Note from BBT: All I can say is that I wish I could have been there. Well, maybe not this year as this whole Covid-19 pandemic will make the year 2020 go down in the history books as the year in which the world almost stopped. And due to this pandemic, the sixth annual event of what is being called “the blackest runway in Brazil” took place only online this year. The “blackest runway in Brazil” title is for good reason. The fashion industry in Brazil is one of the areas I have followed since I started blogging about the racial situation.
Brazil is a country with a diversity of looks perhaps unmatched in the rest of the world. The result of five centuries of mixing of Africans, Europeans and indigenous Brazilians, you often find in the streets of whatever city you may visit in the country people in which you will ask, “What race is she/he?” Some have labeled the country as having the “largest black population outside of Africa”, a tag that I have come to question in recent years. What I will say is that, among the nearly 220 million Brazilians, the African element is very much apparent, although this element is stronger in some states than others.
Bahia is perhaps the state where blackness and Africanness is the most prominent. My first experiences with Brazil were in the city that is considered the center of African culture, Salvador, the state’s capital. For people seeking a connection with the African Diaspora, the place is almost mystical. The culture, the colors, the vibe, and most important of all, the people, Salvador and Bahia as a whole are almost like their own country and once you turn on the television or visit another state, this becomes even more apparent.
I say this because of how the media chooses to present its population. As has been said numerous times, according to the media, Brazil was simply a European country located in the Latin America (see here, here and here). That’s what you see when you turn on the TV. Whiteness. This extends to the fashion industry where black models have for years complained about the lack of opportunities for those who don’t have white skin, straight hair and European features. It’s not just a thing of “black people whining” again as so many people like to say to dismiss these claims, the statistics and faces in the magazines and on the runways verify the fact.
Back in 2013, for example, talks were underway that recommended that Luminosidade, the company responsible for organizing the country’s largest fashion events, São Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) and Fashion Rio, set a quota of participation of 10% for black models in these events. Even after the various protests by black models and recent headline making denouncements of racism in the fashion industry, here in 2020, there is still recent talk of implementing quotas at the SPFW, which tells us that the situation has changed little in the past seven years.
This is why it is such a big deal to see a runway on Brazilian soil dominated by the presence of darker-skinned male and female models. Some years ago, I’ll never forget reading a situation in the book Laughter Out of Place by Donna Goldstein in which she wrote about a conversation between some people in a Rio de Janeiro favela. One of the black women expressed her desire that her daughter to become a professional model, the people listening to her words all remained silent as, most likely, all of them knew that, in Brazil, to be a model, one had to be white. The situation described is very Brazilian as so many people know how race and privilege works in the country, but people have been long taught to pretend that such a hierarchy doesn’t exist because “we are all equal”.
Even in a place like Salvador, for years, we’ve seen hints of this “dictatorship of whiteness”. It’s in the political structure, in the bodies that make up the middle class regions of the city, in the manner that some artists are given prominence during the yearly Carnaval spectacle (a topic that provoked singer Margareth Menezes to speak out several months ago), and even in beauty contests. How can a city that is so black be so white in so areas?
Everyone in the country sees Salvador and Bahia as the “black state” in the country, but yet when Globo TV started production of the novela (soap opera) Segundo Sol that was set in Salvador, a city that is 85% black and brown, its presented a cast that was overwhelmingly white. This is an everyday reality that continues today. I just discovered that for the immensely popular, yearly televised New Year’s Eve show, there will be no black Bahian artists featured.
These are just a few of the reasons why something like Afro Fashion Day is a big thing. This year, as it wasn’t possible to put on a live show, the presentation was made into a film featuring the models that would parade during the show. Unfortunately, around that same time, a day before the Black Consciousness Day, when Afro Fashion Day was scheduled to be broadcast, black Brazilians and the country were confronted with the tragic murder of another black male in the city of Porto Alegre. In some ways, that incident, along with the fact that this year’s Afro Fashion Day would be shown in the form of film, this “runway revolution” perhaps didn’t get the press it should have received.
Below is a little background and a few details that led up to last week’s spectacular as well as the film that replaced the live event for the 2020 edition.
Afro Fashion Day: main black fashion event will be broadcast over the internet
Known as “the blackest runway in Brazil”, as it brings together only black models, the Afro Fashion Day fashion show, promoted by the Correio 24 Horas newspaper, in Salvador, will be held, virtually, on November 20, the Day of Black Consciousness, and will have dendê (palm oil) as its theme.
The chosen day of the week, a Friday, is traditionally reserved for meals made with olive oil, in the state of Bahia, especially in the capital. “I like to bring ‘Afro’ themes that have a connection with cultural aspects, that permeate our identity and palm oil is closely linked to being from Bahia. It is our most representative ingredient and that’s why I wanted to bring it as the theme of AFD 2020. We are using a color chart that started from palm oil tones, such as black, yellow and orange red”, reveals the fashion producer, Fagner Bispo.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the parade will be broadcast via the newspaper’s social networks, respecting the health surveillance protocols. “It is a new experience, showing the event through a film, although I believe it will be as exciting as the previous editions, which were in person”, believes Fagner Bispo. The recordings were made in several neighborhoods of Salvador, including Paripe, Rio Vermelho, Gamboa, Candeal and Parque São Bartolomeu.
With 36 brands parading (30 of clothes and 6 of accessories), Afro Fashion Day is an instrument of social transformation, which carries with it the flag of racial causes, a true uprising over the representativeness and the presence of black people in spaces, especially that of fashion. Some of those brands include: Adriana Meira, Alafia, Ateliê Casalinda, Balbina, Black Atitude, By Aninha, By Mário Farias, Closet, Com Amor Dora, Costa Ribeiro, Fagner Bispo, Filipe Dias, Gefferson Vila Nova, Isaac Silva, Incid, Jeanne Gubert, Jeferson Ribeiro, João Damapeju, Katuka, Kelba Deluxe, Lu Samarato, Marc Bell Ethnic Revival, Mb Conceito, Meninos Rei, Mônica Anjos, N Black, Negrif, Preta Brasil, Realeza, Regina Navarro Bellaoyá, Rey Vilas Boa, Sanporttï, Silverino Oju, Sou Diva! Tá Bom pra Vc?, Soudam, Soul Dila, and Ziê.
Selective via Tik Tok
In this edition, the selections for the Afro Fashion Day 2020 award were made via the Tik Tok video platform. Of the 177 registered in the first stage, six competitors were selected. This new initiative made it possible for many young people to continue believing in their dream of being a model.
Among the participants who are fighting for a place on the catwalks was Ednei William, 17, a resident of Trobogy, first place in the male team, with 830 votes. Ednei is participating for the third time in the contest. In 2018, he didn’t pass the first phase. In the second attempt, he reached the final, but didn’t win the prize. This year, he is again among the finalists and believes he will be victorious.
“You just can’t give up, that’s my motto. We can do everything, never let them tell you otherwise. Try it once, twice, three times, as many times as necessary, don’t give up. As my mother says, ‘go ahead my son. You get what you want, just study’,”he says. But this year, he reveals that he almost gave up. “On the day I was going to record the video, I was assaulted with my mother and they took our bags with our cell phones. I thought about giving up, I thought it was a sign, but I recorded my video, I couldn’t give up on my dream.”
Conquering a trendy space by being black and living in the periphery is complicated, since black bodies have never been seen as standards of beauty by society, causing many to give up on the dream of being a model. For Ednei it is even more difficult. “In addition to being black and peripheral, I’m a black fag, which I love, but society still rejects us a lot. It’s very prejudiced and the judgments are various. As a model, I identify that people just want to put us in specific jobs where they talk about diversity, but in fact all jobs should be different. I want inclusion and respect.”
Ednei identifies himself as a cisgender, bisexual and androgynous man (traits, clothes and feminine behavior), likes to wear heels, as an act of revolution and breaking the standard, showing people about the diversity and freedom to be able to wear what you want.
In addition to being a student and model, he also participates in social projects, such as Teatro Escola (theater school), aimed at Afro-descendants, indigenous people and public school students; and the Peripheral Youths, focused on fashion and culture of young blacks from the peripheries of Salvador.
Together with Ednei, competing for the Afro Fashion Day 2020 award will be: Vitória Carmo (1st place in the women’s selection with 820 votes); Katarine Cardoso (2nd place with 617 votes); Thalia Neres (3rd place with 420 votes); Deivid Silva (2nd place with 610 votes) and Rafa Araújo (3rd place with 570 votes).
But there are even more inspiring background stories that add to this year’s edition with the number of family members parading together also drawing attention: husband and wife, a daughter who encouraged her mother to become a model and a pair of siblings who are starting a career in fashion.
A model since she was 13, Malu Andrade, 15, had the support of her mother, Fernanda Andrade, 38, to follow her dream. A resident of the São Gonçalo do Cabula neighborhood, Malu is already experienced in the area and is going to her second parade at AFD. Last year, she was already there under the watchful eyes of her mother – who dreamed of pursuing a career, but had neither opportunities nor family support.
The game started to change in Fernanda’s life when Malu was posing for an editorial photographed by Mário Testino: Mário praised her, said that she had a posture and a way of modeling and even took some photos of Fernanda, who finds “curious” the experience of being taught by someone who has learned so much from her: walking, talking, dressing, reading, writing…
“I am always giving tips to my mother, I know she couldn’t continue with her career when she was younger, so I take the opportunity to repay everything she has done for me. It’s very beautiful to see her excitement at each rehearsal,” said Malu.
Director of 40 Graus, an agency that takes care of the duo’s career, Sérgio Mattos says that this case is very unusual. The most natural thing is that the opposite happens and the mother passes the taste for the profession to her daughter. In any case, he guarantees that both have the talent to succeed abroad. Malu, for example, is scheduled to leave the country and work with international agencies next year. Fernanda will be in her first fashion show at the Afro Fashion Day fashion film, on November 20.
Brother and sister Israel and Naomi Queirós have a similar history. They were discovered by scouter Vivaldo Marques this year and since March they have been working in fashion. Before that, the pair really enjoyed playing basketball in the neighborhood of Pernambués, where they live.
At 15, Noemi has the company of her older brother for almost everything and says that knowing that he will accompany her in Afro Fashion Day rehearsals and recordings reassures her. “It’s nice that he’s there, right? At least someone is known to us to do the job more easily. But I confess that I am anxious,” she said.
A fan of the Miami Heat, the current runner-up in the NBA, Israel says that basketball has been a little at the side in the life of the duo and that the business is now fashion. In fact, he is anxious to know what looks will be prepared for him by the curator of Afro Fashion Day.
More than a unique work opportunity and showcase for models from the land, Afro Fashion Day is seen by those who pass by it as an exercise of affection.
A well-known figure in the Bahian scene and queen of Muzenza, Josy Brasil will parade alongside her husband, Leandro Santos. Léo, as he is known, is a professional model and will be at Afro representing the agency Xtreme Model.
The duo has been together for about 3 years and says that Afro is very important for the affirmation of blackness. According to Josy, loving someone of the same race is comfortable and pleasurable even with all the differences that are common to each person.
Debuting on the Afro catwalk, Léo highlights the visibility that AFD brings to “people who are little seen and the affection of these black people among themselves”. “My relationship with Josy came from a love of total growth, we met when she was 6 months old as a person with a disability, but that was no reason to separate. On the contrary, we are even more united,” said Léo.
“Bringing the family together in a context as difficult as what we are living in now is very important. Parading alongside my companion on the most famous black catwalk in Brazil is a unique opportunity, even to be sharing a little of our happiness within this project,” added Josy.
The 30 models were divided into groups of 6 people to avoid crowds. They will pose for photos and videos in a studio set up at Rede Bahia and, in another period, they will make recordings and take photos at Parque de São Bartolomeu, in Plataforma.