Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” music video attempts to make a declaration about third-wave feminism (and big butts), but falls into the intersectional trap of the hyper-sexualized black woman.
Over the past few years, artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj have been making a very important, collective statement about the strength that stems from embracing your body. Minaj’s “Anaconda” video continues in this vein, to the point of excess. Yes, it’s her ass and she can do what she wants with it, but she’s only in the clear if we can answer “Who’s benefitting from this?” without needing to take a shower.
White women owning their sexuality is portrayed as an empowering ideal, but the sexualization of black women has much more sinister undertones.* The major difference is that white women had their desires suppressed for centuries while black women’s sexuality was a major component of their oppression, particularly during slavery. Nearly two centuries later, a black woman’s body continues to serve the purpose of generating profit for white men.
As mentioned by Kara Brown, the video is mostly devoid of the male gaze, but Colin Tilley, the rising hip hop music video director, controls the final image. Thus, every close-up of a derriere and every sexy pose struck at the camera was aimed at a white male, under his direction. Combine this with the countless male executives cashing checks based on Anaconda’s success and you start feeling stickier than Minaj’s cleavage towards the end of the video.
Within these confines, however, Minaj manages to make the video as much about women as possible:
- The song itself encourages curvy women to be proud of their assets.
- The titular, phallic anaconda makes one appearance at the beginning of the video and does not touch her or any of her rainbow of dancers.
- The spilled coconut milk can read as semen on a first watch, but aligns more accurately with breast milk.
- Not every woman in the video receives this luxury, but Minaj makes sure that her entire or most of her body is visible in every shot (minus a product placement shoe close-up). This frees her from the dehumanizing process of body part close-ups women are often subjected to in the media.
- Minaj’s sensual interactions with her dancers employ a queer female gaze.
The queer female gaze tends to stir up the most controversy because it removes the heterosexual male from the experience and control. When Minaj goes to deep throat the most commonly used phallic food, the banana, there are several quick cuts to her breaking a cucumber in half, cutting a banana, and throwing a whole banana away with disgust. After three minutes of twerking, scantily clad women, and Nicki Minaj dousing herself with
semen whipped cream, she literally cuts the penis out of the equation. It’s a stealthy few seconds of “fuck the patriarchy” that I didn’t even fully see until my 12th viewing.
Enter Drake: the only male in the video. While many people criticize the suddenly submissive Minaj, this portion of the video showcases how women can dominate men with their sexuality. The second Drake touches her behind, he receives a slap and lap dance (as well as the video) is over. This suggests that Drake is representative of the male viewers and their desires don’t matter to her. To me, it says “yeah, you just saw a lot of my ass, but you still can’t touch it because that’s my prerogative.”
While I don’t agree with level of visual stimulation or the song’s “skinny bitch” shaming, I can definitely appreciate the steps that were taken to make this a very self-aware music video. In an entertainment climate wrought with ignorant cultural appropriation, it’s nice to see that some artists are thinking about what they display for the world.
*I do not speak for other women of color because I am less familiar with their experience via anecdotal or scientific research.
Photo Source: “Anaconda” Music Video