This is a clip from the 1947 musical comedy film Copacabana. The clip is of a musical number by the film’s star Carmen Miranda, a Brazilian singer, dancer and actress who was a celebrity in the 1930s-1950s. In addition to her talent as a performer, she was also known as a sex symbol, marketed as “exotic” and a stereotypical “Brazilian bombshell.” Miranda’s signature costume was a revealing dress and colorful “tutti-frutti” turban, a glamorized version of the traditional costume of poor Brazilian women of primarily African descent. Miranda first became a star in Brazil, and then in the United States, even performing at the White House. Her career was encouraged by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy,” which sought to improve foreign relations between the United States and Latin America though cultural exchange rather than military intervention. However, as she became more popular in the United States, Miranda became less popular in Brazil. Some Brazilians felt that she was succumbing to American commercialism. Others, particularly the upper class, believed that she was representing Brazil negatively because her image appropriated from the most economically and racially marginalized groups within Brazilian society. In addition, Miranda often played characters from many Latin America countries, and some felt that this lead United States audiences to believe that all Latin American cultures were the same. In this clip, Miranda performs a high-energy version of the Brazilian song “Tico-Tico no Fubá” while other characters– including her character’s husband, played by comedian Groucho Marx– look on and comment about her performance.
What stereotypes of Latinas and Latin American culture are implied in the clip? How and why might these stereotypes have been considered useful in foreign relations by the United States government at the time? What kinds of portrayals might have had other effects American’s perception of Latin America?
How do the different characters react to Miranda’s performance? How does the female character’s response differ from the male character’s responses? What does this attempt to imply about gender?
Do you think Miranda’s image influenced the perception of Latina performers today? Why or why not?
Although Miranda was the highest paid woman in the United States by 1945, later in her career, she attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to shed her “Brazilian Bombshell” image. Why might she have sought to do this, and why might it have been difficult to do?