Sexuality Policy Watch

The politics of Carnival

Despite passed 400 days of JMB’s ruling, Brazil’s carnival has shown the strength of popular festivities in producing laugh and scorn. Viradouro samba school was crowned champion of Rio de Janeiro’s 2020 parade with a music theme dedicated to the “Ganhadeiras do Itapuã”, black women from the northern state of Bahia, who washed clothes in the Abaeté lagoon. They used to sell food and carry water as a source of income to sustain themselves and purchase their own manumission and other enslaved women. Viradouro’s costumes design and music lyric, the ganhadeiras had also a relation with Oxum, an Orisha goddess of water and owner of gold. In contrast with official narratives that underline Princess Isabel’s charitable portray by abolishing slavery, the history of ganhadeiras highlights the power of community alliance between black women. Read more here.

Mangueira samba school, the winner of the 2019 Carnival, featured the samba “Verdade vos fará livre” (‘The truth will set you free’, in English), which reported on police violence and repression in Brazil. The parade brought a Jesus with a black face, indigenous blood, and body of woman, as the song goes. One of the school’s cars portrayed a young, black and favela-resident Jesus, which triggered controversy among conservative religious allies of JMB, who accused Mangueira of being Marxist.

In São Paulo’s parade, Águia de Ouro samba school won with the samba “O poder do saber – Se saber é poder… Quem sabe faz a hora, não espera acontecer” (‘The power of knowledge – If knowing is power… Those who know better make their own time and don’t wait’, in English), bringing the story of knowledge and its good and bad developments. The school honored educator Paulo Freire, one of the main targets of JMB administration, as well as alluded to Geraldo Vandré’s dictatorship resistance anthem song.

Back to Rio de Janeiro’s carnival, Mocidade samba school paid a tribute to singer Elza Soares, chanting her trajectory of success against all odds, beginning at her favela roots, as well as oppression and violence suffered as a black woman. It also featured her international accomplishments and her activism in defense of women and LGBT people.

The carnival played on the streets was marked by jokes about the outrageous remarks and decadent policies of the current administration. It featured housekeepers who visited Disney when the dollar currency was not so high – in reference to Minister of Economy Paulo Guedes remark that it was fortunate that at least now housekeepers would not be able to go to Disney anymore -, Rio de Janeiro’s water crisis, flat earth and Eduardo Bolsonaro, JMB’s son, and his failed attempt to become US ambassador, which was based on his experience frying hamburgers at the US.

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