Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê
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(Feb 17, 2012)
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a documentary film
by Carolina Moraes-Liu
Released: 2010 - TRT: 20 min.
Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê follows three black 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.
For Aurelina the contest has become an obsession. She has competed in the past four years, but never won the contest, although once she placed third. Every year she feels an irresistible need to try again. She says she already feels like a queen, and just needs the title itself.
Talita is taking dance classes, and wants to becomea professional dancer. She earns a living by tutoring kids in the community, and offers free help to kids who cannot afford to pay.
Joseane has recently become involved in the African dance styles of Ilê Aiyê, and counts on the support of her family and friends as she prepares for the competition. Her father has participated in Ilê Aiyê since its early years, when the group was harassed by the police and accused by the media of being racist for having an all-black membership.
Commentary is provided by Antônio Carlos "Vovô", founder and president of Ilê Aiyê, and by Arany Santana, one of the director’s of Ilê Aiyê and current Secretary of Social Development and Fight Against Poverty for the city of Salvador.
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.
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"Ebony Goddess" is a true story, but not only that: it is true to the real story of these women. In addition, I believe this film should be shown in every venue possible during the Black History Month, to show a different angle of a black woman's life.