At first glance, Xuxa Meneghel – 59, tall, blonde and white – may look like the ideal Bolsonaro voter, given the Brazilian president’s overwhelming support among older citizens of European descent. But looks can be deceiving.
Two weeks ago, when Brazilians were getting ready to vote in the first round of the presidential elections, the former TV presenter – known in her country as “Queen of the Little Ones” – sent out a video to her 12 million followers on Instagram. Using only sign language to communicate, she asked viewers to vote for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – popularly known as “Lula” – of the Workers’ Party.
Xuxa’s decision to endorse the left-wing Lula – who governed Brazil from 2003 until 2010 – may have appeared unnecessary, even opportunistic, as all polls were showing him with a wide lead against incumbent far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. But in the end, the race was tighter than expected, with Lula getting 48% and Bolsonaro close behind at 43%, triggering a runoff election.
This has not been Xuxa’s first involvement in her country’s politics. For a long time now, she has been extremely critical of Bolsonaro’s policies. She has condemned his mismanagement of the pandemic – which killed more than 600,000 Brazilians – his anti-vax stance and his homophobic rhetoric. She once posted on her social media accounts, “if you support Bolsonaro, unfollow me.”
Xuxa has also supported other Workers’ Party politicians in the past. In 2014, she spoke out in favor of a law proposed by then-president Dilma Roussef’s, which aimed to criminalize corporal punishment.
Now semi-retired, enjoying a fortune estimated to be about $160 million, Xuxa has become a symbol of nostalgia among many generations of Brazilians… but also among Spaniards, Peruvians, Mexicans, Argentinians and Hispanic Americans, many of whom can still sing her songs and lullabies by heart. This makes her a powerful participant in one of the most divisive Brazilian elections in history.
Xuxa’s Show – which ran from 1986 until 1992 – became famous in Brazil and was broadcast in 17 countries, including the United States, where it had a devoted following among Hispanic viewers. Xuxa’s platinum blonde hair – reminiscent of a Barbie Doll – and her peculiar accent achieved worldwide fame. She would go on to release many more shows and albums.
In 2020, Xuxa published her memoirs. She wrote about several moments in her childhood, between the ages of four and 13, where she was subjected to sexual abuse. A friend of her father’s, a schoolteacher and her grandmother’s boyfriend touched her inappropriately and forced her to perform oral sex. Her courage to speak about these crimes generated many important conversations across Brazil, a country that has an extremely high rate of violence against women and girls.
For young Brazilians who didn’t grow up with her television splendor, Xuxa is simply an older lady who sometimes shows up in the news… or in a meme. At the height of the pandemic, she caused much controversy when she suggested using incarcerated people as guinea pigs to test vaccines and medicines, so that they could “make themselves useful.”
Unknowingly, young people in Brazil often use a phrase that is credited to Xuxa: in one of her old children’s shows, she grew exasperated with one of the noisy children and said: “Just sit here, Claudia.” Decades later, it’s become a catchphrase that you can throw at someone rude to get them to shut up!
It is yet to be seen if Xuxa can have any political impact on the runoff of Brazil’s presidential election, set to be held on October 30. Her endorsement likely won’t get as much media attention as soccer player Neymar campaigning for Bolsonaro, or singer Anitta tweeting her support for Lula. Nevertheless, thanks to those who grew up with her, she’ll always have some people listening.