Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê
The story of three young women searching for identity and self-esteem as they compete for the title of Ebony Goddess in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil—the largest black city outside of Africa. Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê follows three black women competing to be the carnival queen of Ilê Aiyê, a prominent and controversial Afro-Brazilian group with an all-black membership. The selection is based on Afro-centric notions of beauty, in counterpoint to prevailing standards of beauty in Brazil, a country famous for slim supermodels and plastic surgery. Contestants for the title of Ebony Goddess dress in flowing African-style garments, gracefully performing traditional Afro-Brazilian dances to songs praising the beauty of black women. For Aurelina, Joseane and Talita, the competition for the title of Ebony Goddess is part of a profound and personal search for identity and self-esteem. The figure of the Ebony Goddess, representing a “black is beautiful” view of black women, resonates with women of African descent in Brazil, the United States and throughout the world of the African Diaspora. For Aurelina the contest has become an obsession. She has competed in the past four years, but never won the contest, although once she placed third. Every year she feels an irresistible need to try again. She says she already feels like a queen, and just needs the title itself. Talita is taking dance classes, and wants to becomea professional dancer. She earns a living by tutoring kids in the community, and offers free help to kids who cannot afford to pay. Joseane has recently become involved in the African dance styles of Ilê Aiyê, and counts on the support of her family and friends as she prepares for the competition. Her father has participated in Ilê Aiyê since its early years, when the group was harassed by the police and accused by the media of being racist for having an all-black membership. Commentary is provided by Antônio Carlos "Vovô", founder and president of Ilê Aiyê, and by Arany Santana, one of the director’s of Ilê Aiyê and current Secretary of Social Development and Fight Against Poverty for the city of Salvador. Following the three candidates’ daily lives, dance rehearsals, and interactions with each other, Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê shows the contest’s role in reshaping the idea of beauty in a society in which African descendants constitute the majority of the population but is pervaded by Euro-centric concepts of body esthetics. The concept of the Ebony Goddess creates an alternative view of the black female body as beautiful, desirable, and talented, promoting social change at its most basic level: the individual sense of self.
"Delightful and charming"
- Ashmar Mandou, Lawndale Bilingual Newspapers
"A touching tale about blackness, beauty and the girly world"
- Gilson Jorge, Brazil Chronicle
"I highly recommend this film"
- Marília Librandi Rocha, Assistant Professor of Iberian and Latin American Cultures, Stanford University
"The documentary brilliantly presents Bahian Carnaval as a central arena for the promotion of cultural assertion of Afro-Brazilian populations"
- Ana Lucia Araujo, Assistant Professor of History, Howard University
- Educational Media Reviews Online (EMRO)
"Wonderfully engaging film, with beautiful and amazing images"
- Adelson de Brito, Professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA)
Winner Best Diaspora Film Award - San Diego Black Film Festival
Winner Best Short Documentary - San Diego Latino Film Festival
Finalist - HBO NALIP Documentary Award
Nominated Best Short Documentary - Pan African Film Festival
Nominated Best Short Documentary - Cine Las Americas International Film Festival
San Diego Black Film Festival - World Premiere (2010)
San Francisco Latino Film Festival
Cine Las Americas International Film Festival
Chicago Latino Film Festival
International Black Film Festival of Nashville
San Francisco Women's Film Festival
San Diego Latino Film Festival
Women's International Film Festival - Miami
Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival
Pan African Film Festival - Los Angeles
Texas Black Film Festival
Africa World Documentary Film Festival
Bahia Afro Film Festival - Brazil
Trinidade+Tobago Film Festival
San Francisco Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema