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Brazilian films revisiting race, hair politics
Scenes from Spirit in the Eye (1974) and Kbela (2015)

Brazilian films revisiting race, hair politics

“For a popular Ethiopian musician to reach Brazil he first has to be famous in the US or European countries. The same for a Brazilian artist to make it to Ethiopia,” declared Adriana Telles Ribeiro, Brazilian Embassy Cultural Attaché at the opening of the Black Brazilian Film Festival in Addis Ababa. Ribiero emphasized that the relationships between developing countries are fragile and cultural exchange is usually filtered though developed nations.

The festival opened to local and international filmmakers and film enthusiasts alike at Vamdas Cinema and Entertainment in partnership with the Embassy of Brazil in Addis Ababa and the Association of Black Audiovisual Professionals on Wednesday July 18.

The three-day festival kicked off with Carolina, a 2003 short film about the life of black Brazilian author Carolina Maria de Jesus and her struggles with poverty included footage of her increased popularity once her book was published.

This was followed by Kbela (2015), an experimental film by Yasmin Thainá that tackles the issue of representation of black women by focusing on the politics of black hair. This was followed by the seminal short film Spirit in the Eye (1974) by Zózimo Bulbul, a lyrical metaphor for slavery and search for liberty.

Ribiero insisted on the importance of having diverse narratives citing how the photographic representation of black Americans is transformed once black people had access to their own cameras in the 1950s.

Brazil is home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa. As Barreto points out, even though the afro-Brazilian population makes up 56% of the population, representation is low. “It’s never us talking about ourselves. Even Brazilian TV features all white people. Black people are portrayed as thieves, criminals or prostitutes. Dehumanization like this doesn’t allow people to be complex as human beings.”

During the discussion that followed the screening, attendees shared their experience of race and black hair in Kbela, finding it highly resonant to Ethiopian women’s experiences of hair. Barreto agreed with the discourse adding, “Even something as simple as hair is highly political. Even in Addis, security guards check my hair in case I’m hiding something in there.”

Sofarit Mulugeta who also attended the festival expressed her delight at seeing narratives of people she could find relatable. “A lot of film festivals come to Addis and I don’t think they consider the audience. I came because I would like to know about black people in Brazil. Even in my own bathroom there are 20 different hair products lined up. It’s nice to see people that go through the same issues–as women, black people and economically disadvantaged people. It’s a great start.”

The second day of the festival focused on the religious and faith-related cultures of black Brazilians with short films like Òrun Àiyé (2016), Okán Mímò (2017), What I Learn with My Elders (2017) and Letters of May (2018). The final day featured the 2012 favela funk dance documentary Passinho Dance Off –The Movie by Emilio Domingos.