A few days back, Taylor Swift released her music video for “Wildest Dreams”. This video shows a love story between two movie stars, Taylor playing the female lead. Now this video and the song are a speaking about having love in the moment. The couple kisses sweetly, passionately and then the video ends with both of them seemingly longing for another kiss. Nothing about the video seems amiss on the surface. Just a simple romantic story told through Taylor’s song with a romantic video.
But we must take a closer look.
This music video is showing the production of a movie shot in somewhere Africa. It contains a white only cast in late 19th century clothing. One can only surmise that the directors are making a reference to the movies made at that time. If you are unfamiliar with the time period and the nature of these movies, then you might miss the undertones of the imagery used. The movies produced in different parts of Africa during the colonial oppression where highly racist and sexist and completely misrepresented people living on the continent of Africa. They featured a strong white male protagonist who would have to fight the ‘savages’ or the natives of the land. On the way, he would rescue a white damsel in distress and together they would brave the ‘wild’ world called Africa.
Whether or not the video production team realized the implications of the imagery, they are there nonetheless. This video is not merely a sweet romance story, but a continuation of the misrepresentation of Africa that we have seen over the centuries. As stated before, everyone in the video is white. There is literally no representation of someone who actually lived in Africa. Secondly, we see a generalization of the African continent. Although pertaining to the story, only shots of animals that live in the savanna areas were shown. This romantic notion of ‘wild’ Africa perpetuates incorrect assumptions that western peoples have about Africa.
Africa is an entire continent with thousands of different cultures, even more languages and even more traditions and lifestyles. Why don’t we give the African continent the respect it deserves and show some DIVERSITY.
For me, the fact that this imagery is the background to a love story further emphasizes the romantic view people can have of the past. Colonial movies were not romantic. They were oppressive propaganda that affected a whole cultural perspective. Wild animals are not just beautiful scenery. They are part of the ecosystem were fellow humans live.
Some people may argue that I should not be so critical of just one music video. That there is plenty of stuff on the media that misrepresents something even worse. I concur that the media always seems to perpetuate stereotypes but this should not be a pass for the media to never be criticized. I believe that if media is going to be changed people have to start calling out the things that are perpetuating misconceptions. I believe that every person has the responsibility to make steps toward ending historical misconceptions.Taylor Swift and her production team are no exception. Anytime someone contributes to the media it is their duty to understand the meaning and associations behind their content.
That age old saying of “Everybody’s a critique” can sometimes be said negatively. Honestly, I think it is not only a positive thing but a necessary step in combating misconceptions and oppression.