I love Florence + the Machine. I discovered her a little late, some time after “Dog Days are Over” had hit it big in North America. Her voice is incredible and her songwriting is amazing, orchestral, all-encompassing, overwhelming. But maybe I should say I loved Florence – after seeing her latest music video for her latest single from Ceremonials, “No Light, No Light,” I’m just not sure.
With warnings for racism, white and Christian supremacy, here’s the video:
Description: Florence Welch, a thin, light-skinned woman, dreamily reaches for a crystal skull. Interspersed with this footage is a muscular, shirtless, dark-skinned person wearing a purple mask covering their face, sitting on a throne surrounded by candles, then jumping down and scampering on all fours to a Voodoo doll on the floor. There is a children’s choir inside a church singing the choral parts of the song’s chorus. Florence is seen on the edge of a tall building, apparently considering jumping. The dark-skinned person stabs the Voodoo doll and Florence flinches. The dark-skinned person rips off their mask and begins a writhing, flailing dance, revealing that it is a man in full-body blackface. The man continues to dance and stab the Voodoo doll, causing Florence to flinch and eventually fall from the building. As she falls, the scene changes to show her running away from a person in blackface (their outfit is different from the first man’s, but it may be the same person). Florence-on-the-street runs while falling-Florence hurtles toward the ground. The children in the church choir look up toward the stained-glass ceiling and reach their arms up. Florence falls through the stained glass in slow-motion, as light breaks through and she stretches her arms out, Christ-like, landing softly among the children, who bear her across them in her cross position. The man in blackface writhes, clutching his chest as if in pain. It is implied that he’s having a heart attack. Florence is lowered to a resting position and closes her eyes.
The blatant racism in this video is, well, blatant. In point form, some of the issues:
• Blackface. BLACKFACE!
• The depiction of Voodoo as a “wild,” “primitive,” “evil” religion or practice is an old and pervasive trope.
• Voodoo vs. Christianity is an obvious dark vs. light setup. Christianity saves, “primitive” religions are scary.
• The whole thing is a dark vs. light, evil vs. good setup that isn’t just suggestive of racism, it’s HITTING YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH IT.
• The man in blackface is half-dressed and dances with abandon, then chases Florence down the street. Black male sexuality as savage, uninhibited, and a constant threat to virtuous white women is another old, pervasive trope.
• Um. BLACK. EFFING. FACE.
Predictably, there is some discussion on the Internet about the video, which was just released a few days ago. The comments on the official YouTube video are, also predictably, disappointing. People have expressed that the video is racist, but they’re shouted down by apologists who insist that it’s art, that it’s just symbolism (no one’s arguing that it isn’t), that people who claim it’s racist are themselves racist (heyyy reverse racism card!). Gems from the YouTube comments include:
“it isn’t BLACK FACE it’s a person painted black to represent evil”
“The guy is DARK NEON GREEN. Flo even said this herself. Even then, BLACK symbolizes darkness (The song is called ‘No Light, No Light’ for heaven sake) He personifies darkness and evil. He is not literally a man. Therefore he has NO race.”
“Anyone who wants to think Florence is racist clearly just stumbled upon this video to watch since it’s new. They apparentely aren’t really hardcore fans because if you were you’d know she has many many friends who are black, and she talks on her twitter about the “green gremlin” chasing her in this video. It was never meant to be racist-blame the people who did the black guy’s makeup for not turning him green enough I guess because everyone is so focused on the racial background of the actor.”
Fortunately, there is some real talk out there. Change.org has a petition for an apology and/or deletion. There’s stuff all over Tumblr on both sides (racism vs. art). This is the best post I’ve found on the topic, but as Tumblr does, the conversation is evolving all the time.
Blog note: we’re not going to entertain comments that argue the video isn’t racist. Our blog, our rules. Instead, let’s talk about what this means. Will this help to get people to understand that blackface is never cool? Does this change your opinion about Florence + the Machine as an artist? What does it mean when people whose art we admire do crappy things we can’t condone?