Two words, that have found themselves at the very forefront of the Internet this past weekend, but what exactly is it? Cultural appropriation is when an “appropriator” within a dominant cultural group, is not aware of the deep-rooted significance or connotations of a minority culture that they are partaking in, benefitting from and trying to pass of as their own, yet they continue to do so anyway. Nowadays it is impossible not to borrow something along the lines, hence why globalisation even exists, but, most times people don’t borrow; they steal.
Originally published on The Huffington Post.
For example, if an Indian woman were to walk down a street in busy area proudly wearing her sari, and a bindi, the chances are many would eventually begin to demonise her for being “different” and or not fitting in to western societal norms, however, supposing someone who was of a more dominant culture and background were to walk down that same street donning the same attire, the likelihood is they would be praised exponentially, and considered fashionable, yet they are indirectly exploiting the very culture it belongs to. Why is that always the case? Somebody else’s culture is not a fashion statement or costume; it is not cool just because you decided it was cool. In fact, appropriating culture comes without the strains of prejudice and discrimination faced by the aforementioned group and within the larger system of colonial whiteness, racism. It bypasses all of the insults, misogyny and oppression and only helps to perpetuate it in the long run, hence why avoiding it is so important.
This brings me to Coldplay and Beyoncé’s video for Hymn For The Weekend. Set in Mumbai, India, the video is wonderfully vibrant and technicolour, full of laughter, happiness and kaleidoscopic landscapes. Children lace the streets covered in bright powder and accompanied by fireworks and oil lamps on the day of Holi, the festival of colours, as the song celebrates the intoxication of love in a country that actually has lots of it, something the media never really shows. Beyoncé herself takes on a starring role as a Bollywood actress, depicted within a movie at the cinema entitled “Rani (Queen)” and dressed head to foot in a bright red sari, a headpiece and adorned with illustrious henna. Due care has been taken to ensure that the India we see here is accurate, non-stereotypical and not whitewashed, yet despite this, the video has been marred with a number of criticisms since its release on Friday.
A startling pattern I noticed was that the majority of critiques disseminating across the net were from those who were NOT Indian, yet who felt the need to speak on behalf of a culture which was not theirs. Being half-Indian myself, quite frankly I can tell you it was incredibly refreshing to see such a spectacular and evocative take on one half of my motherland which is not focused on the cacophony of poverty and the slums, avoiding the rather cliché and overused angle many videos and movies (such as Slumdog Millionaire) seem to take these days.
In fact, I loved the fact that Beyoncé herself had embraced the complete beauty of the culture in such a tasteful and delicate way, there is absolutely nothing disrespectful about it whatsoever. And for all the skeptics, if she was to take on the same role as a Bollywood actress WITHOUT the outfit, would you then deem that to be more acceptable or would you complain that she wasn’t immersing herself correctly? The term appropriation is void here and is more appropriate for instances in which the origins and or originators are taken out of the picture or side-lined, which in this case they are not. The video was also directed by an Indian himself, Ben Mor, and to add to that, the song and video is currently number one on iTunes in India, which should say something in itself.
What I also find interesting in terms of criticism is that no one seems to be holding anything against Coldplay, something that is a distinguishable pattern. To compare, where were the criticisms when Iggy Azalea donned several Indian outfits for absolutely no reason in her video for Bounce? What about when MØ and Major Lazer decided to use India as a colourful background for Lean On? Both songs are unrelated, and the Lean On video is a striking contrast, and is something that made me extremely uncomfortable due to the fact that in my view, India was used merely to create an inaccurate yet exotic-looking “foreign” aesthetic to seemingly fit the narrative. A huge telling point was when MØ herself was sat on the throne with the Indian women dancing around her, which in itself created such a false dichotomy of superiority. Yet people continue to use ableist rhetoric to absolve both artists from their responsibilities in the above examples.
But of course, God forbid Beyoncé dons a sari in a relevant music video where she is playing a Bollywood actress within a movie. Oh of course not, she should have just turned up to India in her jeans, a t-shirt, Louboutins and a straw hat for good measure. It’s ridiculous that people even have to state this, but in terms of whether she is culturally appropriating here, the answer would of course be no. For starters, how can Beyoncé, a black woman, appropriate another culture, which faces the same amount of daily discrimination and prejudice as HERS? The power structures in play are immensely different here, as not all cultures openly demonise the people they have borrowed from such as in this case. But the main point is, in this instance appropriation is void, as she is playing a Bollywood actress, therefore in my opinion it does not apply.
Whatever your view, I still see the Hymn for the Weekend video as a chance to create conversations and change people’s perceptions of India for the better. It’s time to learn the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation and this case? It’s most definitely appreciation.
Watch the video below: