Rihanna's "Man Down" video opens fire on the subject of rape and gets blasted by detractors

Categories: Pop Music

There's been a lot of talk about Rhianna's controversial new video for the song "Man Down." If you haven't seen it, Rihanna shoots a man who is shown to be her rapist with a gun she calls "Peggy Sue." The scene opens in a crowded area with a shot of her assailant-turned-victim, and Rihanna, who emerges from the shadows holding a gun. Then with more emotion on her face than she showed in her Diane Sawyer interview about her real life abuse, Rhianna pulls the trigger and smokes his ass in cold blood.

Cut to the lively, up-tempo track showing the Bajan beauty just yesterday, wandering the streets of her neighborhood, being just one of the "regular girls." The directors do take care to paint her as a flirty, sexy temptress -- she smiles and flirts with boys, gives a long phallic draw on a straw inserted into a fresh coconut -- and of course, the party scene, where the initial meeting with the abuser takes place.

She dances sexily all over the room, with ease, even winding and grinding with her attacker, in what appears to be innocent fun. She gives the very specific "no" gesture, and walks away from him and leaves the party. He trails her, and that's where the implied sexual assault takes place.A frantic Rihanna is seen running down a dirt path, where she retrieves a gun and then boom! That's that. Rum-pum-pump-pum.

Musically, this might be one of the best joints Rihanna has released in a long while. She's vocally right in the middle of her reggae influences and lets her accent take over the song, and it's pretty fucking tight. Her critics largely wanted her to make a statement about domestic abuse, rather than rape and frankly, she's just not in a position to do so. This song -- coming on the heels of her hot single "S&M," in which she breathlessly sings about whips and chains exciting her -- is not a story Rihanna has to publicly subscribe to. She didn't want to tell "her" story, she wanted to tell many womens' stories. Unfortunately, one of the easiest ways to string together commonalities in women is with rape as a storyline.

Throughout the whole Chris Brown/Rihanna debacle, I stayed indifferent to Rihanna's healing process. She talked about it in vague, round-about ways, and only really when it was beneficial to her, making it hard to believe any contrived artistic themes she came out with after the fact. Example: "I'm so Hard." Yeah. Okay.

"Man Down," though, seems like a hysterical, cathartic fantasy played out with a different storyline, so that her pain can continue to largely remain anonymous. Regardless, Rihanna got down with this, and if there is any place where she should be given credit, it should be for opening the dialogue about rape and sexuality on a broader scale.

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Bree Davies
Bree Davies

I appreciate your conversation on the cathartic way this video may be working for her, and you're right; how Rihanna has chosen (or not chosen) to publicly heal from a very personal, invasive and violent situation is for her and her alone. I don't give a shit if she's a public figure -- she has the right to heal. And for us -- the viewers, the critics, the fans, and the hundreds of thousands who don't get a public platform to speak about our own rapes and crimes committed against our bodies, I think she has done something so powerful: Rihanna put it on the table. Just because we exist in a pro-rape, anti-victim culture doesn't mean we have to accept it as the status quo. 

To me, the most powerful part of this video was the juxtaposition between her as a "temptress" (and as you pointed out, with the phallic straw and what is often perceived as "asking for it" behavior in the club and on the street) and her as the same temptress who is ALLOWED TO SAY NO. I see this video as a great dialog opener for movements like the Slutwalk movement -- because if Rihanna can visually say, hey, my clothes and my behavior didn't "get" me raped, A RAPIST RAPED ME, then maybe more of us will have the power to say the same thing. Maybe even out loud, and with force and power, for the first time. 

Thanks, Ru, for writing this. 


RiRi , you so crazy


I think RiRi's love for S&M should not be conflated with her being a domestic abuse victim nor used to discredit her. What you like do with a partner in a *safe* and *consensual* situation is not the same as being victimized physically or sexually by someone you know or a stranger. There are no safe words to get an abuser to stop hitting you - it's a completely different situation. I find it problematic that her sexual proclivities are even being brought up in the media regards to this video. That being said, this video doesn't disturb me. It's a revenge fantasy and as the recent NYC police rape case showed us the courts aren't interested in protecting women's bodies so maybe we have to do it ourselves.


 The reason for her sexual proclivities were brought up is to contrast, as I think they were trying to do in the video, that one's sexual proclivities, or lack thereof, really have nothing to do with the likelihood of one being raped. Good points you made though. Totally with you.


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