Hit Brazilian music video touches nerve over race, sexist abuse and inequality
The video for the latest hit from the Brazilian pop sensation Anitta opens with a close-up of her sashaying buttocks before weaving through the streets of a Rio favela and eventually showing the star dancing in a tiny bikini on a flooded rooftop.
Since its release on Monday, Vai Malandra (Go Bad Girl) has been watched more than 30m times on YouTube – and become the first song in Portuguese to enter the Spotify Global top 20 chart.
But the hit has also unleashed fierce debate in Brazil, exposing the country’s social fault lines as it grapples with issues of inequality, racism, sexist abuse and cultural appropriation.
Black activists have accused Anitta of appropriating black styles like hairbraids. Others have praised her for filming the video in the Vidigal favela and for celebrating the sexuality of black women and women from low-income areas like these.
And while the singer won plaudits from some feminists for the video’s unflinching shots of her cellulite, she faced attacks for contracting Terry Richardson to direct the video – even though the fashion photographer was recently blacklisted by Vogue after repeated allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Juliana Borges, a researcher at the Foundation School of Sociology and Politics in São Paulo, wrote that Anitta should not have hired Richardson at a time when “women are raising their voices against abuse, harassment and sexist violence in cultural industries”.
In October, Richardson was dropped by Condé Nast – publishers of GQ, Vogue and Vanity Fair – and the Bulgari and Valentino fashion brands after sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful male cultural figures prompted the worldwide #MeToo campaign to denounce abuse.
“The least we should do is guarantee that abusers are ostracised,” Borges wrote for the website of the women’s magazine Claudia.
In a statement, Anitta – who has won praise for her articulate ripostes to sexist criticisms – said that she had taken legal advice after discovering the accusations against Richardson.
“We studied all the possibilities,” she said. “This is not just one person’s work.”
The video was shot in August, but Richardson has faced allegations of abuse for more than a decade and has been denounced since 2013 by Caryn Franklin, a professor of diversity in fashion at the UK’s Kingston School of Art. He has repeatedly denied the accusations.
In her statement, Anitta said she had decided to keep her promises to the people of Vidigal. “As a woman I insist on reaffirming that I repudiate any kind of harassment and violence against us,” she said.
Brazilians have been unfazed by the heavily sexual imagery used in the clip, during which Anitta at one point wears a bikini made of insulation tape – a favela fashion designed to leave perfect tan lines.
Many saw the video’s use of brash favela style as a celebration of these marginalised, low-income communities – and noted that Anitta grew up in one of the city’s poorer neighbourhoods.
But others said the star was just dressing up.
“Anitta uses blackness when it suits her,” wrote Stephanie Ribeiro, an architect and activist, in a column for Marie Claire.
The singer – who normally sports wavy, flowing locks - was accused of cultural appropriation earlier this year after she shared pictures of herself tanned and wearing braids in Salvador, Brazil’s most African city.
“Nobody is totally white in Brazil,” the star told the Folha de S Paulo newspaper. Her father and his family is black, she has previously said.
Writing on the site Revistacult, the Rio academic Ivana Bentes argued that female stars of Baile Funk – the sexually explicit Rio-born rap style that Anitta started out performing and returned to for this song – were aligned with the openly sexual feminism propagated by protest movements such as SlutWalks.
“Anitta’s live ass with its cellulite, without photoshop, is a subject and not an object,” wrote Bentes.
“Anitta is part of an emergence of a feminine and virile feminism! Masculinity and virility can, yes, be appropriated and transformed by women.”
Bruna Aguiar, a university student and activist from Rio’s Acari favela, praised the star for showing the world the favela culture, which gave rise to funk.
“The favela is very rich in music, in colour, in life. It’s good that the world knows this – that it knows we are not just bleeding bodies, gunfights and tears,” she said.