The famous “pequena notável”
One could consider her the Brazilian Frida Kahlo: like the Mexican painter, Carmen was also an artist. Except that she didn’t paint pictures, but she colored stages and films. So why compare her to Frida? Because both of them committed themselves to expressing and celebrating their culture of origin to an excess. With her always exaggerated clothes and accessories, Carmen has in fact retraced the history of the identity of Brazilian women in her own way. Her real name was Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha – a relative of mine, perhaps? That would be too good … – but she became famous as the “pequena notável” (small notable) or the Brazilian bombshell. It all began in Rio de Janeiro in 1933, when she was the first singer to sign a contract with the most popular radio in Brazil. She soon became the most acclaimed interpreter of samba – and the best paid – and from the radio she landed, as a true queen, in the world of Brazilian musical cinema.
With a great career in the United States
In 1939, during a show at Cassino da Urca – when gambling was legal in Brazil -, Lee Shubert, one of the most powerful Broadway producers, noticed her and invited her to the States. It was enough for her to enchant the New York public to find the doors of Hollywood wide open. Until she became the first South American actress celebrated on the Walk of Fame in 1941 and in 1945 the highest paid star in USA.
“They say I’m back Americanized”
In Brazil, however, her Hollywood career was viewed by many with suspicion, and hailed as a chapter in the imperialist propaganda of Yankee politics of the time in South America. In response, Carmen launched a song, which immediately became famous, in which she sang “they said I’m back Americanized, with a lot of money, that I’m very rich.”
Homage to the Bahianians
At the beginning of her career, when she appears in the Brazilian musical “Banana da Terra” singing “O que é que a baiana tem” (What is it that the Bahian woman has), Carmen wears a costume inspired by the Bahian sweet sellers: a wide white dress, loaded of shiny accessories. These women-icons of Bahia still resist all fashions today, because they collect the conceptual legacy of their ancestors, who arrived as slaves from Africa: that of celebrating their liberation and economic independence with the creation of their “Creole jewels. “(see Balangandans, the jewels of Brazilian slaves in my blog). Carmen’s costume was so successful that she herself wanted to revive it as much as possible in her career, transforming it into a never forgotten emblem of Brazilian identity all over the world. Even now, when in Brazil someone goes too far with jewelry and accessories, in a baroque accumulation of layers and combinations, the name of Carmen Miranda inevitably pops up, just like a beautiful memory.
The balangandans according to Carmen
Carmen’s reinterpretation of Creole jewels and balangandans first of all celebrates the lush and vital abundance of Brazilian nature. Therefore its ornaments reproduce the most varied forms of tropical fruits, as well as the excessive and ostentatious exuberance of the large volumes and golden surfaces remind us of the sun and brightness of Brazil.