Carnival blocos have been subversive since their 17th century origins, and millions of people pour into the streets of Rio de Janeiro each year to participate. The majority of contemporary blocos rely on comedic names, neighborhood links, samba music, or funk carioca to draw a crowd. But today, a growing number of blocos are instead focusing on diversity, social inclusion, and political protests.
Officially Approved Blocos Are Becoming More Inclusive
Despite Rio’s decadent reputation, bloco ‘Alegria Sem Ressaca’ – ‘Joy without Hangover’ – promotes partaking in Carnival festivities without alcohol or drugs. Launched by former drug addicts with the help of friends, family and healthcare professionals, the bloco has received celebrity support in its thirteen years of existence, including names such as MMA fighter José Aldo.
Mental health awareness is in vogue across the world, but bloco ‘Tá Pirando, Pirado, Pirou!’ (‘We’re freaking out, we keep freaking out!’) is already eleven years old. Composed of psychiatric patients and professionals, families, and friends, this bloco promotes mental health awareness. It also delivers workshops for patients in the city’s psychiatric hospitals outside of Carnival.
Meanwhile ‘Senta Que Eu Empurro’ (‘Sit So I Push’) draws attention to Rio’s physical accessibility. Consisting of wheelchair users, it was formed explicitly as a Carnival celebration in which those with physical disabilities could participate. It has grown to absorb 3,000 participants every year.
“Diverse blocos are important because they show people that spaces exist for them. That they can do things that they didn’t think they could,” said Angéglica Yonghui Wenjun. “It’s empowering.”
Unofficial Blocos Push Cultural Boundaries
While the city’s official blocos are becoming more inclusive of diverse interests, unofficial blocos – preferred by Rio’s youth, and largely reliant on social media or word-of-mouth – are promoting even more radical social and political messages.
This year, ‘Mulheres Rodadas’ (‘Well-Worn Women’) celebrated its third year. The bloco paraded in the midday sun with crowds singing feminist versions of traditional Carnival chants as they followed musicians. Participants Esperanza Souzalez and Ana Carolina Oliveira dos Santos said this bloco gives them a safe space to participate in Carnival.
“There’s a common idea at Carnival that men can touch you, just because they want to, without asking,” said Souzalez. “Women need that power, too – as well as the power to say no.”
“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve crossed the street here, because I felt so uncomfortable,” said Oliveira dos Santos. “I’m here because I want this bloco to make a difference. I want it to grow, to become something where women can be in a public space and behave as they like, without feeling threatened.”
Blocos bearing political messages also took root in the city this year. ‘Fora Temer’ (‘Out with Temer’) adopted the popular chant against President Michel Temer, which arose during Rousseff’s impeachment. Rio’s socialist Mayoral candidate Marcelo Freixo also received his own homage, with a bloco titled ‘Me Beija Que Eu Votei no Freixo’ (Kiss Me, I Voted For Freixo).
Carnival blocos might be rebellious by definition, but for attendees, these latest developments are a move towards inclusivity in social movements, not just bucking a trend.
“These blocos are a reaction against the current mood. It’s as present in Brazil as it is globally,” said Carlo Alexandre Teixeira da Silva. “Globalisation doesn’t just spread McDonald’s – it spreads ways of thinking, too.”