How can someone get it so wrong? We have recently been provided with the perfect example of cultural appropriation. Thank you Nicole Arbour.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this woman, let me preface her introduction with a link to a video posted to her YouTube channel entitled, ‘Dear Fat People’. Honestly, why? Here it is for your viewing displeasure.
Her most recent video highlights the issue of the appropriation of Black culture. The message of the Black Lives Matter campaign has continually been misconstrued since its inception, with many piggybacking off its notoriety to achieve greater attention from the media and the public. Nicole Arbour’s latest video, a parody of artist Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ music video, is a blatant example of this.
Let’s start with a brief history of Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter campaign began four years ago to empower members of the Black community to rise up against state-sanctioned and vigilante-led violence. The campaign gained traction following the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African American teenager who was fatally shot by a White neighbourhood watch volunteer (who was later acquitted of the murder). Freedom, justice, and political and social change are all on the agenda for the Black Lives Matter network, which has gained significant global recognition in only a short period of time. This has not been without backlash. The ‘All Lives Matter’ counter-campaign is a prominent example of the kind of criticisms plaguing the campaign. It is essentially a declaration of color blindness and serves to discredit and disregard the race-specific struggles faced by the Black community. Racial justice and rights lawyer, Ian Haney- Lopez agrees, stating,
“All Lives Matter erases a long past and present of systematic inequality”
Harnessing the notoriety of Black Lives Matter and flipping its message actually vilifies the Black community and represents a refusal to acknowledge that unfortunately, not all lives actually are valued equally.
Arbour’s parody video does the same thing; she has piggybacked off a Black man’s success and completely disregarded the original message of the piece.
Gambino’s video was viewed approximately 50 million times within the first five days of its release. It’s safe to say it has generated significant hype, and for good reason. The piece addresses multiple issues; more than I can discuss without writing a non-fiction novel. His use of clever choreography and imagery satirises the role of the stereotypical ‘joyus’ Black man routine reinforced by artists such as Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ and Bobby McFerrins’ ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’.
Gambino also referenced blackface minstrelsy through the use of animated facial expressions and specific dance choreographed to mimic those used in the 19th century skits. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, minstrelsy was a form of musical theatre that exaggerated the experiences of the African American community for humor and entertainment. It reinforced damaging stereotypes and Black inferiority while further propagating White supremacy. Gambino also references gun violence and police brutality directed towards the Black community. It is clever and meaningful as it brings the attention of a mass audience to the struggles faced by Black individuals every single day.
Cue self-professed ‘Barbie- doll esque’ Arbour.
This would be a good time to watch her ‘This is America: Women’s Edit’ parody of the original. If you’re not as horrified as myself and apparently the rest of the internet, you should stop reading. At the time of writing, this video has amassed 2,926,993 views compared with Gambino’s original which has only marginally more views at 210,380,849. This is problematic.
Arbour has used the exact setting, composition, concepts, a poor attempt at Gambino’s choreo and the popularity of Gambino’s video to construct her own. The video (featuring an almost exclusively White cast, which is kind of awkward) makes zero mention of racial inequality and instead focuses on the issues that plague (Western) women. Arbour references things like the pressures to start a family, date rape, the pay gap, society’s beauty standards and conformity, just to name a few. This is not to say these issues aren’t important ones. As a female, I agree they deserve to be acknowledged and discussed. This however, was absolutely not the right way to go about it (I also question Arbour’s motives as she certainly doesn’t appear to be a feminist, but that’s probably a discussion for another day). Here’s what she had to say for herself,
“The purpose of my rendition was to honour the spirit of the video which absolutely moved me, by adding my and many women’s life experiences and truths to the brave and brutal truths expressed in the original,”
I respectfully disagree, but do go on,
“It was a tongue in cheek way to give additional glory to what I believe is the most impactful piece of art in recent years.”
Unfortunately, Arbour’s ignorance is just one example of a much wider problem: the systematic persecution of Black people and the subsequent denial of doing so. Arbour’s parody tells us that it’s okay to take the favourable parts of Black culture and change them into something more palatable for a White-dominated society. It can only be hoped that in viewing Arbour’s video, the issue of cultural appropriation will be brought to light for some who perhaps were not aware of it. Arbour will apparently never get the message, as she responded by apologising for her ‘bad- timing’.
If, after reading this article you feel the need to enrage yourself further, click here.