Note from BBT: Several months ago I was having a conversation with a friend about the docu-series about the six championships won by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls basketball team in a span of eight years in the 1990s. Since diving into the Brazil thing, I only had a limited understanding of what it meant for American people, music, products, etc. to attain global recognition and/or dominance. Having delved into the ins and outs of the music industry since I was a teenager, I knew that artists such as Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, Prince and later folks like Beyoncé and Rihanna topped the music charts in not just the US, but several countries around the world as well.
This struck me again when I saw the enormous billboard image of Michael Jordan in Barcelona, Spain during the Olympics of 1992. Besides the fact that Michael Jordan was a superstar basketball player, the GOAT (greatest of all time) for many, a pitchman for numerous products, a multi-millionaire and a champion, there was another important thing about seeing Jordan being loved by so many people around the world and his larger than life image: his complexion.
Michael Jordan is not only a black man, a man of African ancestry, he is a DARK-SKINNED black man. Of all of the names of black entertainers who attained global fame I mentioned above, none of them can be considered dark-skinned. We all know the story of Michael Jackson and how vitiligo basically erased the melanin in his skin, but even before the period between 1985-1987 when we all started to notice the lightening of his skin, in reality, Jackson was NEVER a dark-skinned black man.
Jordan on the other hand on the other hand has a color that I can imagine my ancestors would have had when they first arrived on American shores. Jordan doesn’t have the sort of look that the world can accept because he’s “not that black”. No. Michael Jordan is straight, no chaser, coffee, no cream, in all his black royalty. Ok, sure, I know that there are in fact millions of people in the world who are darker than Jordan, but he is dark enough that I’m sure that before he was the king of the court, he was probably teased and called all sorts of names by his black friends and colleagues. A reminder of the mental shackles that continue to oppress our minds to this day.
Seeing Jordan, a dark-skinned, unquestionably black man, being worshipped on such a global level by perhaps billions of people around the world is important in itself because people need to see this. We need to see more people who look like him so that there is a challenge to the global image of success being associated with only white/very light skin.
You might find it strange, but this is what came to mind when I saw the images of the model Carlos Cruz, from Bahia. Brazil is a country that has long sought to erase black skin and that continues to maintain a standard of beauty that says if you can’t be exactly white, at least be a light-skinned mestiço (not to mention its fashion industry). You get none of that with Carlos Cruz. Coffee, no cream. Who knows how long Cruz will be in the modeling game, but I hope for him the level of success that perhaps one day we will see his image blown up to the same size of that one in Barcelona, Spain, back in 1992.
Carlos Cruz: The boy from the slums who became a model, king and movie star
By Jadson Nascimento with additional info from Beatriz Nascimento
“Life has taught me to never give up, neither win nor lose, but seek to evolve. They can take away everything I have, but they can’t take away the good things I’ve done for the ones I love.” – Charlie Brown Jr., Brazilian band
Born in the San Martins neighborhood, in Salvador, Bahia, Carlos José de Santana Cruz, 26 years old, model, better known as Carlos Cruz, a name adopted to honor his grandfather, is one of the inspirations for black youth, especially in Salvador. His life story is a motivator for other young people to believe in their potential, that black people can get where they want to go and fulfill all their dreams. In last year’s carnival Carlos was chosen as a model and the face of the Filhos de Gandhi Carnaval bloco.
With a degree in radiology and accounting, Carlos started in the fashion world in 2017, when Sivaldo Tavares, a cultural producer, found him and proposed that he take his photo, something that was not in his world, and that’s when he began his career in the Top Model Fama project, staying for 2 years.
In 2018, Carlos won the most important black beauty contest in the Northeast, in the category Beleza Black Internet. The contest was organized by One Model, and soon after, he became part of the Agency where he was called by the agency directors André Menegry and Pepê Santos, and went to live in São Paulo, in 2018, a very productive year and of great learning for his career.
After moving to São Paulo, he participated in important jobs that established him on the national scene, among them for Vogue magazine, Samsung, Banco do Brasil, Nestle, Track & Field and Riachuelo.
Soon he was being photographed by one of the most famous photographers in the world, Mário Testino and today, he is one of the main black models on the rise and with more recognized works in the country.
It was from the recognition of his work that Carlos had the opportunity to start an international career. At the moment, he has contracts in India, China, and the Arab Emirates, and his career will be managed by local agencies.
“In the first year the market didn’t absorb me very easily, due to the restricted job opportunity that is given to black people, in addition to the crisis that the country was facing,” comments Carlos Cruz.
On several occasions we have discussed how difficult the daily struggle of black people is, but we don’t go through just suffering, we have victories, achievements, overcoming, dreams and inspirations that motivate black people to continue fighting for their rights. And it is with this in mind that today we bring you a story of strength, joy, dreams, and inspiration.
Being in the fashion world doesn’t mean being safe from discriminatory situations, quite the contrary, since black people and fashion have never been together in the same context as something positive, mainly due to the fact that they have never been said or seen as a “standard of beauty”.
“The black person suffers with the lack of opportunity, with the unequal market. The prejudice on the street reflects on the job, if we don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. We have to feel the pain of our own people. I go through the prejudice that my friends go through, I always put myself in the place of my friends and of other black people, and that’s how we fight for what our ancestors fought for in the past,” confesses Carlos Cruz.
To be on the cover of big national and international brands and to do work that was not available to black people before is a great victory not only for Carlos, but for all those who have followed him since the beginning of his career, even for those who started to know him recently. Talking about representation is very meaningful and exciting for the Bahian, because many who dream of having this opportunity haven’t had it yet, and today having people close to him who are inspired by his trajectory, like his goddaughter who says she gets emotional seeing him as a model, is something that touches his heart.
“Fashion didn’t choose me, I chose fashion, because I had another side in life. I worked in accounting, I worked for seven years. Today I see my goddaughter following everything I publish and she says she wants to be just like me, so this sways me,” added Carlos.
When he arrives in Salvador, Carlos is called “King” or “King of the favela” by friends and neighbors, something that fills him with joy, for the understanding that he is a reference, not only for children, but for young people and adults, which motivates him to keep moving forward, without forgetting where he came from. Carlos believes he is a mirror for these people, and wants to continue being and making a difference, because when he looked for a black reference in the fashion world it was very hard to find.
“With my work I try to contribute so that people have opportunities, other paths, avoid going to crime, for example, which unfortunately is a reality for many people who live in the periphery, even though most of the residents have lived honestly, even with financial difficulties. I am speechless to describe this emotion, to know that I touch a less favored class. On my street the guys call me “king, the king of the favela” and I like this, I’m taking the name of where I came from to the world,” explains Carlos.
From his beginnings to now, Cruz understands the importance of people of his same origin seeing him succeed. “Through my work I found a way to encourage other young people who, like me, were told not to dream and, above all, to pass the message to the world that to keep fighting is necessary to achieve our dreams,” he says.
The story of Carlos Cruz will be told through a documentary produced by Coisa Forte Produções.
In December 2019, Carlos was invited by filmmaker Giovane Sobrevivente, to do a documentary about his life story. “I was moved by Geovane’s invitation, he’s an amazing guy, innovative and always with things focused on the development and appreciation of black people. The proposal to tell my story, my victories, my defeats, and that this could encourage dreams, that my work is political, not partisan, but political in defense of black people, of black culture, and that I should expand this, was exciting to hear,” he says.
In spite of the surprise with the invitation, Carlos knows that he is admired and respected by many. And this is how the idea of the documentary came up, which started to be recorded in December and was finished in March. However, due to the pandemic they had to delay some steps, but the project is already in its final phase, in the editing process.
The black body has never been seen as a “standard” by society, especially by whiteness, and this has caused many, not only young people, to stop liking their own bodies, forgetting their own origins. “I believe that in the documentary I tell my whole life, my story, and my essence. I see it as a paradigm break. Everything that was put to me as impossible, I put in my documentary for people to believe that their dreams are possible, that black people have beauty, even living in this outdated society that doesn’t offer us the same opportunities. Black people do have value and deserve to be placed in a prominent place,” said the model.
Due to the pandemic, the release of the film, which was planned to take place in June, has been postponed to the end of the year, with no date or month yet. The idea is that the release will take place at the Fonte do Capim Municipal School, where Carlos studied, in the San Martins neighborhood, the same neighborhood where he was born and grew up. As a future project, after the premiere, the documentary will be available on digital platforms through the channel Coisa Forte Produções.
“His idea is to make this release with the neighborhood kids, with the people who know me and know my story, to raise food and funds to help people,” concludes Carlos Cruz.
Since he was a child Carlos has been involved with the world of arts, especially theater. Now he is the subject of a documentary about his own life. Art and life in constant connection. To know more about the story of Carlos Cruz just follow the Instagran @o_carloscruz.