FQ contributing editor Bruno Guaraná reviews the significance of the Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz’s groundbreaking Madame Satã on the occasion of the film’s 20th anniversary. Guaraná argues that Madame Satã was a film ahead of its time. While in dialogue with queer theory and queer cinema contemporaneous to it—placing it squarely within a global queer film canon—it also anticipated now-current notions of transgressive representations of nonbinary identities in Brazilian cinema. To think about Madame Satã in its original context thus means also recognizing the quantitative and qualitative leaps in media representation of queerness and blackness since its release.

A flash from a camera, the popping sound of its bulb, cheers, applause—these are the discernible elements that open Karim Aïnouz’s Madame Satã (2002). They tease the film’s approach to its titular character, a hustler from the margins of Brazilian society in the 1930s who recurringly transforms into a fierce drag-queen performer on the occasional stage and eventually gains notoriety as a legend in Brazil’s popular and queer imaginaries.

The film premiered in the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes in 2002, and opened commercially in Brazil in November of that same year, only a week after the historic election of Lula da Silva to the presidency. Although noteworthy, the film’s inclusion in the Cannes competition was a late symptom of a steady increase in film production in Brazil, nicknamed by scholars and critics as “the rebirth of Brazilian Cinema.”1 As he developed the script for Madame Satã in the 1990s, however, Aïnouz was living in New York, actively involved in MIX, the New York Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film/Video Festival, and participating in what became the New Queer Cinema.2 Like the drive of the term “queer” to destabilize labels of sexuality, Madame Satã offers a rejection of identity as a fixed category, exploring it as a discursive practice, always relational and circumstantial. Twenty years ago, hovering between countries and eras, the film did more than offer a plea for other forms of representation and self-presentation: it delivered a celebration.

While the film is in dialogue with queer theory and queer cinema contemporaneous to it—placing it squarely within a global queer film canon—it remains to this day a groundbreaking work within the larger category of Brazilian cinema. While struggles over the visibility of minority subjects were beginning to make headway in the 1990s in Brazilian film production, they would eventually bleed into mainstream television; but it was a visibility overwhelmingly achieved through sanitized, positive images. As Chico Lacerda writes, Madame Satã was one of the first feature films from Brazil to oppose these strategies of representation.3

Aïnouz’s film transgressed the stereotypical representations common in film and television at that time.4 It was, in effect, already taking a step further, prefiguring now-current notions of transgressive representations of nonbinary identities. For that, more recent films—such as Tatuagem (Tattoo, Hilton Lacerda, 2013), Doce Amianto (Guto Parente and Uirá dos Reis, 2013), Batguano (Tavinho Teixeira, 2014), Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho (The Way He Looks, Daniel Ribeiro, 2014), Beira-mar (Seashore, Filipe Matzembacher and Márcio Reolón, 2015), Bixa Travesty (Kiko Goifman and Claudia Priscilla, 2018), Lembro mais dos corvos (I Remember the Crows, Gustavo Vinagre, 2018), and As boas maneiras (Good Manners, Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, 2018), among others—owe much to Aïnouz’s pioneering treatment of gender and sexuality as unstable, relational, and intersectional with race and class. To think about Madame Satã in its original context thus means also recognizing the quantitative and qualitative leaps in media representation of queerness and blackness since its release.

Madame Satã is a biographical account of João Francisco dos Santos, a drag queen—or transformista, in the era’s jargon—and dancer and singer, living in Rio de Janeiro during the 1930s. Brilliantly played by Lázaro Ramos, João is a protean character whose identity fluidly shifts throughout the film: he is at times a violent patriarchal figure at home, and at other times a feminine onstage singer. Opening with his incarceration, the film flashes back to show, in an episodic manner, João’s process of becoming a stage performer in drag. At first, he works as an assistant to a cabaret performer in a night club at Lapa and hustles on the side as a pimp. Assisted by his friends Laurita (Marcélia Cartaxo) and Tabu (Flávio Bauraqui)—both sex workers—he takes to seducing and luring closeted men into the bedroom to steal their money. His income apparently provides shelter for the trio and the funds to help raise Laurita’s baby in his home.

Throughout the film, João gets into many physical fights—demanding payment at the cabaret, requesting entrance to a night club, even confronting the racist police—as he gradually develops his own onstage performance in drag as Jamaci and Madame Satã, inspired by the cabaret numbers he admired from backstage as well as by Josephine Baker and Kay Johnson in Cecil B. DeMille’s Madam Satan (1930). In the interim, João falls in love with Renatinho (Fellipe Marques), engaging in a relationship that negotiates his impulses of romantic deference and sexual domination. Feral in bed, playful at bars, spectacular onstage, loving with the baby, and consistently harsh and abusive toward his friend Tabu, João is presented as a thoroughly inconsistent and seemingly unlikable character. His meandering trajectory from the margins to the center stage constitutes the core of the film, as he reinvents his public persona at every turn. Finally, it is for shooting a man in the streets of Lapa, in revenge for a homophobic and racist confrontation during a stage performance, that he finds himself in jail, in the scene that bookends the film.

João (Lázaro Ramos, left) and his friend and housemate Tabu (Flávio Bauraqui, right). ©VideoFilmes 2021.

João (Lázaro Ramos, left) and his friend and housemate Tabu (Flávio Bauraqui, right). ©VideoFilmes 2021.

Close modal

Both the narrative and structure of the film offer a study of João’s subjectivity based on such contradictions. This approach is announced in its first few minutes, as the film exposes different layers of this volatile and multifaceted character—often through the representation of systematic social oppression against Black, poor, and queer individuals—to show a continuum of identities within him. These opening moments become a form of punctuation in this article as in the film, highlighting Aïnouz’s commitment to queering representation.

With his depiction of João’s character, Aïnouz challenges the conventional definitions of sexuality, class, race, and gender, as well as their representation in cinema. Since João’s portrayal never fully develops along any one of these axes, the character remains partially veiled, fragmented, always ready to be rediscovered by new readings. Because the film destabilizes the axes of his identity, it renders João as a fluid, inherently intersectional being: he resists a simple naming, refusing to conform to any single, fixed category.

Indeed, as Aïnouz has expressed, the 1930s backdrop for the film was “a world marginal to official Brazil, a parallel universe with its own laws, codes, and rituals, a universe in which João Francisco was king and queen, saint and Satan.”5 Aïnouz’s interest in a character who was himself, at the time, quite unaware that he was destined to become the legendary figure Madame Satã makes room for a form of representation that is inquisitive rather than prescriptive.6 Precisely because Madame Satã asks more than it answers, it challenges facile ways of explaining difference and otherness.

And it does so not only at the level of characterization but also on the level of aesthetics. Director of photography Walter Carvalho’s camera treats Ramos’s body as a landscape, its pores blending in with the silver grains of the film stock, its color hiding in the deep shadows of the frame. With low-key lighting and nearly underexposed frames, the cinematography refuses to exploit the body as an object; instead, the body is transformed into texture: the skin that sweats in lust and in weariness, the surface on which violence is registered, the stuff that makes for a lived, sentient entity. Embodying blackness and wearing queerness on their skin, Ramos’s Madame Satã presents themself not just as incomplete but also as uncontainable by the frame and undefinable by the narrative.

Madame Satã thrives by engaging its audience in a vacillant process of estrangement from and identification with its protagonist, whose articulation of his own identity is evasive at best. João bears on his face several indelible markers of distinction: he is Black, gay, northeastern, poor, and sometimes refers to himself as a woman. Yet he is also hard-working, a skilled capoeira fighter, a seductive lover, and, for the viewing pleasure of the film’s other characters and for film viewers alike, a mesmerizing performer. These confounding, even competing, “identifications” create a unique positionality for the character (and the historical figure).

In thus singling out Madame Satã, it is important to highlight its stature as a classic of queer cinema, both for its queer subjects and for the queer(ing) gestures of its form. But one must also recognize that the film remains today well ahead of its time in the way it represents queer identity in a Brazilian context, for, if there is an agenda in Madame Satã, it is to queer—in the finest sense, to disrupt—race, class, gender, and sexuality.

Another flash, then another, and the cheers and applause on the soundtrack grow louder, forming an indiscernible mixture of noises. The opening credits seem to announce the coming of the title card, but instead another flash brings the sounds to a halt. Now a Black man, his face battered, stares straight at the camera; behind him, a white wall in a nondescript space. He looks defeated, immobile, blinking sparingly when an off-screen voice interrupts the silence to pronounce his full name and add appositives such as “the accused” and “a passive pederast” who smokes, drinks, gambles, alters his own voice to sound feminine, struggles to communicate, speaks in slang, has no religion, and is prone to criminal activity.

The opening scene of the film, preceded by brief credits under those cheerful sounds, starts to map out João’s complexity. While the cheers encompass a timeless euphoria, the last of the flashes launches a tight medium shot that recalls mug shots, introducing the character through a visual contemplation of his face. The carnival sounds that precede the scene have now given way to complete silence, drawing attention again to the visual content of the shot: João’s beaten face looking straight at the camera.

Like the framing of João’s torso, the pronouncement of his full name is oppressive insofar as it indicates the superiority of the state and its capacity to identify and mark him as unlawful. Moreover, his police records initiate a process of connection between the character’s identity and the patronizing and pejorative categorizations executed by the police, which pin him down as a criminal and manufacture an image of a “marginal.”7 The contrast between the sonic extravaganza of the opening credits and the monotone bluntness of João’s face here emphasizes the disparity between João’s ideal life (represented through spectacle) and the reality in which he actually lives (represented through violence).

Apparently sealing his fate, this arrest becomes the catalytic incident that unravels a complex character whose body is disciplined and regulated by the police just as his identity is imposed and named by official institutions and their exclusionary ideology. In defiance, João imprints the carnivalized onstage image of Madame Satã, his alter ego, onto the Brazilian imaginary, managing to endure not as the beaten face that opens the film but as the ethereal, disidentified, and disidentifying figure who closes it. In his trajectory, João incorporates what José Esteban Muñoz has theorized as disidentification: the “survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship.”8 Aïnouz conceived of the film while still in New York, at around the same time that Muñoz elaborated these theories, grounded in queer performance artists active in the city, such as Vaginal Creme Davis and Carmelita Tropicana. Madame Satã carries onstage the same transgressive force of those performers, as though bridging 1930s Lapa and 1990s New York.

The celebration of the film today might feel anachronistic in light of the new films coming out of Brazil, as Black and queer filmmakers in the country are finally enjoying an unprecedented, albeit belated, level of attention. This was not so in 2002.9 While now an “incontestable reality,” black cinema was at that time still a marginalized enterprise that, precisely because it was independent and marginalized, had relatively little impact on the politics and composition of black representation in Brazilian media more broadly.

In 2002, however, Aïnouz’s audacity in centering Madame Satã’s narrative on a Black character who defied positive imagery, a queer Black character based on a historical figure, was notable. In addition, Ramos’s performance at its center merits recognition as “authorial” as he inscribes the title character with layers that go beyond those projected by the script or the cinematography. In his autobiography, Na minha pele, Ramos writes about the liberating process of taking on such a complex character:

You cannot imagine the fear I had of this antihero. I was only 21 years old and, honestly, I did not know if I would be able to manifest him in all his complexity. And, if I did, his force was such that I feared being marked as a one-character actor…. The continuous search for black representation onstage and the wish to fill the holes left by an abusive dramaturgy led me to believe that we should only invest in Black heroes, in order to counter white ones. Satã taught me that it is not so.10

Indeed, to convey such complexity in both legible and affective registers is no small feat. Ramos’s performance is a tour de force that lends the film its sensuous and aggressive tones, meticulously modulated by Aïnouz’s deliberate casting choice, aesthetic, and direction. The complexity of which Ramos speaks directly contests the categorization of the police records that marked him with a series of stereotypes of blackness and queerness. Although stamped on João in the opening scene, these stereotypes undergo a revisionist critique throughout the film. The jail scene’s blatant disciplinary oppression backfires and ultimately leaves the impression that labeling and categorizing this character (sometimes, even liking him) is a fool’s errand.

João (Lázaro Ramos) performs as Madame Satã during a 1942 Carnival parade. ©VideoFilmes 2021.

João (Lázaro Ramos) performs as Madame Satã during a 1942 Carnival parade. ©VideoFilmes 2021.

Close modal

What is left is affect. João is at once seductive and repulsive, pleasurable and disgusting, feminine and masculine, seen and seer, both a push and a pull. It is the seemingly mutually exclusive nature of these poles that indicates there is, in fact, no polarity. João’s magnetism is pure affect: his paradoxes make his behavior and motivations difficult to track, but his chaotic state can be felt in the atmosphere of the performance and mise-en-scène. It comes across in Ramos’s deliberate and deliberately ambivalent gestures (his naked torso and painted face); in Aïnouz’s precise framing, which allows the protagonist to peek through beaded curtains and disappear through door cracks and peepholes; and in Carvalho’s disorienting chiaroscuro lighting that displays and conceals the protagonist as he works the nights.

For the viewer seeking to grasp João as a historical figure, the police records may seem essential, yet they are, at best, irretrievably unreliable and, at worst, deliberately prognostic of a social type—that is, a fabrication. Escaping legibility, these formal elements reinforce the coda of the opening scenes, in which what one sees first is undone by what is seen next, privileging experience and emotion over comprehension.

Interrupting the mug-shot scene, a hard cut brings the title card, “Madame Satã,” written in sparkly sequins against a dark fabric. As strings and a piano play a song, behind a beaded curtain is seen that same black face from the mug shot, now unbeaten, soft, with lips that move as though singing. Reverse shots show an audience of men in suits, drinking their whiskey and puffing their cigarettes. Close-ups detail a costumed dress that flows to the rhythm of the song, alternating with that face, now being touched softly by the character’s own fingers with decidedly feminine gestures.

These close-ups accentuate João’s facial features as he lip-synchs, misleadingly suggesting that he is performing onstage. João is the object of awe and looks starkly different from the character in the police scene, but he remains passive, coded—even while maintaining a gender ambivalence—for heightened visual and erotic impact. Displayed with a conventionally feminizing iconography, his body functions as an erotic object for both spectators and the characters within the narrative—a doubling that Aïnouz employs throughout.

However, a wider shot reveals that João is actually backstage, viewing the singer (Vitória dos Anjos, played by Renata Sorrah) and longing to occupy her place, in society and onstage. The diegetic break enacted by this unveiling of the actual vocal source serves to arrest João’s previous function as an erotic object. The cut repositions him from an object to be looked at to the bearer of the look, simultaneously objectifying but also desiring to replace the female character onstage. João’s gaze at the woman onstage represents an emergent subjectivity. Consequently, a turn in the viewers’ spectatorship occurs in this scene: they experience, perhaps for the first time, the active gaze of the oppressed character through a shot that indicates his point of view. Although João at this point in the narrative is not yet engaged in social ascendance, his gaze already projects fantasies of being recognized as a subject and acclaimed as a performer.

To overcome his social limitations, João develops the perfect weapon: the character of Jamaci (AKA Mulata do Balacochê AKA Madame Satã), who represents his alter ego and channels his femininity. In this identity, he creates a song-and-dance spectacle that is acclaimed only within his community, in private performances. In what Michael Warner would call a “queer counterpublic,” the Lapa neighborhood and its down-market nightclubs function here as circulatory spaces in which “the presumptive heterosexuality that constitutes the closet for individuals in ordinary speech is suspended.”11 Concealed from the forces beyond its frontiers, deviation is the norm, and thus everything is presumed queer(ed), with the goal of transforming “the space of public life itself.”12

Richard Parker has identified such counterpublics, in the Brazilian context of queer communities, as “gay enclaves” that provide “a focus for homoerotic interaction” and form the basis for emerging gay communities.13 In Aïnouz’s film, the Lapa environment, tolerant of outcasts, mischief, and sexual deviants, is integral to João’s story.14 Unsurprisingly, then, the different personae from João’s intersectional identity perform roles specifically tailored to his different social spheres. At home, a sexist, masculine, and determined character would appear to be João’s dominant persona, portrayed as an old-world patriarch who sustains the household with iron fists. Although constituting a queer family, the relationship established among João, Laurita, and Tabu in their house is one still modeled on a patriarchal family structure, with João as the sole power holder and decision maker. In the streets and in the bars, meanwhile, a gender-fluid persona takes over João, who becomes a femme fatale stuck in a male body, full of rage, violent inclinations, and a thirst for respect.15

João (Lázaro Ramos) defends himself by employing capoeira moves against police officers. ©VideoFilmes 2021.

João (Lázaro Ramos) defends himself by employing capoeira moves against police officers. ©VideoFilmes 2021.

Close modal

Because these projected identities are constituted in public performances, the Lapa enclave is also the space where encounters with outsiders—from regulatory bodies such as the police to racist or homophobic individuals—are not only possible, but frequently occurring conflicts and risks for João (and others). Inevitably, Lapa is the space where these different and contradictory publics clash, and João resorts to capoeira to protect and defend himself.

As the son of formerly enslaved people, João employs capoeira in a way that goes beyond the symbolic, reproducing a practice of black resistance in Brazil that remained illegal through the 1930s, and continued to be regulated thereafter.16 As Lorraine Leu has observed, although the populist discourse of then-president Getúlio Vargas’s regime promoted elements of Afro-Brazilian culture—including a more sanitized and regulated form of capoeira—Afro-descendants still “tended to be prime targets of [state-sanctioned] repression.”17 Capoeira offers João in the streets the kind of escape that cross-dressing offers him onstage, and eventually assists him in an assault against officers—an encounter that leads to his first arrest. It is both the Black capoeira fighter and the Black drag performer that the police seem to try to wash off João when they strip him naked and hose him off from a distance, not daring to get too close lest they be hit.

Onstage, his transformation is more complete than in the streets or at home. João is fully Jamaci or Madame Satã—sweet, sensual, in tune—the drag queen remade in an ideal, even exotic, feminized form. Never, however, is João completely taken over by any one of his identities; rather, their fluidity constantly evades the power of nominative impositions of an ideology that insists on defining and categorizing difference. João regains his voice and power as the film unspools, through his own agency and commitment to his deviant persona.

João’s stage performance also conveys the very transience of his gender(s). His performance of a peaceful and sentimental Jamaci/Madame Satã contrasts with the violent, masculinized João offstage. This apparent disparity of demeanors becomes critical when a drunkard confronts João after his successful performance in the Danúbio Azul, querying whether he is “playing a man or a woman.” João—or perhaps it is Jamaci—bursts out, stating, “I am a queen by choice! It doesn’t make me any less of a man,” but refrains from physical violence. Arguably, the femininized docility of Jamaci takes over his behavior, despite his rage’s insistence. João’s revenge comes full circle later in the obscurity of the streets, when he shoots the same customer in the back, unannounced.

Madame Satã is all the richer for adopting the tradition of carnivalesque transgression, in which social and aesthetic rules are not just broken but rendered altogether invalid.18 The spectacle of carnival turns queer practices that would otherwise remain under wraps—or at least in the closet—entirely public, presenting a pathway for queering the world.19 This link is particularly fitting because of João Francisco dos Santos’s eventual acclamation in Brazil’s carnival parades (as Aïnouz shows during the film’s final credits). Thus the film’s cut between João Francisco dos Santos’s battered face (representing a disciplining of sexual practices) and Madame Satã’s painted face (representing a display of a queer public) constitutes a true rupture and cognitive break.

Madame Satã—the character—reflects Judith Butler’s theory of gender as constituted through performative acts.20 If lived gender is a product of restrictive cultural conventions that maintain a system of compulsory heterosexuality, then to claim to be a certain gender is to at once perform acceptable traits of womanhood or manhood and conceal competing corporeal possibilities. To “do gender” in turn is to embrace the alternatives to such binaries, to perform the infinite possibilities that lie within—as well as outside of—such a polarity. As Teresa de Lauretis has argued, while technologies of gender may promote strict definitions and norms of gender, “the terms of a different construction of gender also exist, in the margins of hegemonic discourses.”21

As it returns to the opening scene—the emblematic mug shot—the film’s ending stylistically delivers the very transcendence that Satã’s audience never gets to fully witness or understand. Deploying symbolic and actual violence in their acts of naming, defining, and abducting Madame Satã, the police and the state seemingly win: they define his gender and identity. However, the character’s journey lends a new meaning to that opening shot, retroactively forcing a reinterpretation. The audience is empowered to analyze the way the state sees and disciplines João, in comparison to how João sees and deregulates himself. The viewer learns to detect how Aïnouz’s João transgresses aspects of his own identities.

João (Lázaro Ramos) takes the stage as Jamaci. ©VideoFilmes 2021.

João (Lázaro Ramos) takes the stage as Jamaci. ©VideoFilmes 2021.

Close modal

In a cross-fade, the voice-off that reads the police records is gradually replaced by João’s own performative narration of Jamaci transforming into Madame Satã—a narrative so “queered” that it now departs entirely from the Scheherazade tales he had learned from Vitória’s cabaret performances. On the soundtrack, layered under his voice, are those same sounds that briefly opened the film: cheers, whistles, applause. But there’s a difference. One flash and Jamaci/Madame Satã is on a grand stage, captured in colors so saturated that they blur the image, rendering the triumphant performing body more indecipherable than ever. The camera zooms in and out, unfocused and refocusing full-body shots and close-ups of Satã’s face, as his transformation is met with great—visible and audible—public acclaim.

Solidifying this movement, the film concludes with what looks like archival footage of the actual João Francisco dos Santos performing as Madame Satã during a carnival festivity, in a denouement that would seem to conform to the contours of the traditional biopic genre. Yet the film also traffics in opacity, as realized through narrative ellipses, framing, low-key lighting, camera movement, and an often-narrow depth of field. As such, its ending needs to be qualified not as “revelation” but as an invitation to further discovery. It is there, at the end, that the film lets the subject speak for himself, herself, themself, in an explosion of sounds and colors, through the display of opaque footage behind whose unfocused surface lies a myth. As applause fades out, the myth persists, incongruous and cryptic. Any effort to decipher Madame Satã should, after all, fail.

Final captions disclose that, as Madame Satã, João eventually became popular more publicly, in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, finally achieving that recognition he longed for throughout the film. That his redemption is given through textual caption, postnarratively, rather than integrated into the film via images, serves to reiterate this figure’s transcendental, mysterious, even unrepresentable demeanor and the film’s honorable refusal to confer any simplicity or closure. More than a rediscovery of a historical character—for João/Madame Satã was neither obscure nor an unknown— Madame Satã is a reminder that resistance resurfaces in the least expected ways.22

Madame Satã offers up a character who refuses to conform, to acquiesce, to be labeled, embedded within a film that also refuses to label, to define, to tame. In the film’s so doing, João’s disidentification becomes “a survival strategy that is employed by a minority spectator to resist and confound socially prescriptive patterns of identification.”23 With the aid of João, Madame Satã, Ramos, and Aïnouz, the film employs a range of disidentifying practices. And, just as its central character demands attention, the film refuses to look away, committing itself instead to an aesthetic and affective strategy at the limits of gendered/racialized/classed representability.

Today, Madame Satã remains a film built upon a resistant image—an opaque, obscure figure that quivers latently on the screen, distant from the opening close-up of the beaten face, performed but never fully realized. This image is a projection. It begs for a definition that it has always already resisted. It is in this tension—between requesting and resisting—that Madame Satã, the character, the subject, the legend, returns as an idea. João is, in the end, a concept, malleable and unstable. Thanks to Karim Aïnouz, it is Madame Satã, João’s lifelong creation, who triumphs.


In that same year, two other Brazilian films were also shown: Eduardo Valente’s short film Um sol alaranjado (2001) and Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s soon-to-be international sensation Cidade de Deus (City of God, 2002).


See B. Ruby Rich, New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).


Chico Lacerda, “New Queer Cinema e o cinema brasileiro,” in New Queer Cinema: Cinema, sexualidade e política, ed. Lucas Murari and Mateus Nagime (Rio de Janeiro: Caixa Cultural, 2015), 125.


See Antônio Moreno, A personagem homossexual no cinema brasileiro (Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 2001); and João Nemi Neto, Cannibalizing Queer: Brazilian Cinema from 1970 to 2015 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2022).


Karim Aïnouz, “Macabea com raiva/Macabea en colere,” trans. Cristiana Duarte, Cinémas d’Amérique Latine, no. 11 (2003): 11.


Aïnouz, 12.


The term marginal carries a pejorative connotation in Brazilian Portuguese, often referring to deviant individuals. Though not detached from their social position, a marginal individual would be one who does not conform to social norms and represents a threat to society.


José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 4.


As Janaína Oliveira would write in this journal, black cinema in Brazil is a recently consolidated movement: it is a new phenomenon “to see black films presented in the circuits of Brazil’s national festivals and analyzed in academic spheres without the look of disdain marked by a Eurocentric (why not say it?—racist) mustiness with which the national cinema elite for decades disqualified the very existence of black cinema in the country.” Janaína Oliveira, “With the Alma no olho: Notes on Contemporary Black Cinema,” Film Quarterly 74, no. 2 (Winter 2020), 34.


My translation. The original reads: “Vocês não podem imaginar o medo que senti desse anti-herói. Eu tinha apenas 21 anos e, sinceramente, não sabia se teria capacidade para expressá-lo em toda a sua complexidade. E, se conseguisse, sua força era tamanha que eu tinha medo de ficar marcado como ator de um personagem só…. A busca constante por uma representatividade negra no palco e o desejo de suprimir as lacunas que uma dramaturgia viciada nos impõe poderiam me levar à ideia de que só devemos investir em heróis negros em contraposição a heróis brancos. Satã me mostrou que não é assim.” Lázaro Ramos, Na minha pele (Rio de Janeiro: Objetiva, 2017), 59–60.


Michael Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” Public Culture 14, no. 1 (Winter 2002): 86.


Warner, 89.


Richard Parker, Beneath the Equator: Cultures of Desire, Male Homosexuality, and Emerging Gay Communities in Brazil (New York: Routledge, 1999), 125, 130.


Parker points out that these gay enclaves, despite providing spaces of homoeroticism, “lack the kind of geographic specificity of determined residential neighborhoods that have been so important in the definition of a sense of gay community in many parts of the Anglo-European world” (175).


For a reading of João/Madame Satã as a femme fatale, see Antônio Márcio da Silva, “The Femme Fatale’s ‘Troubled Gender’ in Madame Satã,” in The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema: Challenging Hollywood Norms (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014): 47–72.


See Matthias Röhrig Assunção, Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art (New York: Routledge, 2002), 9–11.


Lorraine Leu, “Performing Race and Gender in Brazil: Karim Ainouz’s Madame Satã (2002),” Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts 4, no. 1 (Autumn 2010): 77.


This concept, popularized by Bakhtin, highlights how carnival channels the abandonment of all rules, a mockery of the privileged and dominant classes, an embrace of cheap and inappropriate aesthetics, and, in Bakhtin’s words, a “gay relativity.” See Mikhail M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984).


João Silvério Trevisan has written that “carnival demonstrates the triumph of imagination over routine by inverting the norms so that masculinity and femininity are confused … and the poor become rich.” If, he continues, “carnival and deviation go hand in hand, the phenomenon of inversion is not restricted to those few days set aside for festivity. It could be said that an everyday carnival exists in Brazil, for the very reason that deviation is at the heart of Brazilian life.” João Silvério Trevisan, Perverts in Paradise, trans. Martin Foreman (London: GMP Publishers, 1986), 156–57.


See Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (December 1988): 519–31.


Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 18.


On the mythological status of Madame Satã in the Brazilian imaginary, see James N. Green, “O Pasquim e Madame Satã, a ‘Rainha’ negra da boemia brasileira,” Topoi 4, no. 7 (2003): 201–21; and Geisa Rodrigues, As múltiplas faces de Madame Satã: Estéticas e políticas do corpo (Niterói: EdUFF, 2013).


Muñoz, Disidentifications, 28.