Vogue Brazil Style Director Resigns After Hosting A “Slavery” Party
Earlier this year, Donata Meirelles, the long-time style director of Vogue Brazil, resigned from her top spot after images floated around the Internet of her opulent, and very racist, 50th birthday bash.
The photos showed Meirelles, who served in the position for 7 years, seated on an extravagant chair while donning an elaborate pink dress and gold jewelry. Beside her were two Black women dressed in all white.
If you’re familiar with Brazil’s colonial history, the images will evoke master-slave portraits. In these photos, white Brazilian slave-owners sat on a cadeira da sinhá, an ornate chair similar to the one Meirelles was seated on, as enslaved Africans stood alongside them.
The February 8 birthday celebration, which has since been called a slavery-themed party, received a lot of backlash online.
Instagram user Roberto Sakiyama said, “The photo clearly and unfortunately refers to a Brazil of autocracy and slavery, where Black people were serving and white people tended to.” Another user named Rita Batista highlighted the undeniable resemblance between Meirelles’s photo and a portrait of a Sinhá, a female slave-owner, with two house slaves.
Meirelles responded to the reprisal the next day. According to her, the party was not themed. Rather, the celebration took place in the state of Bahia, where Afro-Brazilian culture thrives and it is common to see women there wearing traditional white garbs on Fridays, the same day of the party. She also said she was sitting on an Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé, not a master’s chair.
Still, Meirelles, who ultimately resigned, said in a post in Portuguese, “if we caused different impressions than these, I am sorry.”
Regardless if Meirelles intended to or not, some Black feminist advocates in Brazil believe her photos glamourize white supremacy and racial inequality in the South American country.
“The black women were used as objects to create an exotic scene,” Stephanie Ribeiro, who writes the column #BlackGirlMagic in the Brazilian edition of Marie Claire, told the Guardian. “It’s reminiscent of colonialism and romanticizes those times. She was recreating the image where whites are superior and blacks are dehumanized.”
More enslaved Africans were forcibly shipped to Brazil than any other country in the world. In fact, of the 10.7 million Africans who survived the grisly voyage across the Atlantic between 1525 and 1866, an estimated 4.9 million went to Brazil, where slavery wasn’t abolished until 1888. In comparison, about 388,000 arrived in North America.
While more than half of Brazil’s population identifies as Black or mixed race, and the country is unmistakably multiracial, the legacy of this brutal history continues through racialized violence, discrimination, economic inequity and media stereotypes.
Vogue Brazil responded to the party and its backlash in a statement.
“Regarding … Donata Meirelles’ 50-year party, Vogue Brasil deeply regrets what happened and hopes that the debate generated will serve as a learning experience.”
The publication claims it did not take the feedback lightly and has plans to “broaden the voices within the team and create, on a permanent basis, a forum formed by activists and scholars who will help define content and images that combat these inequalities.”
However, this is not the first time any of the Vogue brands has been accused of racism.
According to Complex, between 1892, when Vogue magazine started, and 2012, only 14 of its 1,416 covers were of people of color. As if that alone wasn’t bad enough, oftentimes when Black and brown people are portrayed it’s done in a racist manner. In 2008, for example, LeBron James shared the cover with white Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen. The star basketball player was styled to appear like King Kong, a dangerous animal, in the shoot. In 2011, Italian Vogue ran a piece on hoop earrings that were compared to the jewelry of enslaved Africans. The editors’ even titled the article “Slave Earrings.” The following year, the same publication published a story called “Haute Mess” that made fun of Black and Latina style and aesthetics as “ghetto.”
Racism is not uncommon in the fashion industry, and Vogue Brazil’s former style director’s party and photos are among the latest examples.