Note from BW of Brazil: Vera Lúcia Couto is now 70 years old, but fifty years ago, at the age of 20, on June 27th, she made history. Although Brazil has long considered itself a “racial democracy”, a myth that has been all but destroyed since then, in Vera’s time (and in reality still today) it was unheard of for a black woman to to be featured on the cover of a magazine or win any type of beauty contest. Representing the famed Renascença Clube in Rio de Janeiro, which opened in 1951 and was established for middle-class Afro-Brazilians who faced discrimination at white clubs, Vera would go on to represent her state in the Miss Brasil competition. As she says today, “a luta continua” (the struggle continues) and as such, the video below intertwines Vera’s story in Brazil with prominent figures in the African-American struggle at the time (The Black Panthers, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Brown, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder). Also of note, Vera was featured on the cover of the African-American magazine Ebony in 1965. 14 years after Vera’s victory, Brazil’s own black rights movement, the Movimento Negro, would emerge to challenge a system that equally excluded Afro-Brazilians from access to much in Brazilian society. The video report featuring well-known journalist Luciana Barreto is in Portuguese but please enjoy the images!
See our first report on Vera here
Brazil elected its first black Miss 50 years ago
Repórter Brasil presents the story of Vera Lúcia Couto, who faced racism and became Miss Guanabara during the Military Dictatorship in 1964
Courtesy of Agência Brasil
Rio native Vera Lúcia Couto faced racism, strutted down the catwalk and received the Miss Guanabara sashe 50 years ago. She was elected the first black woman to win a beauty competition in Brazil. Guanabara was a Brazilian state between the years 1960 and 1975 comprised of only the city of Rio de Janeiro. On June 27, 1964, on the catwalk, she heard shouts, boos and other racist manifestations.
“I knew I would be representing a race, so it gave me a lot of strength to face whatever came,” she said in an interview with Repórter Brasil, on TV Brasil. “There was a girl who screamed, ran between the tables, saying ‘Get out here criola (1), your place is in the kitchen,’” (2) she revealed. When she won the contest, she reveals that the feeling was just one: fear.
Vera Lúcia’s career did not stop at the Miss Guanabara. She won second place in the Miss Brasil and third in the Miss Beleza Internacional. The song “Mulata Bossa Nova” by singer João Roberto Kelly is dedicated to her.
Vera was first black woman to represent Brazil in an international competition after placing second in the Miss Brasil competition of 1964. For her outstanding position in the contest, she won the right to compete for the Miss International Beauty in Long Beach, Florida. Brazil would only crown its first black woman Miss Brasil in 1986 when Deise Nunes took the crown. In the 60 years of the contest, which began in 1954, Nunes remains the only black woman to ever win the Miss Brasil competition.
1. In Brazil, a term often used as an insult signifying a child of slaves. A mestiço (person of mixed race), mulato or negro. In the colonial era, the term separated African born slaves from Brazilian born African descendants born in Brazil.
2. Here again we see that, regardless of Vera’s mestiçagem, or mixed blood, popularly known as a “mulata”, according to her detractors, her proper “place” was still in the kitchen, the traditional area where black women are expected to remain in Brazilian society.