Brazilian Favelas, ‘Top Model’ Style

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  04.23.09 | 12:04 PM ET

Photo by .insanidades via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It’s not often that my life as a travel media watcher and my life as an occasional (OK, OK—regular) viewer of “America’s Next Top Model” overlap. So imagine my surprise last night when this season’s crop of would-be models landed in a Sao Paulo favela for an “edgy” Carmen Miranda-inspired photo shoot. Needless to say, the segment didn’t have much in common with the tales of favela-based slum tourism that I’ve read in the past.

First off, the word “slum” was nowhere to be found. Host Tyra Banks described the favela as “kind of like the hood, kinda,” while Jay Manuel, the artistic director for the shoot, explained to the gals that “favelas are neighborhoods that were originally built by the poor.” Toss in an amazed reference from one young model about being moved by seeing “how these people live,” and another from one who was uncomfortable with the setting (“It’s not a good area, it’s kind of a poor area… I was like, are we in the right spot?”) and you have the sum total of the context provided.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I expected a nuanced portrayal of favela life from the likes of “ANTM”—mostly, I was surprised to find them represented on the show at all. After years of semi-obscurity, and in the wake of the “Slumdog Millionaire” craze, is this yet another sign that slums—or at least, polished, colorful versions of them—and their accompanying slum tours have gone mainstream? And what, if anything, does that shift mean for their impoverished residents worldwide?

Here’s the “Top Model” take on Brazil’s favelas:

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

7 Comments for Brazilian Favelas, ‘Top Model’ Style

Jennifer 04.23.09 | 12:19 PM ET

A Tyra Banks production in a Brazilian favela….now that had to produce some highly intelligent commentary!  It’s painful for me to catch even a fleeting glimpse of either of her shows as I’m surfing channels but that may have been humorous to see in full!  Painful, but humorous!

Jim Benning 04.23.09 | 2:34 PM ET

What slums really need from reality TV is for some home-makeover shows to invade. Now THAT would be helpful. Or perhaps a whole new series: Pimp My Favela Crib.

Marina K. Villatoro 04.23.09 | 5:00 PM ET

When I traveled Brazil, Rio, 8 years ago. There were weirdo tourist agencies giving tours through Favelas. I didn’t stand outside their door long enough to see what weirdos they actually attracted. It’s kind of like going to a public stoning of a person or so. I guess, human nature, simply loves to see others torture?

TambourineMan 04.23.09 | 8:24 PM ET

I love that none of them have ever heard of Carmen Miranda.

Eva, please enlighten those of us who’ve never seen this trash. What’s the grand prize? A modeling contract? I think Tyra should make the “winner” move into a favela, permanently.

Eva Holland 04.23.09 | 8:44 PM ET

And I love that you took the time to watch the clip, TambourineMan. The prize? The winner gets signed by a top modeling agency, and also lands a cover + spread in Seventeen Magazine and a contract with Cover Girl.

@Marina I definitely have mixed feelings about slum tourism, but I’m not sure favela residents would describe their lives as equivalent to torture or a brutal public death.

@Jim Ha! “Trading Spaces Favela Edition”?

@Jennifer Painful but humorous is about right!

Marina K. Villatoro 04.23.09 | 10:41 PM ET

Yeah, you’re right it’s not like live torture or public deaths. however, I know from living in Costa Rica, people with way more money, never ever want you to come to their house. I’m talking about the poor of Costa Rica. It is nothing to be proud of, nonetheless to be gawked at. Especially when someone is getting paid more money then most of these people make in a year!

TambourineMan 04.24.09 | 4:33 PM ET

Eva, I watched it hoping to see nutcase Tyra. Where was she?

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