Last week, controversy swirled around the release of Rihanna’s latest music video, “Man Down,” which depicts a rape victim (portrayed by Rihanna) seeking revenge against her attacker. Critics immediately questioned the video’s violent and disturbing imagery.
“Instead of telling victims they should seek help, Rihanna released a music video that gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability,” said Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council, which led the charge in denouncing the video.
Rihanna has fired back at criticisms on Twitter:
Fair or unfair, as a celebrity abuse victim, anything Rihanna says or does for the foreseeable future will be examined inside and out for insight into her current state of mind. The problem that most critics are having with Rihanna is that she often contradicts her words with her lyrics, or as one critic put it, “(Rihanna says) yes I’m mad, no I don’t want to talk about it, but yes I will sing about it, but no don’t hold it against him, but yes revenge is okay.” But what I think Rihanna does well is portray the schizophrenia that anyone who has ever been a victim of domestic violence faces. There’s no coincidence that victims of abuse often become the abuser or find themselves in a series of abusive relationships. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. And, over 40% of victims of domestic violence are involved in more than one incident. No other type of crime has a rate of repeat victimization as high.
Perhaps, it is uncomfortable for us to witness the frail state of a victim, but the rawness is something that deserves to be put on screen if the artist chooses. If it is acceptable to portray abuse in its raw state in films like Precious, then it should also be acceptable for a young woman to fight the demons she wrestles with on screen as well. In the film Woman Thou Art Loosed, Michelle, played by Kimberly Elise, kills her longtime abuser in a church, yet the film was widely received by Christian audiences. Why can’t Rihanna tell her story? In the Loosed, Michelle seeks repentance. In “Man Down,” Rihanna expresses similar regret: “I didn’t mean to end his life. I know it wasn’t right. I can’t even sleep at night.”
Unfortunately, simply taking a woman out of an abusive situation is only the first step to healing. She will have moments where she is able to suppress her past and have intimate healthy relationships, but she will always be in a tug-of-war with pain and feeling worthy enough to deserve peace. This is the sort of reality they do not teach you in Sunday school. I have known far too many people that have been in abusive relationships, and I know that you can be removed from the situation but still have a battlefield in the mind.
Rihanna may be even more vulnerable than the average person. As a celebrity, her private life is subject to constant examination by the media. She’s regularly asked to relive her past over and over again through interviews, and it’s still unlikely that she’s sought professional therapy. Everyone wants Rihanna to be a spokesperson for domestic violence, but they don’t want to give her time to heal. Patriarchal societies often re-victimize its female victims, whether intentionally or subconsciously.
Meanwhile, through her music and messages to her fans, Rihanna is trying to communicate her feelings the best way that she can:
“Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naïve! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and #listentoyomama! I love you and I care!” (Rihanna via Twitter).
Rihanna, perhaps this is just your way of coping with the past, but if this is how the world is going to react to your vulnerability, maybe it’s time you go talk to someone who cares. Simply put, the media is not your friend, Rihanna, and certainly not your counselor. This may be a hard pill to swallow when you are always in the limelight, but it’s something to consider the next time you decide to share your pain with the world.
Maybe the imagery falls short,and if you’ve ever been a rape victim,somehow if you live thru it,you want to get back or retaliate about what has happened if it was’nt consentual.Going thru the feelings and getting thru the pain, it can be a very traumatic experience which could last a very long time.I think therapy is a must and being a vitim myself it takes time to heal.In conclusion I don’t think it is her intent to send off a negative message of violence for abuse.
Thanks for this intriguing response. For me, there are a lot of complications in this ordeal. I remember watching “Love the Way you Lie” with Rihanna and Eminem and really appreciating the social commentary that was being made, but I couldn’t help but feel the message was convoluted because it was playing on Top 50 pop radio right next to song that were legitimizing bad or superficial relationships. I also know the S and M was not about sex/sexuality – it was about the media. But one can’t divorce the sexuality expressed in the song and the video. That song being put together with “Love the way you lie” just feels inconsistent. She needs to go to therapy, see needs to heal. She doesn’t just need to throw her emotions on an album – of which the record label gets the most benefit. I don’t mind the video, I think that “Man Down” is creative and poignant. I have issue with it being sucked of its insight because of where it is heard, I am worried about teenagers and kids listening to the song and watching the video who don’t have the ability to decipher art, I worry about Rhianna’s long term health. I also worry that she (being 23 and presenting as fairly young) isn’t really acknowledging that the ambiguity and inconsistency she presents isn’t helpful. She says that she isn’t a parent, but that isn’t want people are asking her to be, they are asking her to be responsible (because of her audience) not just an artist.
A few more words ,thanks to you Neosoulist for your message.Your message is very clear to me.I also saw the video “Love The Way You Lie” and at first to me ,it was psychologically and emotionally disturbing.I saw the movie”Precious” and “Woman Thou Art Loose”,and automatically my thoughts were no woman young or old ,child or infant should be violated or left vulnerable.It’s not easy just talking about it to me,taking reponsibility is very important.Thanks again.
THANK YOU TOO IMANI.
Thank you for your thoughts and contributions! This video is one that shouldn’t be shunned but used as an opener for discussions in youth and young adult groups.