The music video for Taylor Swift’s single “Wildest Dreams” has stoked controversy since its release for perceived racial insensitivity. Set against a mid-20th century African backdrop, the video tells the story of a forbidden love while seemingly whitewashing an era characterized by racial strife.
Swift portrays an actress who falls in love with a handsome, white actor amongst an overwhelmingly white film crew on an African safari film set. Lions, giraffes and elephants prance around freely in the background and the camera pans out to show the breathtaking view of a waterfall. The video’s opulence serves to numb the audience to the ugly legacy of imperialism, colonialism and apartheid in Africa.
Colonialism is not beautiful. Apartheid is not enchanting. Swift ignores the fact that during the time period in which her video takes place, millions of black South Africans were forced out of their homes, had their property sold and were denied access to the same resources as whites in their country.
Black South Africans during this time were pushed into a vicious cycle of poverty that still exists today. Swift ignores this history by not casting a single actor of color in her video and by innocuously portraying the white people in the video as beautiful, wealthy movie stars.
In her videos, Swift’s love interests tend to be white men whose presence is so ubiquitous that it is hard to notice that she even casts a different actor each time. As long as Swift perpetuates this undercurrent of white supremacy in her songs and music videos, racism will remain visible in pop culture.
Not all white female artists disregard people of color in their videos, however. Lana Del Rey’s music videos differ drastically from Swift’s because she casts people of color in main roles. In the video “National Anthem,” Del Rey portrayed Jacqueline Kennedy alongside A$AP Rocky—a black man—as President John F. Kennedy. When will Swift have a love interest that is not a white Prince Charming?
Swift should be held accountable for her “Wildest Dreams” video because she has a strong presence in pop culture. She needs to understand the importance of being respectful to other cultures—something that seems to have slipped her mind with this video that blatantly ignores Africa’s colonial history.
While Swift is in the midst of a wildly successful music career, being able to form educated opinions on world issues is critical for her credibility not only as a singer, but also as a respected artist and musician in the 21st century.