Rihanna shot a man to death in her music video ….

So what?

The television industry was recently up in arms over Rihanna’s racy promo for “Man Down,” saying that the opening scene where she murders a man in the center of town is unwarranted and inappropriate for network television.

In the video, shots of life in an underdeveloped and impoverished Third World are cut with others featuring celebratory African and Caribbean dancing by young Black girls.

The camera then pans over many images of boys learning to obsess over guns, machetes and other weapons of domination while their male role models look on smugly.

Rihanna’s character enters an underground club, which looks more like a modern juke joint, and begins to dance with a man who is begging her attention.

After she dances and flirts with the man, she snatches away from his sexual advances and decides to leave. As Rihanna begins to strut down the street on her way home, she is apprehended by the man from the club and is sexually assaulted in the middle of a backwoods alley.

The beginning of the video shows Rihanna violently shoot her victimizer in broad daylight before taking us on whirlwind night in the life of a sexual assault victim. And all that network television has asked is, “was it really necessary for Rihanna to pull the trigger?”

There were many statements made from interest groups and networks, including MTV and BET, who had initially considered banning the video due to the graphic murder scene.

Interestingly enough, a member of the Parent’s Television Council (PTC) mentioned, “If Chris Brown shot a woman in his new video and BET premiered it, the world would stop. Rihanna should not get a pass.”

The parallel of Rihanna and Chris Brown is unwarranted on many counts. Of course, Brown’s video would put the world on pause, given his violent assault against Rihanna, expensive cars and television studio green rooms. Further, the PTC failed to correlate the reality that women, not men, around the world are still marginalized as a majority-minority group and often left voiceless.
Young Black women must have the freedom to produce art that challenges the confines of a historically patriarchal world, particularly when females age 12 to 24 are at the highest risk for rape and sexual assaults.

Yet and still, for those of us who decide to critique the artistic endeavors of these artists, it’s always a matter of context.

Contemporary artists are still in the tradition of creating message art, sometimes most poignantly through violent imagery.

In the music video for Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat,” she is viciously assassinated after stripping her clothes off during a midday stroll through downtown Dallas. Badu recently explained to VIBE the metaphoric murder scene, “Once you walk a path and you shed all the things and labels that people put on you–the things they teach you in school and church–you are vulnerable and naked to an assassination.”

Badu’s artistic approach has always been thought provoking and is merely an example of why Black artists shouldn’t be shunned for challenging societal norms.

The implications of banning the “Man Down” video are that our youth aren’t smart enough to decipher social art. Removing these social messages actually hinders young Black boys and girls from exposure to the realities of issues like sexual assault.

Above all, to assert that young Black viewers aren’t prepared enough to assess a video that uses violence as a means of social statement is to admit that more aggressive education is a necessity in Black America.

Is it Rihanna’s duty to teach a classroom lecture to children about the effects of violence against women? No.

The duty belongs to us to use her gripping art as a contemporary tool to communicate subjugation, sexism, patriarchy and sexual assaults with our children.

I’m proud of Rihanna for finally showing agency in allowing her vastly successful music career to take a direction that sees her call attention to social issues that affect our generation.
She had to pull the trigger. Boom!

James B. Golden is a Los Angeles-based music journalist. He has previously edited the Hip Hop Think Tank academic journal and Kapu-Sens Literary Magazine. He is the author of a Hip Hop poetry collection entitled “Sweet Potato Pie Underneath The Sun’s Broiler.” He may be reached at www.JamesBGolden.com.