Taylor Swift’s New Music Video and Why it’s Causing so Much Controversy
Taylor Swift did it big – premiering her latest music video for Wildest Dreams at the VMA’s last Sunday. The fifth single from her album 1989 stands out from the rest as a ballad that shows Swift’s softer, less crazy man-hating side (a nod to you, Blank Space). So it’s no surprise that the video follows an “on screen” romance of Swift falling for her already taken partner.
Here’s the main gist of the video:
Set in early 20th century Africa, Swift and her co-star are busy filming their on screen romance. All is hunky-dory until a classic T-Swift fight breaks out as tensions arise between the two lovers. Taylor gives the cast and crew of the shoot one hell of a time by switching into passionate diva mode. Flash forward to the US movie premiere, red carpet event. Paparazzi everywhere, but it looks like our Taylor is longing to be somewhere else. We see her co-star, ring on finger, wife in arm (awkward for Tay). During the screening, she just can’t handle her emotions anymore and storms out of the theater, hops into her car and drives away as Mr. Dreamboat follows after her in vain.
So, why is Taylor causing such controversy? Well, many critics claim that Swift’s video romanticizes colonialism and contains racist undertones. Even NPR took time out to address the issue. Authors Vivian Rutabingwa and James Kassaga Arinaitwe state that:
Swift’s music is entertaining for many. She should absolutely be able to use any location as a backdrop. But she packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline, and she sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanized and traumatized millions of Africans. That is beyond problematic.
Swift’s video shoot depicts an all white cast and crew, an inaccurate portrayal of 1950’s Africa and as critics say, paint a romantic ideal of colonialism. So far Taylor hasn’t made an official comment on the heat surrounding the video, but has chosen to donate the profits from the video to the African Parks Foundation of America’s efforts toward wild animal conservation.
Director Joseph Kahn (who also directed Blank Space and Bad Blood) came to the defense of the video by releasing the following statement:
Wildest Dreams is a song about a relationship that was doomed, and the music video concept was that they were having a love affair on location away from their normal lives. This is not a video about colonialism but a love story on the set of a period film crew in Africa, 1950.
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 screen-time is Taylor and Scott.
The video is based on classic Hollywood romances like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as classic movies like The African Queen, Out of Africa and The English Patient, to name a few.
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. I am Asian American, the producer Jil Hardin is an African American woman, and the editor Chancler Haynes is an African American man. 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. This video is set in the past by a crew set in the present and we are all proud of our work.
There is no political agenda in the video. Our only goal was to tell a tragic love story in classic Hollywood iconography. Furthermore, this video has been singled out, yet there have been many music videos depicting Africa. These videos have traditionally not been lessons in African history. Let's not forget, Taylor has chosen to donate all of her proceeds from this video to the African Parks Foundation to preserve the endangered animals of the continent and support the economies of local African people (USA Today).
With the video being only a week old, it certainly has gained plenty of publicity, but will the controversy harm its overall success?
Image via The Fader (http://www.thefader.com/2015/08/30/taylor-swift-africa-video-wildest-dreams)