Who said U.S. textbooks don’t teach enough African history?
Black Twitter remembers learning a thing or two about what life was like when much of Africa was under European colonial rule during the middle of the 20th century.
So when Taylor Swift released her music video for the song “Wildest Dreams,” which features her frolicking alongside wild animals in 1950s Africa, something didn’t seem right. She plays a white actress on the set of a movie. She’s in beautiful dresses, the scenery is breathtaking, but the only problem is, there aren’t any black Africans in the setting.
More importantly, this NPR op-ed brilliantly articulates how the video seems to present “a glamorous version of the white colonial fantasy of Africa.” Argue Viviane Rutabingwa and James Kassaa Arinaitwe:
To those of us from the continent who had parents or grandparents who lived through colonialism (and it can be argued in some cases are still living through it), this nostalgia that privileged white people have for colonial Africa is awkwardly confusing to say the least and offensive to say the most […]
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.
And then she decided to donate the proceeds from advertisements linked to her video to the charity African Parks Foundation of America. If you travel to some of Africa’s parks, you’ll see the rangers and guides are black Africans.
So why not show them in the video?
Black (and white) people on Twitter echoed those concerns.
The video’s director, Joseph Khan, emailed NPR and defended his work. He explained that it would have been historically inaccurate for him to cast black Africans as production crew in the fake movie that was portrayed in the video.
“This is not a video about colonialism but a love story on the set of a period film crew in Africa, 1950,” Khan wrote. “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.”
I understand his point, but I also understand the initial concern that Africa was being objectified by European colonizers who refused to see the humanity in its people. That Swift (probably not the best person to be in the middle of this storm) was thought to be glamorizing that period struck a sensitive chord.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.