Backlash to Anita music video evokes painful history in Brazil

Brazilian pop star Anitta is facing backlash for releasing a music video that highlights ongoing religious intolerance and racism in Brazil.

The furor began on Monday, when the 31-year-old pop star shared a video preview of her new song “Aceita” (Portuguese for “acceptance”) with her 65 million followers on Instagram. She said she lost 200,000 followers in less than two hours.

The film depicts the practice of her faith, Candomblé. Her Instagram account features photos of the artist in religious garb with priests from Candomblé, as well as stills of spiritual objects and other images related to the faith.

Candombre is considered a syncretistic religion, meaning it draws on different beliefs and traditions.

Scholars say it evolved from a mix of Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs brought to what is now Brazil by enslaved West African people during the colonial expansion of the Portuguese Empire.

According to a 2022 U.S. Department of State report on religious freedom in Brazil, Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candombre are overrepresented in reported cases of religious intolerance, although only 2% of the population practice these religions.

For centuries, Candomblé has been cast into the shadows. In predominantly Catholic societies, it was considered a demonic witchcraft and a public danger.

Ana Paulina Lee, a professor of Latin American and Iberian cultures at Columbia University, said: “They were prosecuted because they were a danger to public health because witchcraft laws were hidden under public health laws. “

Despite the backlash this week, reaction to Anita’s film has been overwhelmingly positive. Many praised her devotion to religion.

Still, her Instagram post was met with criticism.

“This is pure witchcraft, even a layman can tell it’s Satanism,” one netizen wrote in Portuguese.

Her black-and-white video depicts other faiths, such as Catholicism, and the lyrics appear to broadly address themes of acceptance, suggesting the song is a commentary on religious intolerance.

Anita, whose real name is Larissa Machado, rose to fame in 2013 with the hit song “Meiga e Abusada” written in Portuguese in Brazil.

She released several albums in the 2010s and solidified her popularity by performing at the 2016 Olympic Games opening ceremony in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro.

Anita established herself among Latin American audiences after releasing several Spanish-language hits with well-known reggaeton artists such as J Balvin. She is part of a wave of Latin American artists who have successfully entered the U.S. market.

On Tuesday, she performed on NBC’s “The Voice,” and this month, Anita joined Madonna in a free show in Rio de Janeiro that attracted 1.6 million fans. Last year, Anita performed at the MTV Video Music Awards and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. In 2022, she will appear on the main stage of Coachella Music Festival.

As her profile grows, Anita candidly answers questions about her faith.

In 2018, when Anita was criticized for not condemning Brazil’s newly elected far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, she said she had quarantined several people as part of Candomblé’s induction. week.

The faith, characterized by smiting rituals and celebrations honoring multiple gods, has been forced underground since its inception.

Professor Lee said practitioners once concealed their practice by adopting Catholic iconography.

Luis Nicolau Parés, a professor of anthropology at the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil, said that it was not until the 20th century that mainstream society began to tolerate Candomblé’s expressions in order to recognize Brazil’s African heritage and cultivate A stronger Brazilian national identity.

Brazilian artists and intellectuals in the 1970s and 1980s embraced and celebrated the religion. Government officials acknowledged this.

At the same time, Brazil’s evangelical Christian population has surged, from a single-digit percentage of the total population in 1991 to 26% in 2022.

“It was demonized in a way so that people would convert and convert to Christianity,” Professor Pare said of Candomblé.

As violence and discrimination against Candomblé and other Afro-Brazilian religions persist, activists point to race, which they say is inextricably linked.

Professor Lee said Anita said in social media posts that she had been the target of “religious racism,” a term coined by Candomblé leaders to describe religious beliefs held by Afro-Brazilians. Behavior that will not be tolerated.

“What happened to Anita happens every day,” Professor Lee said, referring to last year’s murder of a prominent Candomblé priestess.

“I think it’s a really important thing to say that this is not new, but it’s part of a long history of anti-Black racism, and it’s not just a skin issue,” she said.

“When you pursue faith, you pursue soul,” she added.

Leonardo Coelho Contributed reporting.

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