Born to Shine

by Alex França

Divinas Divas

“Being a diva is serious business. A diva is a diva.” This is how the transvestite Fujika de Halliday explains what it means to be a “diva”. Halliday is one of the characters in the documentary Divinas Divas (Divine Divas), by Leandra Leal. The director pays tribute to a group of courageous, determined and talented transvestites who managed to build solid careers as artists, and play an important role in furthering the LGBT cause in Brazil, even through difficult times like the military dictatorship. Rogéria, Jane di Castro, Divina Valéria, Eloína de Leopardo, Camille K, Fujika de Halliday, Marquesa and Brigite de Búzios are endearingly presented in the film.

Divinas Divas is, after all, largely a film about endearment. Beginning with the director Leandra Leal herself, for whom Teatro Rival, where the performers first did shows in the 1970s, was a second home from the time she was a child. The theater, which was run by her grandfather for many years, was one of the only spaces in Rio that opened its doors to transvestite performers. After her grandfather’s death, her mother, Angela Leal, also an actor, took over the theater. The transvestites portrayed in this film had a very special relationship not only with the space, but also with Leandra. The narrative, based on interviews with the characters, features interviews, and flashy performances and rehearsals for the theater’s 70th anniversary celebration.

But the affection is not only for the theater. The loving relationships explored in the film also involve family members, boyfriends and girlfriends, their artistic careers, and the audience. Leandra Leal herself comments on the great extent to which the transvestites were part of her world. Thus, the film is a natural expression of endearment. Divinas Divas focuses on prejudice, the transformation of the transvestites’ bodies, the persecution they faced during the dictatorship, and acceptance –or lack thereof—by their families in a sensitive and subtle yet decisive manner. Divinas Divas is overall a lighthearted film with a good balance of humor, emotion and criticism of Brazilian society.