By Misbah Awan
I am not an avid viewer of celebrity videos, partially because they don’t interest me but mostly because I know if I were to invest in watching them, I would feel as if my brain cells were slowly dying because of how these stars are represented.
Rihanna is different. She co-directed her most recently released video, “Bitch Better Have My Money.” While some white, female critics demonstrated discomfort with Rihanna’s video, I was not shocked by what I saw. I was amused.
On the surface, the song and video fit together as inspiration from a real-life 2012 crisis the singer faced when her accountant allegedly cheated her out of millions of dollars. On-screen, the images of a white woman being held hostage and hung upside down while topless deeply upset commentators (again, mostly white) because they claimed the video was “misogynist” and “torture porn.” One must dive deeper.
What I immediately saw in Rihanna’s video is a black woman whose priority for survival is herself. Rihanna is not concerned with the state of the white woman; this offends white feminists. It is not necessarily the violence, but rather the perpetrator being a woman of color that disturbs the viewers. Rihanna’s work is a top hit and her video is the most complex pop culture masterpiece she’s made yet.
The video is controversial because of its feminist theme: it explores the complicated interactions between white and non-white women. Towards the beginning, Rihanna is waiting in an elevator. When the white woman walks in, she completely ignores Rihanna. It almost seems as if she does not register her.
This moment challenges the historical erasure of women of color by white women who have benefitted from white supremacy. Although it is a single scene, it is a metonymy that highlights white femininity. The white woman’s appeal — her yellow hair, blue eyes, slim figure — is accentuated by contrast with a “lesser” non-white person. In everyday circumstances, white women are surrounded by women of color who remain in the background because white women often don’t really see them.
It is not okay for black women to harm white women, or for anybody to harm anybody else. Women of color are harmed by white women too often; this genre of revenge fantasy recognizes that white feminism consistently devalues and degrades black women.
It is also extremely important to note that a black woman took ownership of this kind of stylized cinematic violence and rage, but also executed it in a way that rivals and challenges the white men who are usually praised for it. In most music videos that involve violent footage, a male director is not given the same amount of attention as Rihanna.
Towards the end of the video, Rihanna is lying down, bloody and naked, with money all over her body. This is Rihanna challenging your comfort and your power.