During the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night, pop superstar and everyone’s BFF Taylor Swift premiered her new music video for the song “Wildest Dreams,” the fifth single from her record-breaking 1989 album. Swift received praise for the video, as well as her humanitarian work connected to it. In light of recent events surrounding the poaching of the beloved Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, Swift announced that all proceeds from the video will be donated to wildlife conservation through the African Parks Foundation of America. However, not all viewers were impressed with the director’s, Joseph Kahn, vision of what NPR called “a glamorous version of the white colonial fantasy of Africa.”
The two authors of the article, Viviane Rutabingwa and James Kassaga Arinaitwe, are critical of the video’s setting, which features two actors (played by Swift and her co-star Scott Eastwood) on a 1950s film set in Africa surrounded by the African landscape and wildlife. Because of Swift and Eastwood’s African colonial wardrobe, the reporters claim that Swift and Kahn are romanticizing African colonialism, which Rutabingwa and Arinaitwe correctly refer to as “exploitative and brutal.”
While the video may be offensive to many Africans, the intention of the video was not supposed to show the colonial struggle in Africa. Kahn defends his work as romantic Hollywood movie set, rather than colonial Africa. Swift and Eastwood are playing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton-type movie stars, he claims. Kahn denies that any “political agenda” exists in the video, and adds that numerous persons of color were featured in several shots of video and also worked to create the video, including black producer, Jil Hardin, black editor Chancler Haynes, and Kahn himself, who is Asian-American.
The reality of Taylor Swift’s video is that too much over-thinking is occurring. The purpose of the music video is to depict the love story between two actors, not two white colonists. It’s fair to assume that because the Hollywood glamour and romance aesthetic is the central theme of the video, the film could have a Gone with the Wind-type plot, a movie that has similarly been known to glorify slavery and racism. However, Swift and Eastwood are acting as actors in a fictional movie, in which has no known plot because that is not the point of the video. It’s a love story that is four minutes long. Nothing more, nothing less.
In a society that is so polarized by race, it’s important not to get caught up in every little detail of pop culture. Not everything connects back to race. Taylor Swift is not a racist for her video, nor is Joseph Kahn for choosing this setting. It’s ridiculous that a director would have to defend his art from accusations of racism simply because the setting just happened to be associated with the vicious history of African colonialism. Rutabingwa and Arinaitwe even say themselves that Swift has probably never had an African history lesson, and it’s likely Kahn hasn’t either because it’s unfortunately not taught in American schools often. In that regard, the reporters damage their own argument of Kahn and Swift’s racism in the video. Simply put, the video cannot be racist because there is no intention of hatred or bigotry against Africans. Let’s stop over-thinking every detail of a music video and move on.