Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business (Helena Solberg, 1995)

Country of Origin: ,
Running Time: 91 min

Carmen Miranda

Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is my Business tells the story of Carmen Miranda from birth to death and legacy.  It follows Miranda as a Portuguese immigrant to Brazil who found fame both locally and in the United States as a Samba singer, dancer and actress.  Helena Solberg, who is also the director of the film, narrates the documentary.  She places Miranda’s story into a more personal context, exploring the impact that the star has had on her own life and perception of the world while keeping the focus on the progression of the biography. There is a particular authenticity to Solberg’s storytelling that creates an immersive viewing experience.

The film contains many interviews with characters that were relevant to Carmen Miranda’s life, ranging from fans and journalists to her musicians and family members.  Solberg interweaves these interviews with archive footage of Miranda (both staged and real), movie clips and musical performances.  She shows both the public perception of Miranda as a star in Brazil and the United States, and reflects on the cultural and domestic conflicts with which Miranda had to deal with behind the scenes.  It is fascinating to see Miranda’s choices in music, performance, film and beauty influence the trends of her time and leave its mark in entertainment history.  One of the most remarkable things about this documentary is that even if you do not start out a Carmen Miranda fan, you cannot help but get caught up in her story.

For further reading:

A piece by Gary Morris from The Bright Lights Film Journal

A review of the documentary in the American Historical Review (pages 1162-1164)

Serra Kornfilt 2011

Shinjuku Boys (dir. Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams, 1995)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 53 min

Producer: K. Longinotto, by Twentieth Century Vixen for the BBC
Color, 16mm

Kim Longinotto’s Shinjuku Boys is one of several documentaries she has made about versions of women’s sexuality in Japan. In this short film, she introduces her audience to the lives of three annabes, women who dress and live as men, though who do not identify as lesbians. Gaish, Tatsu, and Kazuki work at the New Marilyn Nightclub in the Shunjuku section of Tokyo. They are “hosts” at the nightclub; their job is to entertain the clientele, making them feel welcome and cared for. Their patrons are straight, young or middle-aged women. As Kazuki says with a comfortable smile, “Each customer thinks we’re her special boyfriend. They’re wrong”.

Most of the documentary simply follows the annabes around their lives—in fact, long shots are taken of the subjects just walking around Tokyo. Longinotto’s goal seems to be to give us a very intimate sense of each subject’s personality, both in how they deal with customers at the club and in their outside lives, and she is very succesful in this goal. We see Tatsu getting a haircut and chatting with his barber about his hormone injections, and also preparing dinner with his serious girlfriend. Gaish goes on a date that we follow, which ends in his (or possibly his date’s) bedroom. With Kazuki, we watch his costuming process and meet his girlfriend, who is a drag queen.

In some sections of the movie, there are framed interviews. These are more or less informal, filmed in a variety of locations, though none of them are in studios. The interviewer is off-screen, but we do hear the questions posed to the subjects in Japanese. Gaish and Kazuki both have joint interviews with their girlfriends in addition to their individual interviews. The men talk about a variety of issues, including sexual practices and difficulties, long-term relationship plans, the effects of hormone injections, and the reactions of their families to their annabe status.

One major failing of this film is its lack of cultural context. There is no larger discussion of gender relations or queer culture in Japan, and as a result most Western viewers are left with an incomplete understanding of what precisely differentiates these women from a lesbian or transvestite/transsexual culture in Tokyo. The meaning of the word “annabe” is left vague, and the lack of background information makes me feel actually uncomfortable watching the film: I’m afraid of seeing these men through the cultural stereotypes I may bring to the table.


A good look at Longinotto’s career as a whole, and trends within these six films:
Morris, Gary. “Rebel Girls: Six Documentaries by Kim Longinotto”. Bright Lights Film Journal, (49), 2005 Aug, (no pagination) (Electronic publication.)

White, Patricia. “Cinema Solidarity: The Documentary Practice of Kim Longinotto”. Cinema Journal, (46:1), 2006 Fall, 120-28. 2006

The official word from Women Make Movies:
On Shinuku Boys
On Longinotto

IMDB listing