Depicting Jesus: Mary and Joseph as Black Men and Women
Mangueira and Grande Rio stand out with black Jesus and defense of Candomblé
By Marques Travae, with information from Hypeness
With a number of pressing issues calling for the attention of the nation and the world, the first day of the Rio’s Carnaval parades took center stage yesterdayand did not disappoint with two important parades: those of the green-and-pink Mangueira and the Academicos do Grande Rio samba schools. In politically conservative times, Carnival has become a showcase for resistance of poor and marginalized cultures, and this became evident in Rio de Janeiro Sapucaí Carnaval stadium last night.
The two schools decided to marched to religious themes. Mangueira rewrote the story of a Jesus of current times with the theme ‘And the truth shall set you free’, while Grande Rio put on a display against religious intolerance paying tribute to the main religions of African origin in Brazil, Candomblé and Umbanda. The parade was an inspiring tribute to the religious leader Joãozinho da Gomeia, a sacerdote (priest) of Brazilian Candomblé.
While Candomblé and Umbanda have always been persecuted in Brazil, in recent years the number of attacks on the religions’ symbols, temples and adherents have increased and become more shocking.
The Mangueira parade
After having taken the championship last year doing a strong criticism in “História Pra Ninar Gente Grande”, in which the school revisited and honored historical figures of resistance of our country, the school chose a new topic of debate for its parade on the Avenida.
Featuring Evelyn Bastos, the rainha da bateria (queen of the drumbeat), as Jesus Christ the black woman, in addition to samba great Nelson Sergento, 94, as and singer Alcione as Joespeh and Mary, the intent was to present a Jesus as one of the oppressed peoples of modern times: black and poor people, members of the LGBT community and women, in other words, the marginalized. The school presented a line of reasoning that, if Jesus were to alive today, he would stand on the side of these groups today.
With the “Bandido Bom é Bandido Morto” (a good bandit is a dead bandit) wing, criticizing the punitivism that has spread in institutional circles in Brazil, the school recalled that Jesus was a ‘bandit’. It’s no secret that this is a slogan that it is very much real in the ideologies of Brazil’s middle, upper and elite classes. The main problem with this thinking is the fear and negative stereotypes that automatically connect every young black male with criminality. Today, 75% of people murdered in Brazil are black.
In reality, these ideas and images shouldn’t be considered controversial. It often amazes me when people express rejection or outrage with the idea of Jesus being black. It says right there in the very Bible that Christians hold so near and dear that Jesus had feet of brass and hair of wool. A counterposing image to the blond haired, blue-eyed man that billions around the world believe in. A bleach blond Jesus with clearly black facial features presents an image of any one of the young black men that one would find in many of Rio’s favelas.
And if some Christians criticized the stunning parade, religious authorities defended the idea of Mangueira.
“As a pastor, as an actor and as a disciple of Jesus, I saw that today Jesus was honored. Jesus is offended when black people are the target of prejudice, when a woman suffers violence, when an indigenous woman runs from a bullet, when the poor are massacred. Today, Jesus was celebrated with a party, with joy, with respect,” commented Pastor Henrique Vieira.
Grande Rio stands out
The Acadêmicos da Grande Rio stood out on the first day of parades. With a theme in honor of Candomblé, the school’s brand was ‘I respect your amen, you respect my axé’. Honoring the priest who was once considered ‘The King of Candomblé’, Joãozinho da Gomera, the school’s presentation was stunning.
For those who care a lot about the technical part – of course, the judges – the School had some problems in the allegories and in some cars, but that didn’t hinder the main point of the parade: shining the spotlight on intolerance against religions of African origin. To give you an idea, the number of complaints about attacks on religious centers in Candomblé and Umbanda grew by 50% between 2018 and 2019.
The school’s last car, called ‘Freedom Flys Again’, was a nod to a future where religions can co-exist in peace, without violence or intolerance. In this allegory, several religious and intellectual leaders were present, such as the babalaô Ivanir dos Santos and the writer Conceição Evaristo.
“In the beginning, Grande Rio came with several African themes. We’re used to it. Always very beautiful themes. And this year, thank God, we got it right and we’re going to show the world that intolerance cannot have a place. Carnival is the right time to raise this flag,” said the president of Grande Rio, Milton Perácio.