As far as advocates go, the Amazonian rainforest could do worse than Gisele Bundchen. Most Americans likely know her as a top supermodel and the wife of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but she’s also a native Brazilian, UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador, and highly active around the issues of deforestation and climate change.
Whether creating a flip-flop line that benefits environmental causes, or starting a Clean Water Project that helps replace and preserve riparian vegetation near her hometown, Bundchen has used her international fame and significant resources for good.1 Even Harvard Medical School has sung her praises, but she’s gained an enemy in a surprising place: back home in the new government of Brazil.
Tereza Cristina Dias, agricultural minister under Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro, referred to Bundchen in a radio broadcast last month as a “bad Brazilian” for taking her home country to task for deforestation. Dias said that Bundchen was giving Brazil a false, negative image abroad and that the supermodel should instead be promoting the country’s agriculture and industries.2
Can you guess who came out ahead after that call-out?
Gisele Bundchen released a measured letter response in which she noted that all her previous mentions of Brazil’s deforestation problem came from scientific and government data, and that her activism was that of a “worried Brazilian citizen”3 (Deforestation in the Amazon indeed shot up by almost 14% between July 2017 and August 2018).4 Bundchen said that she would be “happy to announce positive actions” taken toward sustainable development, but that illegal deforesters are the real “bad Brazilians.”5
The #PRFAIL here is on the part of Dias. The Bolsonaro administration has already worried many environmentalists with promises to roll back protections on the Amazon, but from a pure PR standpoint (no matter what their environmental position), Gisele Bundchen is a public figure they can’t afford to cross. She is one of the most famous Brazilians ever, and while the radio program’s host noted that her criticism has caused the country a “PR problem,” as she’s one of its most publicly identifiable faces, Dias would be much better off making her a friend.
The bottom line is, Gisele Bundchen has built up over a decade of international trust, appreciation, and goodwill. She’s beloved all over the world and has become an icon in her native Brazil. The smart thing for the new government to do? Work with her and use her fame to their advantage.
1) “Gisele Bündchen.” UN Environment, www.unenvironment.org/people/gisele-bundchen
2) Kaiser, Anna Jean. “Gisele Bundchen Fires Back at Official Who Calls Her ‘Bad Brazilian’ for Climate Activism.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 Jan. 2019, www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2019/01/17/gisele-bundchen-fires-back-official-says-she-bad-brazilian-climate-activism/2608421002/.
4) Hermesauto. “Brazil Loses ‘One Million Football Pitches’ Worth of Forest.” The Straits Times, 28 Nov. 2018, www.straitstimes.com/world/americas/brazil-loses-one-million-football-pitches-worth-of-forest.
5) Kaiser, Anna Jean. “Gisele Bundchen Fires Back at Official Who Calls Her ‘Bad Brazilian’ for Climate Activism.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 Jan. 2019, www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2019/01/17/gisele-bundchen-fires-back-official-says-she-bad-brazilian-climate-activism/2608421002/