The right to [not] samba: the representation of black women in Carnival

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Note from BW of Brazil: Carnaval 2015 has come and gone but the voices of black women about the representation of black women in the yearly spectacular continue to rise. Opinions about Carnaval in relation to black women are complex. As this is the only time of year when black women are prominently featured in Brazil’s media and considering the historical black struggle to have their faces and bodies represented in the big show, the insistence of participation in the role of protagonist is a worthwhile battle, especially as many are seeing an increasingly diminished role. On the other hand, many are coming to question if the image that is placed into the collective consciousness of the Brazilian population every year is really worth it.

As we saw in a contest in 2013, there are many Afro-Brazilian women who dream of having the spotlight shine on their scantily-clad or nude bodies for millions of spectators to see. But what does this message pass on to little black girls who watch this year after year? Throughout the year, white women are presented in the media in ways too numerous to mention here, while the black woman is portrayed as either the hard-working maid or the sensuous ‘ mulata’. With a rising consciousness of these facts, many are choosing to simply tune out. The piece below was actually posted before Carnaval went down, but it very well reflects  this sentiment. 

The right to [not] samba: representation of black women in carnival

by Hanayrá Negreiros – Originally posted on the Blogueiras Negras blog

Carnaval: The only time of year when black women are prominently featured in the media - Photo: Women from the Rosas de Ouro Samba School
Carnaval: The only time of year when black women are prominently featured in the media – Photo: Women from the Rosas de Ouro Samba School

I think this will be my first carnival without watching any samba school on TV. For some time now I began to see less beauty in the parades.

I was born in the 90s, when the little Carnaval marches and blocos didn’t have such grace and strength as before and that parading in a samba school was great. I never paraded, I always watched at home, and (when I was) little, remember always dancing samba in front of the screen, imagining being a beautiful and powerful passista (Carnaval dancer). I grew up and now I cannot imagine being a dancer anymore, and more, I realize now that the reason I was thought it was incredible to be a dancer was that this was one of the only references of beleza negra (black beauty) that I saw. We saw only a black woman being exalted as beautiful in Globo (TV) Carnivals. Valéria Valenssa, I thought was a goddess! There shining every year with a different costume, unique, highlighted. I wanted to be like her. But then, Carnival ended, the schools passed on, and I (and I believe other black girls too), went the rest of the year without any reference, someone who actually looked like me, like us.

Valéria Valenssa: On the cover of her book and in her heyday as the Globeleza
Valéria Valenssa: On the cover of her book and in her heyday as the Globeleza

I also remember the annual competitions of “mulata” dancers what happened and must still happen on the Luciano Huck (TV) program (1), where the girls tell a little of the passista’s life routine to maintain their bodies, and still had to hear infamous questions and jokes of the host and guests.

Host Luciano Huck interviews contestants on the Globo program 'Caldeirão do Huck'
Host Luciano Huck interviews contestants on the Globo program ‘Caldeirão do Huck’

Not to mention the “mulata” of Sargentelli that during the decades of the 70s and 80s was an attraction on TV, Sargentelli, moreover, was considered an expert in mulatas (2) and the king of ziriguidum (3)…indeed.

Caldeirão do (Luciano) Huck – Musa of Carnaval contest

Finally, putting all this together in my head, now an adult, the feeling of wanting to be a passista is more distant, I continue thinking they’re all beautiful and I love knowing that a girl from community of such and such school, was chosen to be rainha (queen) or madrinha (godmother), and not someone famous. But I don’t see them as references of the beauty, like when I was little, now it’s different, for me it’s different. I believe for them to be amazing, dedicate themselves for the whole year, choosing the costume, preparing, learning the new samba enredo (samba storyline/theme), sharing of Carnival with her school. However, the impression that it gives is that the black woman only has highlight and is only beautiful or seen as such at Carnival time, and believe it’s not just an impression, it’s a fact.

I don’t see grace in the Globeleza anymore, women are shown as if they were themed objects and suitable for the hot and festive mood of the moment. Being exchanged for being “preta demais” (“too black”), do you remember Nayara Justino, the Globeleza 2014? If we separate the word Globeleza, it turns into Globo/beleza (Globo/beauty), Globo’s beauty, which during Carnival is represented by a beautiful black woman, but in the rest of the year, is increasingly lighter.

Google search of keywords samba, Carnival and mulata
Google search of keywords samba, Carnival and mulata

To write this text, I did a quick Google search by typing the words, samba, Carnival and mulata (I hate that) and guess what appears to me, naked or scantily clad black women and some things related to pornography, as was expected. Another very recurrent thing in this, my new perception of Carnival, was to hear/read reports of black girls, that walking down the street, or in any other situation, hear “Carnaval themes” like, “hey mulata, samba there for me to see!” or that beating on the palm, mimicking the touch of a tambourine, suggesting that the girl dance the samba. The latter even happened to me. Twice. But I also realize a great uprising of women who no longer accept this kind of situation, that really complain, criticize the inconvenient “singer”, that correct the term mulata,  mulata tipo exportação (mulata  of the exportation type) and that maintains herself the right not to samba, give an ugly look and firmly keep on stepping. Because we are not obliged to anything, let alone to samba (only if it were in the face of this racist and sexist society).

Source: Blogueiras Negras


1. Every year in the lead up to Carnaval, the Globo TV variety show Caldeirão do Huck features numerous black women who compete in a contest to choose the show’s Carnaval Muse

2. As we saw in recent news, a black man defining himself as the “mulatologist” seems eager to take over this title.

3. Imitation of the percussive sound of samba

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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