Her video is only three days old, with well over 15 million views, but Taylor Swift is back under fire. Not for asserting her white privilege on Nicki Minaj during their “feud” but for expressing her wildest dreams in Africa at a time when Europeans were notably exploiting the continent for all its worth.
In her new “Wildest Dreams” music video, Swift portrays an actress filming a movie in Africa. As the film progresses, the pop star and her co-star fall in love on a beautiful African safari. Some say the video is an ode to Old Hollywood (which actually did shoot films in Africa with whites-only casts) but others say the video seemingly fantasizes 1950s colonial Africa. Minus a few “blink and you missed it” exceptions, the cast in the video, the actor playing her boyfriend, the movie director and his staff, are white.
Given the current climate of turbulent race relations, it is simply irresponsible of producers and directors to create a video in Africa that perpetuates the “wild safari” stereotype associated with the continent. It is insensitive to go to Africa and film a video romanticizing a time in African history when many natives were dying and being forced out of their homes.
It’s almost like Swift’s production management team knew criticisms would surface, so the music video ends with a disclaimer that all proceeds generated from Swift’s video will go to the wildlife in Africa (but not the people themselves).
Rightfully, Black people, both native and those of the diaspora, are going to express concerns about a video shot on their continent with no respect to their culture—especially if material shot there produced a video which makes no indications about the true conditions of the people living there.
Recently, there was a Twitter hashtag which showed life in Africa as vibrant and thriving—a true representation of the continent. The Africa of today has technologically advanced cities, working populations and a culture older than the United States twice multiplied. It is sad that again, cultural ignorance rears its ugly head as a white girl travels to Africa to shoot a music video with an all white cast.
Director Joseph Kahn tweeted a response to the backlash on Twitter in an attempt to dilute the situation.
My long time producer Jil Hardin who did Power/Rangers, Blank Space, Wildest Dreams is a (super hot) black woman FYI http://t.co/S4Koj7XfsU
— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) September 2, 2015
“This is not a video about colonialism but a love story on the set of a period film crew in Africa, 1950,” Khan said in a statement Wednesday. “There are black Africans in the video in a number of shots, but I rarely cut to crew faces outside of the director as the vast majority of screentime is Taylor and (actor) Scott (Eastwood).”
He followed with another comment to support his denial of the whitewashed tonality of the video.
“The reality is not only were there people of color in the video, but the key creatives who worked on this video are people of color. We cast and edited this video. We collectively decided it would have been historically inaccurate to load the crew with more black actors as the video would have been accused of rewriting history,” he said. “This video is set in the past by a crew set in the present and we are all proud of our work.”
Director’s commentary included, it doesn’t deny the video was set during a violent and depraved historical period for Africans, and the inability to acknowledge that is moot.