Favela é Moda, screening Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Museum of the African Diaspora, is the first of two films in the museum’s screening-and-discussion series accompanying The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion (continuing through March 5).
Julio’s agency aims to place Black models in the upper strata of the fashion world. But that’s just one (admittedly huge) component of his business model. Crucially, he located the agency in the Jacarezinho favela, the kind of environment where his aspiring models were born, formed and live. “Can you imagine the favela being its own tool for empowerment?” he declares.
The true stars of Favela é Moda — aside from Julio’s dynamic, inspiring presence — are the self-aware, gender-affirming beauties he’s accepted into his program. Mature and articulate, they don’t reek of ambition nor lust for fame, riches or movie-star consorts. They know who they are, they know how the world sees them (that is, they know how white Rio sees Black favela residents) and they have the courage to express their sexual identities — and their style — on the street.
Structurally, the film follows a group of new recruits through their agency training. The program is designed, surprisingly, to build trust and camaraderie among the models rather than to groom and elevate future stars. There isn’t a whiff of competition — each person has a unique and different presentation — which distinguishes the film from a reality TV show. Along the way, the typical audience expectation of a big payoff — getting the job — evaporates, and we are rewarded with a celebration of identity instead.
I met up with longtime California Newsreel director Cornelius Moore, who chose the MoAD films, for a casual conversation over mint tea at Arizmendi Bakery in the Mission. When I suggested that Favela é Moda wasn’t a political film, he pushed back, noting the various ways in which the aspiring models convey their experiences of racism, poverty, homophobia and lack of opportunity.
Moore is right, of course. The compliment I intended to pay to Emilio Domingos (whose upcoming documentary, Black Rio! Black Power!, is a cultural history propelled by a music scene) is that he didn’t make an overtly political film — that is, a polemic. For example, there are almost no shots of the favelas. The intent isn't to sanitize the models’ backgrounds, but to avoid defining them (and imprisoning them) by their environment. For that's precisely what Rio’s upper classes do.
Favela é Moda makes its points organically, through its brave, resilient, endearing and beautiful characters. They are people you’ll relish spending time with.
If identity is the motor of Favela é Moda, fashion as full-on self-expression provides the juju and heartbeat of BANGAOLOGIA: The Science of Style (2016), screening Feb. 22 at MoAD. José Eduardo Paulino dos Santos’ colorful survey of Angola’s flamboyant signature style, Banga, is immersive and entertaining, but not altogether persuasive.
The filmmaker is better known, at home and abroad, as the musician, clothing designer and TV producer Coréon Dú. So he’s welcomed into seemingly every cultural corner of Angola, including rural villages where traditional, heavily symbolic clothes and accessories are still embraced. But he finds his thrill primarily in Luanda, the capital, which brims with everyday people displaying their Banga.
Banga, according to one of the academics interviewed by Dú, is “a style that isn’t discreet, but the exact opposite. The less discreet, the better, because that’s the only way to stand out.” Papa Swegué, a fastidious Kudoro (music and dance) artist, is the perfect exemplar, sporting a dressy pink suit with short pants that is all the more impressive for its incongruity in his dusty, low-income neighborhood.
Everyone Dú talks to knows what Banga is, even if they can’t quite define it. It’s a fusion of style, vanity and performance (including movement) that can be expressed through the singular handiwork of ace tailors or curious combinations of mass-market clothes combed from street stalls. Modernity and tradition intersect and overlap. Above all, seemingly every Angolan asserts that Banga is unique to Angolans. I’m not sure BANGAOLOGIA makes that case, but it’s pleasures are undeniable.