The Carnival of Brazil is renowned worldwide for its splendor, uniqueness and originality. Taking place in a country rich in diversity, Brazil’s carnival is no different, showcasing in diverse ways each state and region of the country. It is no surprise that people in several parts of the globe watch the traditional parade of Rio de Janeiro’s first division Samba Schools via a satellite TV channel.
“It is a spectacle of extravagance and beauty that pleases your eyes,” shared John Simon, a U.S. citizen married to a Brazilian “carioca” (the name given to Brazilians born in Rio de Janeiro) who loves the carnival. She not only brought her passion for her samba school, but also influenced her husband and the rest of the family.
This year, Rio’s Carnival portrayed the current political and economic issues Brazil is facing. The crisis is no longer disguised. The chaos that dominates the day-to-day lives of the Brazilian people has become a carnival plot, giving voice to a long-lasting resentment and ensuring the victory of samba school Beija-Flor in Nilópolis.
Beija-Flor presented an intelligent and straightforward critique of the current political situation in the country. The song lyrics criticizing corruption written by Gabriel David, the son of the samba school’s honorary president, Anísio Abraão David, who is now free after being sentenced to 48 years in prison for numerous crimes, caused controversy because the school is historically associated with the mafia that dominate the Jogo do Bicho (an illegal lottery game) and slot machines in the country.
“A monster is one who does not know how to love. The abandoned children of a land where they were born,” says the song. Beija-Flor makes a parallel between the 200-year-old Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley, and the “national monsters,” among them corruption, violence against nature, misuse of taxpayer money and social disparities.
Beija-Flor bet heavily on theatrics. One school float represented a slum with different armed drug traffickers, couples fighting and even a mother mourning the death of her son, a police officer. The “napkin party,” an episode of the criminal scheme of the former governor of Rio Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, was also staged and applauded.
The parade revolved around metaphors of terror about Brazil, displaying samba wings with “rodents” of public money, wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing alluding to politicians and the Petrobras corruption case, illustrated with people carrying oil barrels on their heads on a float with the Petrobras headquarters in the background and a gigantic rat in front of the building. There was a little bit of everything that, unfortunately, portrays the life of poor Brazilian citizens, from violence, pollution, excessive taxes and the precarious health system, to underprivileged children.
The fight against religious intolerance could not stay out of that large “political-Carnavalesco” protest, which was well represented by participants dressed as Evangelical pastors, Catholic priests and Muslims. Brazilian drag queen Pabllo Vittar, who has achieved rapid success in Brazil, was the highlight on the top of the LGBT anti-phobia float.
In general, the audience embraced the stance of indignation emanating from the Beija-Flor school in Nilopolis, clapping and singing along with tears of resentment in their eyes. The parade ended in great style with participants simulating a popular march.