Although I am not a horror fan in the main, Carrie (1976) based on the Stephen King novel is a masterclass in film making. Sissy Spacek nails the role and although some purists may not like how Brian De Palma’s narrative veered from the book, it scared the heck out of me. It was also refreshing to see a female protagonist in a genre usually dominated by crazy men.
I would say that Carrie probably piqued my interest in femme fatale films. Black Widow, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, The Last Seduction, Wild Things and Disclosure rank of some of my favourites. Seeing women take revenge using their wisdom, sexuality and any resources they could put their hand to in these films was always refreshing. I remember covering my mouth with the twist at the end of Wild Things! (Go see it if you haven’t)
I wondered after watching Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” video if she has watched the same films. I would have added Kill Bill to the list, but I am not a Quentin Tarantino fan, so I couldn’t really comment.
So as always with impeccable timing Rihanna promoted and then released her video last week. As always social media has had a melt down and many journalists and bloggers have taken her to task about the themes in her video and whether or not they are appropriate. Following in the footsteps of former artists like Madonna she has played the provocateur and used her art to sell records, create discussion and play to the controversial image she has embraced since she dropped Umbrella.
For those not in the know. The background to this video is that Rihanna realises she has been fleeced by her accountant. Something which actually happened. Taking on the role of femme fatale she kidnaps her accountants girlfriend. She tortures her as a means of getting said accountants attention. She finds out that he is not actually interested and as such exacts revenge on the accountant himself. Cue the end of the film where she is lying on a suitcase full of money covered in blood.
I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the themes raised against Rihanna.
Much emphasis has been placed on the torture of the woman in the film. Writers have accused her of misogyny and degradation of the woman’s character. Some have suggested some of these writers are butt hurt because Rihanna has effectively destroyed the stereotypical metaphor for Western beauty. Blond hair. White outfit. Pampered. I will leave readers to decide for themselves but personally I believe they may be some truth in this.
What I do find absent are the accusations of misandry. How come so many writers are upset about her treatment of another woman and not so much that she actually takes out the main character, ironically played by Mads Mikkelsen of Hannibal fame? How come people can’t see that her hatred is primarily directed against him and all he holds, or apparently holds dear?
The irony of this is that people will happily sit down and watch Game of Thrones. Discuss the themes of violence and breathtaking cinematography and swim past the misogynystic themes contained in there. Just because “it is representative of the time”. Or what about Breaking Bad. This programme voted as one of the best TV series of all times, has a policeman killed by an axe, a man shot several times by a child and copius amounts of drug related violence.
How many times is Quentin Tarantino feted for his asthetic approach to violence? Artistic cinematography they say. So why is it that when a director like Rihanna also uses artistic expression that she is criticised for use of violence? Please note this is not the first time she has been critiqued (see Man Down) for this and to be fair M.I.A got the same stick for her video Hero, although not as much.
This one makes me laugh the most. How the hell can a satirical video about fantasy revenge be seen as anti feminist? If this is case why not level the same accusation against all the other femme fatale films I mentioned? From the bunny boiling Alex Forrest of Fatal Attraction to the calculated chicanery of Suzie Toller in Wild Things.
If anything, Rihanna has had strong themes of feminism throughout her work. From the dancehall inspired “Put It Up” to “Take a Bow” or “Rockstar” to name but a few. Is the problem that those who don’t think this is feminism because her brand of feminism lends itself to elements of being “pro queer”? Or is that a woman takes agency choosing to be overtly sexual outside the confines of what a woman is supposed to be? Why is it that we are quick to assume that when a modern female artist expresses agency, sexual or other, we think it’s because she is under the control of another? Especially a man? This is not just with Rhianna, but Beyonce, Miley, Kim, Nicki, Iggy. Surely that leaves some questions to be answered.
I readily admit that the narrative of some of her music has left me uncomfortable in the past, and some still does, but that is what many performing artists do. To accuse of her anti feminism on the basis of a fantasy revenge video kinda misses the point for me as to who she is an artist as a whole. I honestly don’t ever recall Madonna being levelled with the same kind of criticism. Not from Annie Lennox, Sinead O Connor or whatever other “new wave feminist” critics decides to take on her music.
The truth is Rhianna has always walked that tightrope of being a provocative artist. Outside of her music people will still define her by the violent incident between her and her then boyfriend Chris Brown. As a result it’s like people feel she must then take her art according to their lens. To be their domestic violence ambassador. To be the feminist they want made in their own image. To be a role model to their children when in fact that’s their role.
Like Marilyn Manson, Ozzy Osbourne, Noel Gallagher, Millie Jackson, Madonna and so many before her, she recognises that as an artist she can provoke conversation and happily walk away knowing that as with all things, analysis is rarely objective and treated subjectively. Eminem has been lauded for years for such artistic delivery. Plaudits are rained on him because rather than address his blatant misogyny and homophobia, and often incredible violent lyrics towards the likes of Lana Del Ray, Iggy Azealia, Britney, Christina and Kim, he is seen as master storyteller otherwise known as Marshall Mathers or Slim Shady or whatever. The double standards are telling.
For me this video is just another artistic expression. Like Tracy Emin’s Bed. Or Damien Hurst’s Cow on Formaldehyde. It is not for everyone. It is something that evokes emotion and that is subject to interpretation. That so many want to jump all over it is testament to the fact that she is culturally relevant and provoking people to think. You can’t contain that expression and in trying to do so actually pushes more people to talk about it and Rhianna to continue on in this vein as both performer and artistic director. Trying to contain it is a bit like telling Marina Abromavic that she should have never left articles around that could harm her in Rhythm O, or place herself in danger as she did in many of her early performance pieces.
If you are going to critique Rihanna, then do so with consistency. Take that same critical pen to Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Dexter and Hannibal. Take that same pen of critique around feminism to Lily Allen and Taylor Swift. If you’re going to critique her violence to do the same to Quentin, Stephen King or infamous woman hitter Charlie Sheen! This is not to say that she is beyond criticism but at least be consistent.
Yes the video made me uneasy and challenged me, and I would prefer to watch Jhené Aiko’s The Worst, but without apology BBHMM as a tune is still a banger, and as a video is brave artistic step which will polarise. Job done.