Fiche Film
COURT Métrage | 2010
Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê (Deusa do Ébano: Rainha do Ilê Aiyê)
Pays concerné : Brésil
Durée : 19 minutes
Genre : musical
Type : documentaire


La recherche d’identité et d’estime de soi par trois jeunes femmes qui se lancent dans la compétition du titre Reine d’Ebène (Ebony Goddess) à Salvador de Bahia, Brésil, la plus grande ville noire hors d’Afrique.

Producteur : Chung Liu
Productrice/Réalisatrice/Monteuse : Carolina Moraes-Liu
Productrice Déléguée /Consultante ethnographique : Lisa Earl Castillo
Musique : Ilê Aiyê


Three young women search 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.

Three young women compete for the title of Ebony Goddess in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil-the largest black city outside of Africa. The competition is hugely popular and plays an important role in affirming Afro-Brazilian identity and pride for women in Salvador.

Ebony Goddess is the story of three young women competing in the annual event in which Ilê Aiyê chooses its Carnival queen. The film shows the importance of the contest in reshaping the idea of what is beautiful in a society where African descendents constitute the majority of the population, but Eurocentric concepts of female beauty are pervasive. The figure of the Ebony Goddess, a key visual element of a spectacle that creates an alternative view of black woman as beautiful, desirable, and talented, promotes social change at its most basic level: the individual sense of self.

2010, Brazil
Documentary short / 20 minutes
Portuguese, with English subtitles

Director/Producer/Editor: Carolina Moraes-Liu
Producer: Chung Liu
Associate Producer/Ethnographic Consultant: Lisa Earl Castillo
Music by: Ilê Aiyê

Brazil USA Documentary Women African Diaspora Portuguese

« Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê » follows three 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.

The event is hosted by Arany Santana, one of the directors of Ilê Aiyê, and former Secretary of Reparations for the city of Salvador. Antônio Carlos « Vovô », one of the founders of Ilê Aiyê, also participates in the film.

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.

Salvador, Bahia, is the third largest city in Brazil, with a population of over 2.7 million, about the same as Chicago. Eighty percent of the city is of African descent, making Salvador one of the largest urban black populations outside of Africa. Yet, despite this overwhelming majority, the pervasive influence of the Euro-centric values of the elite minority is striking.

In this social environment, for the past three decades the Bahian Afro-Brazilian group Ilê Aiyê has been an agent of black consciousness, with social work helping individuals in the community, raising collective pride and awareness of African culture, and speaking with a political voice in issues of racial discrimination. The political nature of the concept of beauty has been one of its central concerns, and its carnival queen, the Deusa do Ébano (Ebony Goddess), is a key visual and symbolic element of its carnival procession.

Persecuted by the police and the media during its first years, and still controversial for only allowing blacks to parade with the group, Ilê Aiyê is now a renowned element of Bahia’s pre-Lenten festivities. During carnival, the group popularly referred to as « o mais belo dos belos » (the loveliest of the lovely) brings to the streets hundreds of musicians, dozens of dancers, and thousands of members.

Although Ilê Aiyê’s songs are never played on the radio (unless they get recorded by a white performer) and their CDs have very limited commercial distribution, everyone in Salvador knows the words to Ilê’s songs. As Ilê Aiyê passes, carnival crowds sing along to songs about the importance of African and African-Brazilian culture and religion.

USA/Brazil, Documentary, 2009
19 min, MiniDV, Color
Portuguese with English subtitles

Producer: Carolina Moraes-Liu
Production Company: Documentario
Screenwriter: Carolina Moraes-Liu
Cinematographer: Carolina Moraes-Liu
Editor: Carolina Moraes-Liu
Sound Design: Carolina Moraes-Liu
Music: Ilê Aiê
Cast: Featuring Antônio Carlos Vovô and Arany Santana

Accolades include Best Short Documentary, 2010 San Diego Latino Film Festival, and Best Diaspora Film, 2010 San Diego Black Film Festival.

Best Short Documentary

Best Diaspora Film

Best Short Documentary

Best Short Documentary

Film Festivals/Screenings

Sept 2011
Trinidad and Tobago FilmFest

May 2010
Bahia Afro Film Festival (Brazil)

VIver Brazil – Los Angeles

April 2010
Cine Las Americas International Film Festival

Chicago Latino Film Festival

March 2010
San Francisco Women’s Film Festival

San Diego Latino Film Festival

Women’s International Film Festival – Miami

February 2010
Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival

Pan African Film Festival – Los Angeles

Texas Black Film Festivals
Africa World Documentary Film Festival

January 2010 – World Premiere
San Diego Black Film Festival



Deusa do Ébano: Rainha do Ilê Aiyê analisa os conceitos conflitantes de beleza para as mulheres negras da Bahia. Dando ênfase à noite da Beleza Negra, quando o bloco afro Ilê Aiyê escolhe a sua rainha, o filme mostra a construção de uma nova estética negra dentro de uma sociedade dominada por valores eurocêntricos, demostrando que, na política de raça e de gênero, o nível político é intimamente conectado ao nível pessoal.
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