Rapper Nicki Minaj released a video for her track “Only, ”featuring fellow rappers Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown on Nov. 7. The video sparked immediate controversy due to its use of imagery closely resembling that of the Nazi Party. In the “Only” video, Minaj is depicted as a cartoon dictator with masses of obedient soldiers sporting red armbands, which stand out from the black-and-white video’s color scheme. The militaristic themes, as well as the gas mask over Lil Wayne’s face, make it obvious that Minaj’s video is glorifying Nazi imagery.
As a Minaj fan, I was extremely disappointed while watching “Only.” Nazi imagery presented in a glorified way is deeply anti-Semitic and offensive. Minaj has since issued an apology for the content of the video. Director Jeff Osborne, however, has insisted that he was inspired by Nazi imagery and is unapologetic about it.
Some fans admitted that the Nazi imagery was wrong, but defended Minaj by saying that she was only trying to portray herself as a dictator to show that she is powerful. While it is important to make it understood that making light of Nazism should rightfully be condemned, it is also important to further investigate the intent of the video.
Many feminists admire Minaj’s frankness about sexism. It’s clear that she did intend to make a statement about her power as a woman in this song. It begins with her proclaiming that she has never slept with Drake or Lil Wayne, addressing rumors that she used sex to get where she is today—a common accusation thrown at successful women. She talks about sex acts where she’s the recipient of sexual pleasure, in contrast to how women are normally portrayed.
Seeing these feminist statements played over a video of glorified Nazi imagery is disturbing––it conflates a woman fighting against oppression with a woman becoming oppressive. While the Nazi imagery is anti-Semitic and harmful, any kind of dictator imagery associated with feminism strikes me as negative. Feminism is not about singular women gaining the power to oppress.
It is important to show girls that they can be powerful, but also to analyze what that power is used for. “Empowerment” seems to have become the buzzword associated with feminism lately. The end of sexism is thought to lie within the empowerment of individual women to become political leaders, corporate executives and other influential roles.
There is another word associated with feminism that has a different connotation: “liberation.” While empowerment involves individual women filling powerful roles in institutions that are often oppressive to both women and other groups, liberation involves freeing society of this oppressiveness of said institutions—not an easy task, but a worthy goal.
Do we want dictators as the protagonists of our “strong woman” narratives? A “female Hitler” is not a positive image, but this video is the logical extension of feminism that advocates for women in positions of power, rather than being critical of the notion of oppressive power.
A female president who does not advocate for the rights of working women, a female CEO who does not crackdown on sexual harassment––powerful women who do not use their power to help the cause of women have less to do with feminism and more to do with personal gain. If powerful women support policies that are racist, homophobic or otherwise oppressive, this is not positive for feminism. To promote gender equality and then turn around and promote anti-Semitism or any other kind of bigotry does no good. Feminism is about the liberation of all women, not just a privileged few.
Minaj should certainly recognize the harmful, anti-Semitic implications of her video. It is very positive that she promotes herself as a powerful woman. I hope, however, that women with positions in politics, business and the media strive for the liberation of all women and not for dictator-like, individual power. We need role models to show girls that they should embrace their power—power that should be used to smash the thrones of dictators rather than to try and sit in them.