Xica de Silva

The 'Vulgar Woman' vs. King-for-a-Day

Carlos Diegues 1976 film Xica de Silva can be seen as an application of medieval European carnivale structure to a subdued historical precedent, namely the rise and fall of Xica de Silva. Utilizing the carnivale rosetta stone left by Mikhail Bakhtin it is clear that the film rather than making light of serious problems like slavery and woman's suffrage, instead provides a cathartic indulgence for the characters and also the audience. A term Bakhtin used frequently was 'Vulgar Woman' a kind of counterpoint to the sterile repressed Victorian female archetype. The intendant's wife is a representation of this kind of Victorian woman. The strongest contrast in the two lead female characters occurs during the introduction of Xica to Joao Fernandes. Xica is telling a fabricated tale of abuse to her present master in the presence of Fernandes and in a stripping routine sheds piece by piece her clothing to showcase her 'injuries' but more to show off the source of her power in her body and its inherent sexuality. The men are completely paralyzed. In the men's world this is a complete alternative to the possibilities of expression from typical European women. The wife who is present stands mute a moment and then screams. This upset is the triumph of the film's sensitivity to feminism. The wife is a tool of patriarchy and stands by her husband and helps in his manipulation of social mechanisms at dinner parties and in the government offices. However the wife's notion of self and the distinction of the female body is nil. Therefore confronted with a scene she ought to be able to yawn in familiarity at, she reacts with pure terror at the beauty of a female body. Xica asserts her for the first time her right to express her sexuality against the comptrolled androgyny of the White Man.

Insofar as there are claims of making light of slavery in the film, the critics would have overlooked the moral of the rebel Teodoro. Any moral concerning independence for the black community would be problematic in the sense that it would perhaps alienate some of the audience and be a bitter pill to swallow for others. Yet the subtlety of the moral following the betrayal of Teodoro's location to the count of Valdares who tortures him to death, is such that it implies that it is necessary for black independence to depend on an uncompromising unity. It is Xica's trust in a liberal minority white that gets Teodoro killed. Therefore it can be seen that there is a strong message of black unity and the trickery of the White Man present in this narrative.


Last Updated on 03/06/00
By JR Kerr
Send Comments to jamesrkerr@yahoo.com


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