The Imaginary Brazil in Contemporary Film, Fashion and Design

In Favelization, I explore how certain producers of contemporary Brazilian culture use references to favelas to brand luxury items as "Brazilian." This project details the ways in which specific producers of contemporary Brazilian culture capitalized on misappropriations of the favela in order to lure a Western consumer.

 Through three case studies that look at the films Waste Land and City of God, shirts designed by Fernando and Humberto Campana for Lacoste, and furniture by Brunno Jahara, I explain how designers and filmmakers engage with primitivism and stereotype to make their goods more desirable. I argue that the processes of interpretation, transcendence and domination are part of the favelization phenomena.

 The book locates design as part of a broader constellation of representations that includes a variety of forms from printed media to film. It provides visual and material analyses, as well as theoretically discussions that draw on works by scholars in cultural and postcolonial studies such as John Tagg, Edward Said, Mariana Torgovnick, Mike Davis, and Trinh T. Minh-Ha. While focused on “favelization,” this work raises questions about the ethical conundrums associated with using the “Other” in commercial design work.


Fernando and Humberto Campana creating a wall at the design gallery Moss in New York City based on the design of their Favela Chair.

Fernando and Humberto Campana creating a wall at the design gallery Moss in New York City based on the design of their Favela Chair.

A discussion of favelization forces us to question the representation and the creation of identity. It is an example of how perceived difference is transformed into Otherness; an ever-evolving and multifaceted dynamic that results in actual political, social, and economic consequences for the lives of those identified as Others. Films such as City of God and Waste Land, the Campanas + Lacoste marketing, and Neorustica furniture line are examples of constructions of the favela as the Other. They also evidence two additional consequences of otherizing: the commodification of the exotic and the dehumanization of the people identified as Others. By treating all favelas and their inhabitants’ realities as interchangeable, favelization strips away their identity. An understanding of favelization may help us identify and challenge other design trends that exacerbate stereotypes and unequal power relations. Doing so will further debates about the ethical dimensions of design. Many design projects that receive international recognition use stories about certain people, instead of the products, to increase the perceived value of goods being sold. My hope is that this project makes us think more critically about how a certain population can be exploited and turned into public relations.

Background image by Adriana Kertzer. All rights reserved.