• Depictions of African slavery were included as part of Rio's 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony Photo: Ross Kinnaird Getty Images (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
From the outset, the 2016 Summer Olympics that are currently underway in Brazil have been marred by controversy and criticism. The task of hosting the world's largest sporting event is a huge pressure for any country, and it is evident that the struggling economy and political climate in Brazil has had a detrimental impact from the Olympic Village to security issues.
Emily Nicol

15 Aug 2016 - 12:29 PM  UPDATED 15 Aug 2016 - 10:08 AM

 There has been praise however in that the spirit of Brazil has remained true throughout, and the opening ceremony in particular was applauded for being historically accurate and inclusive of Brazil's evolution.

Brazil's renowned partying spirit shone through in the ceremony held at Maracana Stadium, with samba, acrobatics and star cameos, though they also touched on more sobering truths such as the climate change crisis and the history of slavery which was only brought to an end in the late 1800's. Though slavery had existed pre-settlement amongst Indigenous tribes who would capture and enslave members of other tribes, during the time of Portuguese settlement, Brazil was the largest importer of African slaves in the world.

A trade which drove the sugar, gold and diamond economies, once freed, many Africans moved in to the bigger cities where property was scarce and favelas, much like we see still standing today, were constructed.

Critically lauded film director Fernando Meirelles, well known for his gritty but poignant portrayal of Rio City of God, was appointed creative director of the opening ceremony and true to his style he chose to depict the reality of life in Brazil both then and now.

Performers wore shackles and recreated the scenes of toiling on plantations and fields of sugarcane. It was a scene that many on social media applauded.


Very impressed by Brazil for acknowledging all of their history & representing the slave trade & all the immigrants in the #OpeningCeremony

 Acknowledging the past is only one of the ways in which rebuilding cultures that have been decimated can be achieved, but it is an important step and Brazil has proven that honesty is embraced by not only those directly affected by slavery but those from across the world who are watching and taking note.

In comparison, there was wide ranging criticism and anger throughout the Aboriginal community when Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympic games. While Aboriginal art adorned logos and visitors were greeted by smiling images of Aboriginal children, the reality was far from the picture presented and many issues that plagued our communities then are still just as prevalent now.


The honourable Linda Burney MP who at the time of the 2000 olympics was Director-General of the New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs said at the time: "The use of Aboriginal symbols shows Aboriginal culture as being quaint, and doesn't tell the whole story. There's been a great deal of misappropriation. I get very angry when I see the big car companies using didgeridoo music in their ads, and I think to myself: 'Where is the commitment from those companies to employing Aboriginal people? Where's the payback?' 

In Brazil much like we see in Australia, those who have suffered at the hands of colonisation still face racism, discrimination and disadvantage on a disproportionate scale. Though there is a long journey ahead in reconciliation, hopefully those hosting the next games will take the same honest approach as Brazil and help issues move forward on a global scale.