During the 400 years before it became the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888, Brazil imported about 5 million African slaves, more than any other country in the Atlantic Slave Trade and about 10 times more than the United States.
Creative director Fernando Meirelles and the other organizers of the Opening Ceremonies for the Rio Olympics could have ignored that sordid chapter in Brazil’s history, but they chose to acknowledge it instead. During the second portion of Friday’s spectacle at Maracana Stadium, performers wore shackles and representations of sugarcane fields and plantations were projected onto the stadium floor.
Several people on Twitter commented that they were impressed with the honest depiction of Brazil’s past.
— Jonathan Todres (@jtodres) August 6, 2016
Brazil acknowledging slavery was apart of their history on a global stage is such a strong message… #OpeningCeremony
— JaiRich (@JaiRich) August 6, 2016
Props to Brazil for showing their slave history in their #OpeningCeremony. Lord knows, we wouldn't.
— Jennyyyyy (@1_uswnt) August 6, 2016
Pretty sure America didn't talk about our history of slavery at the '96 Atlanta Opening Ceremony. Props to Brazil.#OpeningCeremony
— Charles Clymer (@cmclymer) August 6, 2016
— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) August 6, 2016
Brazil showing MUCH more courage than Beijing in 2008. Set pieces representing the good AND bad of Brazil’s history including slavery.
— Jeremiah Jenne (@GraniteStudio) August 5, 2016
The Opening Ceremonies at the 1996 Summer Games, which were held in Atlanta, did not include any reference to the United States’ legacy of slavery, angering some groups.
“We know that happened,” IOC member Anita DeFrantz, whose great-great grandmother was enslaved, told the New York Times in 1996. “But I don’t know how you bring it into a celebration of an international event such as the Olympics.”
Twenty years later, Mereilles and his colleagues found a way.