It turns out, taking something from a black man and making it about a white woman is going to upset some people. Who could have predicted that?
Nicole Arbour’s “This Is America: Women’s Edit” takes the structure and format of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and alters the lyrics to make it about women’s issues. This has set off a wave of criticism about cheapening Donald Glover’s video for her own popularity.
While Arbour is definitely talking about real issues faced by American women, it’s certainly not subtle. The argument is that what made Childish Gambino’s video great was its ability to use eclectic visuals and dance moves to momentarily distract you from the violence going on in the background — and this works as a commentary on everyday life in America. Conversely, Arbour’s video is being pretty blunt about its message — here are the complaints about being a woman in America, and we’re just going to tell it using the exact style of Glover’s video.
The backlash has been swift and fierce, and people have also been sharing some old, deleted tweets of hers, which say things like: “Every time I see black people even speak to each other I yell “World Star!!” and start recording on my cell… Whatever it’s a fun game,” and “Sometimes I fantasize about being a black person so I could be in a movie playing a character who overcame being black and win an Oscar.”
She also just wrote, on May 4th, in a now-deleted tweet: “I’m so sick of people mad at slavery. It’s the past, we weren’t there. We didn’t do it. But what we CAN do is fix economic slavery. Focus on the now.”
Arbour has since updated the video’s description to defend herself. It reads, in part: “The purpose of my rendition was to honour the spirit of the video which absolutely moved me, by adding my and many women’s life experiences and truths to the brave and brutal truths expressed in the original.” She also writes: “I firmly believe the best thing that can happen in America and North America right now is for everyone to create their own version of this video and show what life is like from their side. Through this honesty, I believe we can discover a new level of empathy and understanding for each other that will ultimately and finally lead us to healing and unity that is desperately needed in society.”
That quote really shows Arbour doesn’t understand the backlash. It’s fine to create a video talking about the struggles of living as a woman in America, but to utilize the virality of another clip that’s laser-focused on being about the struggle of black people is precisely what is offending people.
Producer and voiceover artist Bethany Watson puts it nicely: “The best thing that can happen is NOT for everyone to create their own version of #ThisIsAmerica. You don’t get to co-opt @donaldglover’s art just because it’s popular right now. Come up with your own idea if you’re feeling this strongly about speaking out.”
Now, Nicole Arbour has kind of made her living being a professional agitator, so it’s a little disingenuous for her to act surprised at the backlash. Her most watched video is still “Dear Black People” from 2015, which intentionally pushes back against allegations of insensitivity and appropriation. And, she followed that up with a series of videos called “Dear Fat People” and you can guess what those were all about…
A parody of “This Is America” was inevitable — it’s just a shame it came in such a poorly-wrapped, oblivious package. But, what do you guys think? Could Nicole Arbour have made a more original video to make her points? Let us know in the comments.
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