SAO PAULO (AP) — A drag queen is headlining the parade of one of Rio de Janeiro's most storied samba schools Monday night as Carnival celebrations across the country continue the tradition of ridiculing cultural icons and pushing social boundaries.
Pabllo Vittar will perform with Beija-Flor de Nilopolis, whose theme is promoting tolerance. Last year's champions, Portela, are to portray the story of Jews who fled persecution in Europe for Brazil.
Vittar is a sensation in the Brazilian pop scene, and Carnival has long been a place to celebrate sexuality and diversity. But Brazil also has some of Latin America's highest rates of violence against gay and transgender people, and Beija-Flor will tackle intolerance against the LGBT community and others.
"It will be a parade that highlights such an important theme ... because we see a lot of scenes of homophobia and transphobia in the streets," Vittar told Epoca magazine in a recent interview. "It's very important to address this theme at Carnival so we can disseminate this message (of tolerance) every day."
Also Monday, the gay rights organization Gay Group of Bahia is hosting its annual LGBT Costume Contest in Salvador, including performances that highlight Brazil's high rates of violence against women and gay and transgender people.
In the northeastern city of Olinda, meanwhile, revelers paraded with giant blow-up dolls that depicted political figures like U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as well as celebrities from around the globe, including Michael Jackson, the Beatles and Brazilian sports and pop stars.
At Carnival, everything is up for ridicule, and many Brazilians have seized the moment to criticize their leaders at a time of intense dissatisfaction with the political class. On Sunday, a float in Rio's samba parade featured a plastic butt with Mayor Marcelo Crivella's name on it. At parties across the country, revelers have denounced President Michel Temer, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and other politicians.
Adding to the air of unease, Rio is experiencing a crime wave. Authorities promised 17,000 security forces would patrol every day during Carnival celebrations, but Brazilian media reported several muggings over the weekend in the upscale neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon that are popular with tourists. Footage posted by the G1 news portal showed groups of young men chasing their victims and even beating them, sometimes in front of crowds of people.
Military police spokesman Ivan Blaz said security would be further beefed up in those beachside neighborhoods Monday night, but he also appeared to downplay the violence in an interview with Brazilian TV, contending that revelers were not following basic security advice that is applicable in any city in the world. He said, for instance, that people shouldn't wear jewelry or take selfies with their cell phones while in a crowd, saying that phone robberies are also a problem at the Eiffel Tower.