Backlash of Rihanna’s BBHMM Music Video Highlights the Double Standard in Media for Women of Color

Kimberlé Crenshaw defines “intersectionality” as the differential treatment a group of people receive because of the interconnectedness of their social categorization of gender, race, class, sexuality and ethnicity (Steinmetz, 2020). According to Sylvia Walby’s peer reviewed article Intersectionality: Multiple Inequalities in Social Theory, “Structural intersectionality concerns the intersection of unequal social groups. Political intersectionality concerns the intersection of political agendas and projects.” (2012). From poor black women who suffer physical and mental abuse at work and home, to rich black women who unfairly get criticized for their success, the discrimination and disadvantage women of color face is compounded by their intersectional identity. The backlash of Rihanna’s BBHMM music video exemplifies the double standard women of color face in the media industry, limiting their creative expression and upholding the social construction of whiteness.

BBHMM is a music video about a woman kidnapping the wife of her accountant as retaliation for him losing her money. This video was filmed like an action film hence was told through very graphic images involving nudity and violence. This prompted backlash from many people in the U.S. For instance, Barbara Ellen wrote an article on The Guardian and titled it “Rihanna’s self-indulgent video is not clever. It’s pure misogyny” and Sarah Vine said the video “glorifies murder, torture, drug-taking, guns and racial stereotyping.”

Django Unchained Bloody Rihanna BBHMM Awarded for Racist Screenplay

When Quentin Tarantino released his film Pulp Fiction, it was met with great appreciation. It seems like it was all people could talk about. What people overlooked was the manner in which Tarantino, the white male director who also played the character ‘Jimmie,’ casually used the N word several times throughout the film with no regard for its cultural implications. It also showed some bloody scenes like a man’s head literally exploding, yet the movie was awarded at several film festivals and film critics could not get enough. However, critics failed to label the film as racist or violent. Fast forward to his next big hit, Kill Bill, which involved attractive women catfighting each other, quite literally, with bloody scenes and dismembered body parts scattered all over the floor. Kill Bill received great feedback and glowing reviews so much so they went ahead and made sequels. If life was a level playing field for women of color, whether rich or poor, BBHMM, would not be labelled ‘misogynistic’ ‘anti-feminist’ and ‘racist’ as Rihanna did not repeat a single thing that Tarantino has not already done in his critically acclaimed films over the years.

Gory Apocalypto 1 Gory Apocalypto 2

After Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic film, The Passion of Christ won numerous awards at film festivals, it was assumed he would take a break from controversial subjects and do something more subtle – those assumptions were pre-mature. Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is a film about a Mayan Kingdom at the peak of its power sacrificing people in an attempt to save crops and other citizens. The film’s non-stop violence is so explicit it is banned from certain countries. Inhumane acts bordering on animalistic painted the Mayans as sadistic and cruel, as depicted in the film. Rihanna’s fantasy revenge narrative contained far less violent scenes, yet faced more backlash. Apocalypto was nominated for several Academy Awards and went on to win a few others in spite of its misrepresentation of the Mayan culture and racist undertones further highlighting the double standard Rihanna’s video faced.

Rihanna Waving

In addition to the film industry, the double standard for women of color exist in the music industry. After drugging the accountant’s wife, Rihanna takes the wife to a pool where a cop comes to investigate the situation. As pictured, Rihanna waves at the cop with a smile. Most often, African Americans’ interaction with police in music videos are aggressive or dehumanizing. For instance, black rapper Kendrick Lamar wrote and produced the music video “Alright” which deals with police brutality. However, Rihanna’s interaction with the police officer in this music video is pleasant and charismatic. The lack of hostility is reminiscent of a white person’s typical interaction with law enforcement. Rihanna’s stylistic choice to display the intersectional identity of a black women interacting calmly with a police man threatens the societal construct of whiteness by rewriting the black women’s narrative with law enforcement. Rihanna experiencing the white privilege is critiqued by the Daily Mail writer Sarah Vines. She describes Rihanna’s music video as “dehumanizing trash” that “should not be allowed to roam freely across our culture, they become real” (Vines, 2015). This comment reveals the racist double standard in the media by evoking fear of women of color’s dominance. Rihanna’s ability to call the shots in this revenge narrative through torturing the wife of the accountant and eventually killing him signals her agency for justice, contrasting the typical women of color’s experience. Country singer Miranda Lambert’s feminist anthem “Gunpowder and Lead” featured on her album Crazy Ex Girlfriend portrays a white women preparing her shotgun and digging a hole for her victims body. After winning album of the year, the violence and revenge narrative Lambert portrays in this music fails to receive similar backlash compared to Rihanna. This divide in backlash illuminates the double standard faced by women of color, highlighting the restriction of creative expression and pressure for African Americans to uphold whiteness.

“Drowning” Wife

As the camera pans out from Rihanna waving at the cop, the wife’s body floats under a pool float. The Guardian’s Barbara Ellen attacks Rihanna for “torturing” the white woman who is last seen “bobbing lifeless beneath gangsta Rihanna’s lilo”. Ellen continues to call Rihanna a “celebrity in delusion: take away the skin colour and the “white spoilt bitch” has far more in common with real Rihanna than the gangsta Rihanna she’s portraying.” (Barbara, 2015). Ellen falsely assumes Rihanna’s fame, wealth and therefore “privilege” safeguards her from discrimination. She also strips Rihanna of her identity as a black woman to belittle her bold revenge narrative. Since Rihanna portrays herself as the dominant leader in this violent and aggressive story, she defies the typical anti-black narrative often expected of women of color which commonly consists of submitting to whiteness or utilizing sexuality in the interest of attracting men (Parrinello-Cason n.d.). Instead, she employs deceptive tactics such as hiding the “drowning” body under the pool float while exposing her butt. This picture works to reimagine the revenge narratives of women of color by taking control of the situation and “devoiding sexuality for male pleasure” (Reason, 2019). Also, the scale in this image of Rihanna’s large butt compared to the small body of the wife places a black woman of color in power. By physically taking up space, she demands more attention. Meanwhile, the small white body in the background displays the white and rich wife as powerless in this photo, disrupting the status quo of white power and privilege. In comparison, Miley Cyrus’ music video “Bandz Make Her Dance” depicts her in a white outfit surrounded by black women dancing. By placing these black women in the background, she conveys the inferiority of black people and the supremacy of white (Dodai, 2015). Her video fails to face the same amount of scrutiny that Rihanna faces; once again proving the unparalleled backlash and heightened standards women of color face in the media. 

“Fucked Up My Credit” Drake

The picture above shows a close up of a knife with the words, “Fucked up my credit”. This picture and her entire music video references the real-life events of Rihanna’s accountant, Peter Gounis, losing $9 million dollars out of her bank account (Reason, 2019). Hence, the depiction of “fucked up my credit” calls out this accountant. A common critique of Rihanna’s video is the extreme violence or “torture porn” which contrasts with the standards even black men face in media (Mckenzie, 2015). In Drake’s music video “Just Hold on We’re Going Home”, he portrays hegemonic masculinity by acting as a savior when rescuing his girlfriend from the bad guys. Drake’s video showcases allusion to rape, guns and an aggressive attack to rescue the woman. He is taking control of the situation and getting revenge on the bad guys (Kelly, 2014). Similarly, Rihanna takes control of her situation by killing the abuser of her finances, yet she faces more backlash, exposing the double standard women of color face even compared to men of color. 

Rihanna In Casket

In the final scene, Rihanna lays naked covered in blood and surrounded by cash in a casket. This scene exposes the nudity and aftermath of the murder she committed on the accountant. She smokes while cash is stuffed around her, signifying her justice. While Vogue.com columnist Karley Sciortino endorses Rihanna’s music video by highlighting Rihanna’s nudity as empowering instead of hypersexual, “covered in blood and she’ll cut your dick off (McVay, Tracy and Helmur, 2015), Barbara Ellen called out Rihanna’s nudity as “misogynistic” and intended “to increase the sex appeal” (Ellen, 2015). Rihanna looks powerful in each shot as she works toward justice. Once again, Rihanna’s artistic expression of nudity is unfairly critiqued in comparison to white artists such as Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Britany Spears.

Britany Spears Lady Gaga Miley Cyrus

According to Ian Stoner’s peer reviewed article Barbarous Spectacle and General Massacre: A Defense of Gory Fictions: “Films of every genre potentially include morally problematic aspects, and some of those problematic aspects are well represented in horror’s subgenres. Too many horror films depict the rural poor as subhuman menaces and mentally ill people as inscrutable threats.” (Stoner, 2020). Some people think there is nothing wrong with showing gory scenes in media even if they depict minorities in the wrong light. However, when the status quo is changed and the dominant identities are dominated, unjust backlash results. Seeing Rihanna as the dominant force in BBHMM falls under this umbrella. Articles written to undermine Rihanna and other women of color who defy dominant ideologies illustrate the double standards intersectional identities face in the media industry compared to others.

References

Dodai, Staurt. (2015). “On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture and Accessorizing With Black People,” June 20, 2013. https://jezebel.com/on-miley-cyrus-ratchet-culture-and-accessorizing-with-514381016.

Casey Ryan Kelly. (2014). Feminine Purity and Masculine Revenge-Seeking In Taken (2008), Feminist Media Studies, 14:3, 403-418, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2012.740062

Ellen, Barbara. (2015). “Rihanna’s Self-Indulgent Video Is Not Clever. It’s Pure Misogyny | Barbara Ellen.” the Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/05/rihannas-video-bitch-better-have-my-money-misogynistic.

McVay, Tracy, and Edward Helmur. (2015). “Feminists Fall out over ‘Violent, Misogynistic’ Rihanna Video.” the Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jul/04/feminists-fall-out-over-rihanna-video.

Parrinello-Cason, Michelle.(n.d.) “Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’: Violence, Feminism, and Fantasy.” Accessed June 29, 2021. http://www.balancingjane.com/2015/07/rihannas-bitch-better-have-my-money.html.

Reason, Joshua. “Done with These Niggas: Revenge Fantasies and Black Female Sexuality.” The Journal of American Culture 42, no. 1 (March 1, 2019): 37–48. https://doi.org/10.1111/jacc.12972.

Steinmetz, K. (2020, February 20). Kimberlé Crenshaw on What Intersectionality Means Today. Time. https://time.com/5786710/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality/#:~:text=Intersectionality%20is%20simply%20about%20how,people’s%20lives%2C%20it’s%20under%20attack.

Stoner, I. (2020). Barbarous Spectacle and General Massacre: A Defence of Gory Fictions. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 37(4), 511–527. https://doi.org/10.1111/japp.12405

Vines, Sarah. (2015). “Rihanna Video Concerns Parent SARAH VINE as She Glorifies Murder, Torture and Drug-Taking | Daily Mail Online,” https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3150454/Rihanna-video-turn-mothers-stomachs-Concerned-parent-SARAH-VINE-star-s-latest-song-glorifies-murder-torture-drug-taking-guns-racial-stereotyping.html#ixzz3f7rIwFZq.

Walby, S., Armstrong, J., & Strid, S. (2012). Intersectionality: Multiple Inequalities in Social Theory. Sociology (Oxford), 46(2), 224–240. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038511416164

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