In 2009, quotas were imposed during the Sao Paulo Fashion Week requiring at least 10 percent of the models to be black or indigenous, but one year later that requirement was eliminated. Now, after outrage over the lack of brown skin at the Rio de Janeiro winter 2012 fashion week show, it’s likely a move to reinstate those quotas could succeed.
From Wednesday to Saturday of last week, 24 designers displayed their fashions on models who were overwhelmingly white during the show—a move you simply cannot pull in a country with the second largest black population in the world, according to Father David, a Franciscan friar who leads the Educafro non-governmental organization, which lobbies for the rights of blacks and indigenous people on the labor market.
“You just can’t discriminate against blacks in Brazil, where 51 percent of the population is black or mixed-race. I think that the justice system will react favorably to our pressure and this decision will influence the fashion world across the country,” he says.
Typically, less than 3% of the 350 models used in the show are black, a fact which prompted the 2009 quota. Father David says he appealed the ruling reversing the quotas and said a hearing was scheduled for January 15, four days before the scheduled opening of the show, but his point of view apparently went unheard.
Luana Genot, 23, is one of eight black models out of more than 200 who are employed by the main Rio modeling agency, 40° Models, and she says the discrimination is blatant.
“They call us only when the the theme of the show is linked to black culture. I am often told: What am I going to do with your hair? And for make-up, I am always the last so as not to dirty the brush with overly dark tones.”
Last June, during Black Consciousness Week, Genot organized a debate on “ethnic diversity in fashion” at Rio Catholic University to discuss how to inflict change.
“We are told that the winter collection is for whites in Europe or that black women’s butts are too big, their hips too wide. I am shocked to see that in Brazil, where more than half of the people are descendants of black slaves, there is so little space for us.
“Brazil’s population is very mixed and this must be reflected in fashion,” Genot says.
Even models like Bruna Loureiro, a blue-eyed blonde, have been dropped from shows because her skin was found to be “too golden” when the label wanted “very pale skins.”
Unsurprisingly, the issue of black acceptance is not limited to the fashion industry in Brazil. Already, the country has adopted quotas for underprivileged blacks to get into universities much like Affirmative Action here in the United States. Given the lack of black runway models here in the U.S., both countries still have a long way to go.
Do you think there will ever be equal space for black models on the runway? Are you surprised there’s so much discrimination in a country like Brazil with such a large black population?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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