In 2019, former Vogue Brasil style director, Donata Meirelles, posted a photograph on her personal Instagram, celebrating her fiftieth birthday, where she sat in between two standing Black women, dressed in gowns reminiscent of slavery. The image immediately went viral as activists, academics, and civil society protested the photo’s depiction of persistent structural racism, proclaiming that the Black women were hired as mucamas, or house slaves, for a slavery-themed party. The Black women in the photograph are baianas de receptivo, who work as hosts for private and public events; a livelihood that is little understood. This article argues that the baianas’ agency was negated in the polemical discourse surrounding the photograph, which suggested that these women contribute to their oppression by performing this kind of labor. Through interdisciplinary research, including ethnography and semi-structured interviews, and advocating for the careful and political act of listening, this article centers the voices of the baianas to reveal the daily complexities of the baiana de receptivo livelihood, their cultural specificity, and how they operate in the current social and economic spheres of Bahia, Brazil. Ultimately, the baianas experienced a double erasure of agency rooted in both the long history of Brazilian racialized and gendered narratives and this polemical instance in which baianas were not invited to the conversation, despite being the subjects of debate. By analyzing the political efficacy that baianas have attained in contemporary Brazil, this article provides a more nuanced understanding of the photograph and proposes listening, as a frame for more equitable debates.


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pp. 9-34
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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