Vogue Brazil Style Director Donata Meirelles is the latest victim of racism-fueled scandals that have been battering fashion industry, after a photo of her on a ‘throne’ encircled by black women sparked outcry.
The images taken at her lavish birthday celebration on February 8 caused widespread outrage among Brazil’s black community and ultimately cost Meirelles her job. The photos show the style director sitting on a throne-like white chair with two dark-skinned women standing by her side. They are wearing white dresses and turbans.
Meirelles was not the only one to have her photo taken in such a pose. More images from the party also depicted her guests posing in the same manner, using the two black women as props.
While Meirelles and her guests are happily smiling in the photos, the woke part of Brazil’s ethnically diverse public did not consider the photoshoot to be a laughing matter. They were incensed by the photos, which they argued invoked colonial stereotypes.
They claimed that Meirelles looked like a slave master’s wife or ‘sinha,’ and the black women were like house slaves or ‘mucamas.’ Activists accused Meirelles of objectifying the women to make the photos appear “exotic.”
The party took place in Brazil’s predominantly black Bahia state, where the white outfits that the women donned for the photos are traditional costumes. However, many still argued that it was a poor judgement on Meirelles’ part to not think about possible colonial references.
Civil rights activist Djamila Ribeiro slammed the birthday celebration as “not merely a party,” but “the reinforcement of a colonial structure.” Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888 but still remains a sensitive issue.
Responding to the outrage, Meirelles said that the party was never intended as a homage to colonial times. She denied that the chair she was sitting in was a “master chair,” explaining that it was a traditional Candomble seat. Candomble is an Afro-Brazilian religion practiced in Bahia. The socialite noted she was paying respect to Bahia culture and did not intend to offend anyone.
“Still, if we caused a different impression of that, I apologize,” she stated.
However, the damage had been done and mounting backlash forced Meirelles to eventually resign from her position at the magazine.
Following her resignation, Vogue Brazil announced that it would be setting up a panel of activists and academics to help the magazine “combat inequalities.”
Meirelles’ dramatic fall from grace is just a one of many similar controversies that have recently rattled the fashion industry.
Lately, Gucci was forced to withdraw its black balaclava sweater that covered lower part of the face with a red cut-out after it was nicknamed “blackface.” Singer Katy Perry also came under fire after the black version of her new shoe with a human’s face on it was slammed as racist and pulled from shelves. In December, Prada recalled a line of toys after two monkey-like characters were accused of projecting “blackface imagery.”