Rihanna’s new video is a slick, seven minute technicolour revenge fantasy, full of guns, explosions, blood, sex and incredible nineties-inspired #looks. It also features the kidnap of her antagonist’s rich, white wife, who is dangled naked upside-down, stuffed in the trunk of a car and then drowned in a swimming pool. The internet, unsurprisingly, is abuzz with both praise and outrage.
Many people have dismissed criticism of the video as hypocrisy, citing the fact that films from directors like Tarantino don’t generate the same outrage, which first of all, they do, and I would like to remind you of the uncomfortable masterpiece that is Quentin Tarantino shutting Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s butt down.
And secondly, for a director so influenced by grindhouse, Blaxploitation films and sleaze, there is a surprising lack of sexualised violence in his films. Kill Bill is a violent movie, full of violence perpetrated by and against women, but it tends to be a fair fight, and there’s no shots of naked dead girls with blood dripping sensually down their tits. The problem with Bitch Better Have My Money is not the violence itself, it’s the sexualisation of violence against women.
On the other hand, as Rebecca Carroll points out, “Tarantino, a white, male director with a giant hard-on for cultural appropriation and women having sex with each other, directed that film. Rihanna, a masterly ambitious black woman with a fear of nothing and no one, directed her video.” When discussing agency and representation in media, diversity of characters is important, but so are the identities of the directors themselves. Rihanna co-directed this video, and when the world is sorely lacking in both female directors and directors of colour, her contribution behind the camera is of significant importance.
The argument I have frequently heard is that race simply doesn’t enter into it; it is straightforward, cut and dry misogyny. The problem with that argument is that race always enters into it, always alters our perception of media and of violence from both men and women of colour. White women need to acknowledge that we are both oppressed, because of our gender, and oppressor – because of our race. The problem with White Feminism is how often it fails to acknowledge the latter, and you feel that that may be the point; I’ve seen many an outraged tweet or article about this video (one journalist described Rihanna on twitter as “misogynist of the year”, seemingly forgetting that Chris Brown is still out there making successful pop music) from women who previously remained silent when an innocent black teenage girl was assaulted by police at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, or when Black Lives Matter have been protesting the hundreds of unarmed black men and women who have been shot by US Police.
You cannot help but feel that, at least in some circles, the torture and murder of a fictional white woman has caused more outrage than the abuse and murder of real-life black women. The history of genuine white violence against black bodies is long, brutal and seemingly unending, and you can’t help but feel that seven minutes of fictionalised, performative violence against a white body may provide some kind of catharsis.
It does absolutely subvert racism, and show a strong black woman being violent and in control. There also, undeniably, is misogyny, as the torture of a woman is shown in a sexualised way; June Eric-Udorie writes that “succumbing to the status quo and portraying women as sexualized objects to beat up, lock up and torture doesn’t do anyone any favours and certainly won’t change the conversation.”
The video I would desperately like to have seen is the one where Rihanna doesn’t use the tired “steal your girlfriend” trope, but instead goes for straight for the accountant aka the bitch aka Hannibal Lecter aka Mads Mikkelsen. Imagine this video but with Rihanna subversively objectifying and torturing her white, male victim. Imagine the ultraviolent, non-problematic revenge fantasy. Imagine the feminism.
However, my viewpoint may well be skewed on this – I’m white. As Mia McKenzie writes “black women often see white women as the same as white men. The harm done to us by white men and white women isn’t vastly different… for many of us, kidnapping the white brother or the white wife is all the same.”
It’s worth remembering that, as much as white men are in a position of racial privilege, white women are too. And just because we have to deal with the patriarchy, doesn’t mean we never have – and don’t continue to – benefit from racism. I’m still not sure I like Rhianna’s video, but I understand why it was made.
[Clare Patterson – @clurrpatterson]