Is Florence + The Machine's "No Light, No Light" Video Racist?


Well, let's see: Asian man in blackface performing voodoo stereotypes, chasing after the virginal white woman who beats the native threat with the salvation of Jesus. That's not racist at all! Take a look:

There is literally nothing about this video that isn't steeped in the most dangerous colonial stereotypes. Florence is explicitly styled as a Pre-Raphaelite Mary Magdalene, and we witness her literal fall. Her safe relationship with God is threatened by the evil natives and their evil religion.

It's everything that's terrible about European colonialism over the centuries, all wrapped up in a very ugly bow. It's not even a specific native that's threatening her, it's a composite native. An Asian in blackface!

Let's forget the fact that blackface is never ok, unless you're making a specific point about the wrongness of blackface (see Mad Men, Tropic Thunder) or you're playing the role respectfully.

Let's ignore the fact that this video engages with specific racial stigmas that have been used to downplay the autonomy of natives in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Let's even ignore the rabid anti-feminism at the very core of the plotline.

What's MOST offensive is the fact that this concept went past the artist, her musicians, the director, the sound crew, the film crew, the lighting tech, the CGI people, and the record company executives and NO ONE PUT A STOP TO IT.

Flail away in the comments.

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8 Responses to “ Is Florence + The Machine's "No Light, No Light" Video Racist? ”

  1. I have a racism question, is it racist to advertise your mobile telephone company with a character called 'The Indian' who has a bollywoodesque theme tune and wears a turban? Or is it all just a a joke and we should stop being so over sensitive? I literaly don't know, I find all this internet racism sexism stuff very confusing to understand what I am allowed to think is OK.

    The wonderful thing is that 'The Indian' himself actually works as a choreographer when he isn't being in adverts, so i imagine he just decided to go for the money and sod the possible racial stereotyping.

  2. I don't find that offensive, because it's clearly a homage to Bollywood music videos.

    Also, stereotyping isn't the same as racism. Stereotyping is lazy, and racism is malicious.

  3. But this advert and the others with this guy in like this:

    Aren't they encouraging people (especially the less cosmopolitan austrians) to think of all indian-looking people as turban wearing bollywood dancers? I mean if I was talking to someone who looked like that guy and starting miming bollywood moves at him that's pretty offensive? Ugh it's all so confusing.

  4. In honesty, that's so much less offensive than the India that's constantly put forward in western films like Slumdog Millionaire (look how dirty and poor they are!)

  5. RACISM! WHERE?  Flo is a woman who has just gotten out of a relationship. She still loves this person so she holds on to his memory and all the negative energy that came with their relationship. It is making her self destructive, the asian man painted dark green with bright red lips tries to help her through a Balinese ritual dance called a sanghyang but she refuses because that's all she has at this point. So he uses the doll to weaken her and force her to see reason.


  6. "Let's forget the fact that blackface is never ok, unless you're making a specific point about the wrongness of blackface..."

    1) Says who?  (And I say this without aggression or animosity.)
    2) How do we know for certain that this a case of blackface?  Let us remember that the intention behind blackface is to create a caricature of Black Americans, traditionally as the "happy field darky" or "dandified coon", etc.  So there was a semblance to voodoo.  Does that affirm that this is blackface or that the intention behind painting a Asian dude in black is for the express purpose of creating a demeaning caricature of Black America?
       a) this is not to say that seeing people in blackface, even when not intending to caricature Blacks, isn't annoying or even insulting:
    3) Does this mean that everybody and anybody who paints his entire body in black is subject to being categorized as blackface, or that these people shouldn't even dare unless they make it absolutely clear that they are in no way caricaturing Black Americans?

    In the vein of "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it", I may not agree with the way some artists express themselves or their work, but I will defend to the death their right to do so.  Just like I will defend to the death your right to say that the music video was frakked up.

    Who knows if it was Flo's intent to be racist or not? 

    What makes creative expression so alive is its potential to push boundaries and even create discomfort with current and previously held tenants and beliefs. 

    Think of the works of Kara Walker.  Or even Madonna's "Like a Prayer" or Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" videos.  Beyond the fact that many found them offensive when they first came out, they might have served a purpose in helping our own prejudices, hypocrisies and denials bubble to the surface so that an oft-ignored conversation can spark. 

    I don't personally hold this video to THAT high of an esteem, but you get the idea. 

    I guess I find it more counterproductive than productive when we find ourselves sucked into an argument of "Well, she shouldn't because that sh*t's offensive!" 

    When we move past programmed responses of offense upon being triggered by an image, a lyric or a an intent, we'll find ourselves in much more intellectually and spiritually juicy territory.

  7. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I haven't been ignoring it, I just needed to give it some thought.
    1. First of all, while I did focus on the racial element, I was much more disturbed by the "christ saves us all" aspect of the video, which was magnified by the fact that the "other" was a colonial (and not just one colonial, but an amalgamation of black and Asian colonials, which is offensive bc it's saying hey, all people who aren't white are interchangeable).
    2. The Like A Prayer video was intended to provoke a conversation (esp when you consider that Jesus was not white at all), while the "voodoo" themes do perpetuate certain false stereotypes about Haitian culture and the actual voodoo religion. I think that's a fair definition of blackface, that it's offensive when it perpetuates false stereotypes.
    3. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" is absolutely a motto of mine. That said, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't hold a mirror up to artists who behave in ways we find problematic. I would never deny her right to make this video, I just think it's generically offensive in ways that I'm surprised by.
    4. That we don't know whether Florence is aware that it's racist or not makes it all the more important to speak out. I love her music, and I'd really like to know her side of the story. Barring that, I can only call it as I see it.
    5. I think the most important thing is to recognize that things can be problematic but we can still enjoy them. To be honest, I was more triggered by the odd defenses of the video than by the video itself ("BUT IT'S ART! THERE CAN NEVER BE ANYTHING MALICIOUS IN ART!") Like you, I enjoy the conversations provoked, but I think there needs to be an acceptance of those conversations existing.

  8. Well, thank you for such an engaging response!

    1) This is probably a juicy example of the subjectivity of perception.  One could watch the same video and see "Christ saves Flo", "It takes little White Christian boys to save the damned soul of a redheaded she-devil" or "aren't these special effects AMAZING?  I wonder what parts utilized green screen."

    Also, it'd be easier to perceive this as an essay on the boons of colonialism, but I don't see any colonial references. 

    The clearer references are more religious and spiritual than colonial, though I can see how one can say, "Hey, in the video -- White - civilized.  Black/Yellow - barbaric."

    2) What's more offensive?  The perpetuation of false stereotypes or the perpetuation of true stereotypes? 

    The Chinese drivers in Rowland Heights and the San Gabriel Valley are pretty friggin reckless, I ain't gonna lie.  My mom's lived in this country for over 30 years and she still can't speak perfect English, I ain't gonna lie. 

    Cultural and historical inaccuracies are really annoying.  Especially for those in the know. 

    Remember the early episodes of LOST where Jin and Sun are in a flashback of "Korea", but what it really is, is a antiquated Oriental tea garden with pagodas and such?  And I think Sun was actually wearing a Chinese dress or collar of some sort.  The flashbacks got "better" in the later seasons, but their "Korean" apartments were still overwrought with ornate Chinese lacquered furniture and stuff that looked like it belonged in a Chinese restaurant.

    Annoyingly inaccurate, considering that Seoul is way more metropolitan and tech-oriented than even Los Angeles. 

    Still, I didn't get mad at LOST creators for getting it wrong.  (And here's where I'll put out my ethnic studies card.)  Because I recognized that they did not intend to oppress or demonize Asians.  Even when they had Jin portrayed as horribly abusive towards his cowering and meek wife in season 1.  If anything, it just revealed much more about their limited perceptions as White Americans than it did about Koreans or Korean cultural normalities.

    Lesson to TV writers: don't think you can accurately write about Asians just because you like Chinatown, unless you're cool with being schooled by the response of the internet. 

    For me, it was just an annoying case of a White suburbanite speaking 90s ebonics.  It was just embarrassing.  For them.

    Plus, if they are writing about an experience that doesn't belong to them, I can't expect for them to get it exactly right. 

    3. Mirror, mirror on the wall.  Yes, but of course.  I concur absolutely.

    4. And that's what's so friggin beautiful about los internets.

    5. Hey, don't let the comments from the peanut gallery bother you none.  And hey, weren't you allergic to peanuts?  Look, I learned a long hard battle from blogging, too.  When it comes to comments that are illogical or just obliquely idiotic: DO NOT ENGAGE.  Unless you need to vent or let off some pent up steam. 


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