Last week, Rihanna debuted the video for her smash single “Bitch Better Have My Money.” Upon its release, the controversial short film – directed by the pop star herself – worked the Internet into a frenzy, sparking debates among analysts and social media users alike over its provocative, “anti-feminist” message. Today, the video has racked up more than 20 million views, and is sure to keep spectators buzzing as one of the hottest topics of the summer.
Based on a real-life accountant who stiffed Rihanna out of millions of dollars, “BBHMM” plays out as a fantastical revenge tale where the singer kidnaps and tortures her financial advisor’s wife—a rich white woman with blonde hair, blue eyes and the perfect physique aptly clad in exclusive designer apparel. Stripping the victim naked and hanging her upside down from a rope, the singer and her friends smack their hapless target over the head with a bottle, later forcing her to binge on weed and Ciroc before she’s ultimately drowned in a swimming pool. Still left without her money, Rihanna fatally stabs her accountant, after which she appears blood stained and nude, lounging in a trunk full of cash as she lights up a cigarette.
In the end, RiRi got her money. But of course, not without backlash.
Let’s start off by stating the obvious: it’s clearly impossible to deny the fact that “BBHMM” and its graphic storyline remain quite discomforting to the human soul, perhaps even presenting some rather frightening elements. Likewise, in a production that plays out less like a music video and more like the most violent Quentin Tarantino film in the history of cinema, “BBHMM” is certainly unsuitable for some viewers, just as the use of kidnapping, torture and murder as a form of retribution discernibly presents a less than productive message to younger audiences.
Naturally, in the midst of such controversy, certain spectators have voiced their disdain on a much deeper, philosophical level in regard to Rihanna’s complex portrayal of female characters – particularly feminists, who fell into a collective uproar that rang out across the Internet.
If you can’t figure out why a feminist might not be ok with sexualized violence against women, guess what -YOU’RE NOT A FEMINIST #BBHMMVideo
— Meghan Murphy (@MeghanEMurphy) July 4, 2015
Similar rhetoric persisted throughout the week, as several websites posted thinkpieces denouncing Rihanna’s newest endeavor for its violent, misogynistic and sexually exploitative imagery, with Refinery 29 describing “BBHMM” as “not safe for work or feminists.”
Nevertheless, while much of this commentary remains centered on perceived issues lying within the video’s content (i.e. female-on female-violence), an in-depth look beneath the surface reveals a more pervasive element resting behind many feminists and their mutual aversion to this work—much of which has to do with Rihanna’s chosen target for punishment.
In an article posted to the NewStatesman, Helen Lewis affirms that “the sexualised torture of a rich white woman is still sexualised violence against women.” She goes on to acknowledge that the video may very well qualify as Rihanna’s way of exposing “how black women’s bodies are routinely sexualised and objectified in our culture in a way that is both racist and misogynist,” while going on to offer a rather naive solution to this very systemic issue.
“The answer to that is to make more noise, to raise our voices louder, when women who are doubly disadvantaged are objectified and marginalised — not even up the score with a bit of rich-white-lady torture”.
Similarly, in conveying disgust and anger over “BBHMM” and its raging sexism, The Guardian’s Barbara Ellen can’t contain her disdain for Rihanna’s decision to kidnap someone who’s a “white, blonde, trophy.” She continues with, “take away the skin color… the “white spoilt bitch” has far more in common with real Rihanna than the gangsta Rihanna she’s portraying.”
Lastly, Sarah Vine of the Daily Mail opts to condemn BBHMM from the perspective of a “concerned mother.” These points are largely overshadowed, however, by her obvious disapproval of Rihanna’s violent crusade against “a rich, blonde, white woman with expensive hair and even more expensive breast implants.” In the end, she denounces the video as nothing more than a glorification of “torture, drug-taking, murder and racism.”
Yes you read that correctly, “racism.” And the fact that these three writers remain incredibly fixated on a fictional character’s archetypal whiteness, in addition to her highly revered upper class status, certainly speaks volumes to their “feminist” priorities. In the end, one can only assume that the biggest problem here lies within RiRi’s violation of an unwritten rule in the “feminist” handbook: “Thou shall not kidnap white women, torture, beat and exploit them, even within the realms of artistic freedom of expression.”
The fact of the matter remains, while “BBHMM” isn’t the most productive music video, whether someone interprets it as remotely feminist is based on individual interpretation. Likewise, while some audiences find this project to be offensive, others openly view it as an artistic work of empowerment that – through the use of controversial imagery, violence, nudity and the sexualization of the female body – presents Rihanna as an unabashed Black woman determined to control her own destiny.
In the end, regardless of where you stand on the matter, feminists and their use of a figurative music video to wage a war against misogyny and intra gender violence remains inconsequential, and further uncovers a historical pattern of white women policing Black women and their individual interpretations of feminist thought. And considering the fact that Black female issues remain perpetually excluded from the realms of mainstream feminism, the preposterous expectation that a natural bond of sisterhood exists – where a Black artist should automatically stand in solidarity with white women to eradicate representations viewed by the wider community as “misogynistic” and “anti-feminist” – is far more offensive than any image projected within a fictionalized music video.
Overall, in the midst of rising controversy and debatable “feminist” commentary, Rihanna’s “BBHMM” has come to boldly declare that Black women – also grappling with the daily horrors of misogyny, violence and sexual exploitation – hold no responsibility in our creative spaces to concern ourselves with how white, pro-feminist images are presented to the world – onscreen or otherwise.
Shelby Jefferson is a blossoming journalist, and currently works as a staff reporter for a Michigan based community newspaper. As a radical intellectual, writer, poet and pop culture junkie, she frequently uses her articles to analyze and present a broad spectrum of themes including race and representation in television/music/film/media, contemporary arts and culture, race and gender identity in sports and social justice issues in the United States. She can be reached at [email protected].