Tonga’s flag bearer Pita Nikolas Taufatofua leads his delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2016.

1. The Tongan Flag Dude

Like, whoa. As other athletes in the Parade of Nations predictably wore dockers and sports blazers, Pita Nikolas Taufatofua from the island nation of Tonga came out bare-chested, slathered in oil and adorned in a ta’ovala, a traditional Tongan mat. The 32-year-old will compete in taekwondo for his country, but he won the gold for the Opening Ceremonies. Twitter, predictably, went crazy:


Tonga's flag man !!❤ #tongasflagman

— Momo_Drama (@momo_drama) August 6, 2016

2. Brazil’s History of Slavery

Unlike many in the United States who like to pretend in history books that slaves didn't exist or were “workers,” Brazil did not shy away from its history of slavery in last night’s opening ceremonies. Brazil, which forced about 5 million Africans into bondage, paid those men women and children homage by having performers wear shackles over sugarcane plantations projected onto the stadium floor. Many took to social media to applaud the country’s bravery.


3. Protests Outside Maracanã Stadium

Residents of Rio de Janeiro demonstrate against interim President Michel Temer, political upheaval, corruption and the cost of the Rio 2016 Olympics Games in front of the Copacabana Palace Hotel on Aug. 5, 2016.


In a country racked by political upheaval and economic distress, the opening ceremonies were no different, with police reportedly firing tear gas on protesters outside Maracanã Stadium. (They didn't get too close, though—the stadium was surrounded by thousands of police and soldiers.) Protesters, who were furious over the presence of Brazil's acting President Michel Temer, waved placards calling for his removal and the reinstatement of socialist President Dilma Rousseff; they also burned Olympic T-shirts and symbols.

4. Serena Williams’ Braids


In a sweet nod to her past (who could forget when she and Venus rocked their beaded glory so many moons ago?), Serena slayed in her box braids, and Twitter was here for it. The 34-year-old is a four-time (individual) Olympic gold medalist and will be competing in both singles and doubles at this year’s Olympics in Rio. She’s won gold for doubles with sister Venus in 2000, 2008 and 2012 and will join forces again with her sister this year.


5. Brazilians Watching Opening Ceremonies from the Slums

In a country with serious poverty and class stratification, many poor Brazilians in the thousands of hilly favelas (slums) that ring the richer parts of Rio de Janeiro watched the opening ceremonies and fireworks from their rooftops. Many of these favelas were razed to make way for Olympic facilities. The favelas were also given a nod during the opening ceremonies, causing some to shake their heads.


Angela Bronner Helm is a writer, editor and professor of journalism at the City College of New York. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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