Every year, there's at least one controversy surrounding Carnival in Rio, and sometimes it becomes a big international story. But I'm beginning to think that this year's samba school in question, Viradouro, purposely engages in controversy for publicity. If that's the idea, they're certainly getting tons of press, even if it's bad press. In 2008, they were at the center of a bitter legal battle to use a float made of fake dead bodies with a Hitler impersonator on top; they lost, and instead used a float protesting what they perceived as censorship.
This year's Viradouro controversy is that one of the head honchos at the Viradouro samba school has put his seven year-old daughter in a role normally reserved for fully grown women wearing just enough to cover their private parts. Not only that, the role of the rainha da bateria, the queen of the drum section, is usually held by a model, actress, or local celebrity.
The story exploded in the US news today, since the controversy has now become a legal issue and has landed at the illustrious Rio family court, which will decide if the girl is allowed to be in the Carnival parade. Meanwhile, the story hadn't made even a blip in the Brazilian press, but since it was all over the international news, it will probably be in the headlines today or tomorrow.
So here's my take.
First of all, before even touching on the story itself, we have to look at how the story is being portrayed in the American media. The big media outlets, as usual, resort to sensationalism and stereotypes, which is not new but nonetheless irritating. You'll notice that they tend to recycle each other's work, and as a result tend to focus on several themes, repeating the word "sexy" to describe the Carnival dancers and their dances as "sensual." They're also quick to point out that Brazil still has a problem of sexually exploited children.
That brings me to my first point, which is that American beauty pageants for children, in particular those for very young girls around 7 and under, are completely exploitative and in my opinion tend to sexualize little girls. It's truly ridiculous that a story like this would create such an outcry in one of the child pageant capitals of the world (though to be fair, Brazil is also really big on pageants, and Brazilians dominate the kiddie pageants in the Americas). To use those obnoxious stereotypes of the oversexed Brazilian women adds insult to injury.
The next point is that some argue that a child can't handle the very long hours, the physically difficult task of dancing, and the summer heat. What the American media failed to do was any background research on the matter. Every year there is a Carnival parade for children at the Sambadrome, when they all get dressed in costumes and dance and sing with kid's samba schools. I chaperoned one year, and while I agree the avenida is long and the weather is hot, the hundreds of kids who perform each year handle it just fine.
It seems the father thought it would be a cute idea to put a child in the role of the adult so that people would oo and ahh over how cute she is (because she's adorable), not to place her in the traditional role of a grown up samba dancer. That is, instead of using the usual beautiful model, he'd use a gap toothed kid to win over the judges. After all, Carnival is the time when the world stands on its head: black is white, rich is poor and up is down. So, in his logic, why not switch up Carnival itself by putting a little kid in the place of an adult?
That said, I understand the controversy. It is a little weird to see such a tiny girl doing some questionable moves, and her parents seem like the stage parent types (growing up as a dancer, I've met far too many). The question does arise, where do you draw the line?
But as far as the courts are concerned, unless the media stays on top of the story, there's a 50-50 chance the case will be expedited before Carnival, which starts next week. As we know all too well, the Rio courts, especially the family court where the case has landed, is very slow. So unless the samba school leadership decides against having the girl dance with them, it seems like a distinct possibility that she'll be performing for Carnival. If not, the school may have to bust out the censorship float again.
What's your take?