Black Beauty Pageant: Queen of Ilê Aiyê

Several people have asked me about blackness and race in Brazil. I thought you would find this interesting. Below is a description of the documentary Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê, clip above.

Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê follows three women competing to be the carnival queen of Ilê Aiyê, a prominent and controversial Afro-Brazilian group with an all-black membership. The selection is based on Afro-centric notions of beauty, in counterpoint to prevailing standards of beauty in Brazil, a country famous for slim supermodels and plastic surgery. Contestants for the title of Ebony Goddess dress in flowing African-style garments, gracefully performing traditional Afro-Brazilian dances to songs praising the beauty of black women. For Aurelina, Joseane and Talita, the competition for the title of Ebony Goddess is part of a profound and personal search for identity and self-esteem. The figure of the Ebony Goddess, representing a “black is beautiful” view of black women, resonates with women of African descent in Brazil, the United States and throughout the world of the African Diaspora…Following the three candidates’ daily lives, dance rehearsals, and interactions with each other, Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê shows the contest’s role in reshaping the idea of beauty in a society in which African descendants constitute the majority of the population but is pervaded by Euro-centric concepts of body esthetics. The concept of the Ebony Goddess creates an alternative view of the black female body as beautiful, desirable, and talented, promoting social change at its most basic level: the individual sense of self.”

Selected Resources on Race in Brazil

Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê
(Documentary Website)

Ilê Aiyê  (website in Portuguese language)

“What Does the Brazil Census Tell us About Race?”)

Brazil 2010 census shows changing race balance,” , BBC News)

Video: “Brazil: A Racial Paradise?” – full episode from PBS “Black in Latin America” series (51 min. 25 sec., 2011)

Video: “‘Unaccustomed’ debate on race sparked in Brazil” BBC News (5 min. 7 sec., May 25, 2010)

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