaval dancers is an act of resistance. The problem lies in the fact that for black women, this area is often times the ONLY space left available to them. If we saw black women presented equally as doctors, lawyers, businesswomen, politicians, etc., there wouldn’t be a problem with seeing the beautiful black Carnaval passista (dancer). If the association of Carnaval and black women wasn’t deeply ingrained in the public psyche, it wouldn’t be such a surprise when black women excel in other areas. It wouldn’t be so problematic if the broadcasting of Carnaval didn’t contribute so much to a thriving sexual tourism industry that attracts thousands of foreign men to the country every year. It’s sort of a ‘catch-22’ situation in this case. But considering the rising trends, maybe we should simply appreciate seeing these women while we can. For if the wealthy owners of Carnaval have their way, this may change faster than we expect!
Source: O Fuxico, Extra, Blogueiras Negras, Novelli, Daniela. “O autoexotismo da natureza e da cultura popular em Vogue Brasil: imagens, discursos e narrativas de uma branquidade conservadora no século XXI.” Anais do II Seminário Internacional História do Tempo Presente, 13 a 15 de outubro de 2014, Florianópolis, SC. Programa de Pós-Graduação em História (PPGH), Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina (UDESC)
1. Rio Grande do Sul is one of the three states in Brazil that are considered the European region of the country due to the overwhelming majority of the white population. See here.
2. Claudia Leitte has long been accused of cultural appropriation by adapting facets of Afro-Brazilian culture into her image and music. See here.
3. For more on baianas see here. Pequena África, meaning ‘Little Africa’, was the name given by Samba legend Heitor dos Prazeres to a region of Rio de Janeiro understood as the port area of Rio de Janeiro, Gamboa, Saúde where the Comunidade Remanescentes de Quilombos (Remaining Quilombo Communities) of Pedra do Sal, Santo Cristo, and other locations inhabited by freed slaves and from 1850 to 1920. Source
4. The Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí (Passarela Professor Darcy Ribeiro or Sambódromo in Portuguese) or simply Sambadrome is a purpose-built parade area in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where samba schools parade competitively each year during the Rio Carnival. The parades attract many thousands of Brazilians and foreign tourists each year. Source
5. O bicho vai pegar is a common Brazilian slang phrase meaning something wrong will happen if one doesn’t do something. Jogo do Bicho refers to the illegal lottery game which uses the photos of 25 bichos, or animals. The jogo do bicho is also closely connected to Carnaval and money laundering.