“Being a woman in Brazil is not easy,” says Ana Luiza Couto. “It’s hard to be who you want to be. It’s hard to be true to yourself; to be yourself and hold onto your dreams.” Ana Luiza lives in São Paulo, Brazil, with her daughter Clarice, and issues of gender are present in both of their minds.
“Being a woman, being LGBT, is something that brings plenty of struggles,” Clarice agrees. “But I’ve also been very privileged. I have had support… I get strength from other women alongside me. My mum, at home; other women fighting the same battles. United, we are stronger.”
Another source of strength and common ground for the two women has come from a shared love of film — specifically, the soon-to-be nine films of the Skywalker saga. Ana Luiza watched the first Star Wars film in the cinema when she was 14, and was awestruck by Princess Leia who seemed so different to many of the other tropes of womanhood onscreen at the time. “She was an independent woman who did things for herself,” Ana Luiza explains. “She was my first hero! A girl who went out and did things on her own initiative… For me, as a teenager, that really made an impression.”
Leia, the princess who becomes a general, was an instant role model. “She was pretty, but didn’t use her beauty to get by,” Ana Luiza remembers. “She was an intelligent girl. And she was strong, she used weapons. She knew what to do. I remember when it finished I was sat bolt upright. I was so excited and emotional. I was so moved.” Leia was the first film character that Ana Luiza ever truly identified with, and her example resonated particularly strongly given the context that Ana Luiza grew up in. “My generation was deprived of freedom, so to see that was amazing for me,” she says.
When Ana Luiza first showed her daughter the films at home, they didn’t immediately click. However, when they went to see the third trilogy together at the cinema, Clarice began to get excited like her mother. “That was when I felt a connection with it all. Now I’m a fan, not just an outsider,” Clarice describes. “We went to the premiere,” says Ana Luiza, remembering “the excitement of advance tickets and watching a film at midnight.” Clarice was beginning to relate to the same themes that her mother did; they were beginning to develop a shared passion that would ultimately bring them closer. “She started to understand something of my own experience,” says Ana Luiza, “something that made an impression on her mother all that time ago. It gave us something we could share.”
Clarice quickly found her own character to aspire to in the newest films. “Rey breaks various paradigms,” she says. “She’s a woman leading a hugely well-known and popular film. That’s quite unusual, so she stands out. She’s a complex character. She’s not boring and she doesn’t depend on anyone.” Her appreciation of Rey has clear echoes with her mother’s own admiration of Leia before her. “I like Rey more and more… I really identify with her.”
Each woman holds their own — in interplanetary battles, in deeply threatening scenarios, in complex personal circumstances. “Rey had a really difficult life,” Ana Luiza goes on, “but she gets on with it. I’m not sure I like this word, but she is really ‘empowered’; she is successful. Any mother would be proud to have Rey as a daughter.”
Looking at the photographs Camila Svenson has made of Ana Luiza and Clarice, it’s not hard to imagine that their own relationship isn’t far from that same precious balance of admiration and intimacy. In almost every image, the mother and daughter are physically close, either embracing or looking towards one another; there is a sense that such gestures are completely natural, habitual, rather than constructed or encouraged by the presence of the camera. Even the photographs that depict them individually resonate with one another: in one image, Clarice lies on the ground, bathing herself in a shaft of light that spills into the apartment, while in another, her mother stands by the window, allowing that same São Paulo sunshine to pour onto her face.
“I wanted to take it slowly and take meaningful photos,” Svenson describes of the commission. “My biggest concern is time. Not being in a rush. Specific moments are more important than taking masses of photos.” The photographer is often drawn to document families, exploring the rhythms of close relationships. “It’s a never-ending subject, a hole in the universe where you can always find an extra layer to try to understand.” Her method involves creating a relationship of equality between herself and her subjects, refusing to allow the camera to confer any special power onto herself as the photographer. “We find common ground. We build up a relationship.
Having strong female role models — finding them both in the Star Wars films, and in one another — has had a profound effect on the Coutos: each of them is successfully pursuing work that they find deeply meaningful, Ana Luiza as an editor of educational books, Clarice as a writer. “When I look at my daughter, I am so proud of the successful woman she has become,” says Ana Luiza. “She’s not in an easy place. She’s a cartoon script writer. That world is really a man’s world. But she is really good at what she does. She wins prizes and everything!” Like Rey and Leia, the two of them have persevered through odds which, at times, seem stacked against them. “I think we have done just fine. There have been ups and downs, but we have done just fine.”
Looking ahead to the release of the ninth film, Clarice isn’t sure that it’s really the conclusion it claims to be. “There’s a whole range [of possibilities]: games, cartoons, books… A whole infinite universe.” Ana Luiza isn’t so sure. “I wish this last film was not really the last one, but I know everything has to end sometime. I am hoping for miracles,” she says. “I want to leave the cinema feeling totally satisfied. As it has to end, I want it to end with evil overthrown. That really satisfying feeling of good having triumphed gloriously. Something that sends a message to the world’s oppressors: that good will overcome in the end. I want all the world to see that.”
Star Wars Families presented by eBay is a collaboration between Lucasfilm and British Journal of Photography in advance of the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. An immersive photographic and editorial project, it sheds light on families around the world who have enjoyed the magic of Star Wars for nearly half a century.
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