Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Brazil’s superstar drag queen Pabllo Vittar was set to reign over the second night of the Rio de Janeiro samba parades Monday.
The hugely popular singer’s participation in the Beija Flor samba school will bring a new edge to the climax of the annual contest after a first night marked by colorful digs at unpopular politicians.
Vittar — who is tall, with long blond hair — drew shrieks and cheers from fans on being led by a security detail to a VIP box at the Sambodromo stadium on Sunday night, footage on G1 news site showed.
When the Monday night parades unfold in front of the 72,000-strong crowd crammed into the samba stadium, Vittar will be a highlight.
“I am very emotional,” the singer said on Globo television of his “great love” for the Sambodromo.
“This was part of my childhood. I always followed the Rio carnival and today I am fulfilling my dream.”
Vittar will bolster one of Beija Flor’s principal themes in its parade — the fight against sexual and other forms of intolerance.
It’s an issue of deadly importance for gay and transgender Brazilians: the rights group Grupo Gay de Bahia reported in January that there were 387 murders of LGBT people in 2017, a 30 percent increase over the previous year.
– Vampires and buttocks –
Beija Flor, the last of the 13 schools to parade at the two-night extravaganza, will also use floats to take aim at a corruption scandal that has spread from national oil company Petrobras through Brazil’s whole political class over the last four years.
This follows a first night that also featured attacks on government graft and Rio’s carnival-unfriendly mayor, Marcelo Crivella.
Crivella — a bishop in the evangelical mega-church founded by his billionaire uncle — can hardly conceal his disdain for the carnival’s excesses of the flesh ahead of the start of Roman Catholic Lent on Ash Wednesday.
He has halved carnival subsidies and refuses to attend the parades.
The Mangueira samba school responded with a big bare plastic backside on one of their floats.
“The bum represents the mayor for cutting our budget, for trying to end our happiness,” said Mangueira staff member Helton Dias, 28.
Center-right President Michel Temer, who has single-digit support in polls and is awash in corruption scandals, was portrayed in the Paraiso do Tuiuti school’s parade as a money-grabbing vampire.
– Carnival anesthetic –
The face-off between the samba schools in the purpose-built Sambodromo is taken every bit as seriously as the city’s other great love, football.
The 13 competing schools each get about an hour to parade with some 3,000 dancers, singers and drummers in over-the-top costumes.
Last year, the contest ended in a draw between the Mocidade and Portela schools. The new champion will be announced on Wednesday.
For many, carnival offers a moment to forget about Brazil’s profound problems — at least for a few days.
Latin America’s biggest country is only just emerging from its worst recession in history. In swaths of Rio, crime is out of control, the economy remains moribund and social services for the poor are in tatters.
“People need these fantasies,” said physiotherapist Marcio de Castro, 53, as he prepared his costume for the Sao Clemente school’s parade. “It’s as if during carnival, we all take an anesthetic.”
But the party atmosphere can’t guarantee an escape.
Samba composer Moacyr Luz arrived by taxi at the Sambodromo’s staging area in the early hours of Monday and was promptly robbed, O Globo news site reported.
The thieves even took his costume.