martial arts exploitation


[Content Note: Discussion of violence, abuse, and kidnapping.]

A couple of quick thoughts on Rihanna’s new video, which is genius.

It’s being criticized by some white feminists as anti-feminist/misogynist, but, frankly, a strong case can be made for why it is, in fact, deeply feminist, not despite the violence that’s depicted, but because of it. And what it conveys.

The whole premise is that she tries to get revenge on this white dude who has stolen her money by taking his most prized possession–his wife. She then proceeds to treat her like a literal piece of meat, stringing her up like a side of beef. Which is an explicit and not remotely subtle commentary on how white supremacist patriarchy treats women.

And the “punchline” is: HE DOESN’T CARE. He just uses the money he’s stolen from Rihanna to buy more women.

Because when women are things, if you lose one, you just acquire more.

Meanwhile, his wife has actually been freed, and starts having fun with her captors. That is a key scene–the scene of her getting high and laughing and becoming part of the gang of women.

And then, one imagines, although it is not explicitly depicted, they all go and kill him. And Rihanna bathes in his blood and money. The end.

How is that not awesome?

But there’s more than just the story.

Visually, there are a number of references to revenge films like “Kill Bill,” which itself is an homage to martial arts and exploitation films. Except: In those films, female heroes tend to have been turned into superheroes by being brutalized by men. (Tarantino is a repeat offender in the “rape turns women into superheroes” trope.) Here, we aren’t subjected to seeing Rihanna’s revenge hero be harmed in order to establish her motivation. Her motivation is her own damn agency. That’s radical.

It’s subtle, because it’s about something that doesn’t happen, but it’s incredibly subversive.

Then there’s the subplot with the cop, from whom they barely conceal their kidnapping plot. He can obviously see what’s happening, but he doesn’t care, because he wants to fuck Rihanna.

That cop? Is played by Eric Roberts, who basically spent the entirety of the 90s under arrest for domestic violence. 

A number of feminist critics are gnashing their teeth about Rihanna being a survivor of domestic violence who is now making a misogynist video. (Which is a gross invocation of her abuse in order to shame her.) But–no surprise–in addition to being assholes, they’re missing all of the nuance of the video.

Eric Roberts, a real-life domestic abuser, plays a cop who ignores a woman being harmed because he wants to ingratiate himself to the person harming her? Yeah, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. No subtext there.

Rihanna is extraordinarily fucking clever. And totally underestimated by white feminists who think their role is to audit her work, rather than listen to what she’s saying.