Rio de Janeiro's annual Carnival is known for its unabashed, over-the-top parades and performances, but this year’s iteration, which wrapped up on Wednesday, March 6, had a notably more political tone. Revelers and samba schools took advantage of one of Brazil’s biggest nights to deliver a rebuke to President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been vocal in his attacks on women, minorities and the LGBT community.

The festival, the first since the right-wing Bolsonaro took office earlier this year, featured several parades that offered up pointed critiques of Bolsonaro’s government. The traditional samba school Mangueria won the Carnival parade contest with its tribute to Marielle Franco, a councilwoman who was killed last March. A human rights activist who championed the gay and black communities, Franco was also known for her criticisms of police brutality and inequality in Rio de Janeiro. She and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were fatally shot while returning from an event, and her death sparked outrage and protests across the country.

The parade featured Franco’s face set against green and pink, the Mangueria school’s colors, as well as those of other Brazilian “unsung heroes.” For many, the tribute served as a challenge to Bolsonaro, who has said that he would prefer having a dead son to a gay one, and whose family allegedly has ties to a paramilitary group suspected in Franco’s killing.

The winning parade, from the Mangueria school, paid tribute to councilwoman Marielle Franco.

The Paraíso do Tuiuti school presented the story of the goat Ioiô, elected councilman in Fortaleza in the 1920s by locals who sought to express their dissatisfaction with the governing party, to evoke the current political climate. Meanwhile, the Portela samba school honored the singer Clara Nunes, who was one of the first public figures in the 1970s to champion afro-Brazilian religions. “At a time when tension is high, a tribute to Clara Nunes highlighting her commitment to religious tolerance is very important,” Raphael Perucci, a spokesperson for the school, told the AFP.

Carnival revelers send a political message

The festivities drew crowds that marched down Rio’s streets, chanting obscenities about the president. A Twitter user named SatanasTwink, who posted a video of one group numbering in the thousands, called their “rejection” of the president “one of the most beautiful things you’ll see today.”

Crowds chant “Bolsonaro, go f*** yourself” at a Carnival event in Rio de Janeiro

At the traditional Carmelitas street party, musicians donned blue and pink clothes while singing “Blue or pink, it’s all the same,” a reference to recent comments by Damares Alves, the minister for women, family and human rights minister, who said that “boys wear blue and girls wear pink.” Her words were widely mocked by users online, who said the minister was presenting an outdated view of society.

Performers wore blue and pink clothes in a jab at recent comments by Damares Alves, the minister for women, family and human rights.

The Carnival also saw people dressed up in communist costumes, a response to Bolsonaro’s frequent allusions to the leftist Worker’s party, which controlled the government until 2016, as “socialists” and “communists.”

Some festival-goers donned orange garb and communist costumes in a critique of Bolsonaro;

Many festival-goers wore orange, in a jab at Brazil’s “laranjas,” the Portuguese word for orange that also refers to those involved in politicians’ money laundering schemes. The president’s son, Flavio Bolsonaro, is currently under investigation by federal prosecutors for money laundering related to recent apartment purchases. Authorities are also looking into a former driver of Flavio Bolsonaro for suspicious cash payments.

Outrage after Bolsonaro’s explicit tweet

The president drew further condemnation on Tuesday, March 5th when he tweeted an explicit video of a man urinating on the head of another man, allegedly at a Carnival event, in an apparent attempt to disparage the character of festival-goers. “We have to expose the truth for the population to know,” Bolsonaro tweeted. “This is what many street parties in Brazil’s Carnival have become.”

Social media users were quick to denounce his comments, with some suggesting that he was ill, and others horrified that the country’s leader would use such lewd images.

Since coming into power in January, Bolsonaro has been progressively stripping the rights of minorities. One of his first acts as president was to give the ministry of agriculture the power to control protected lands for indigenous communities, making it easier for industries to access the lands. The government also eliminated a branch of the ministry of education that worked to increase access to higher education for disadvantaged communities, including black Brazilians.

This story was written by Jenny Che. 

Brazil /  racism /  Carnival