Rihanna’s “Man Down” : The Jamaican Reality
Bajan born sensation Rihanna has finally released the much anticipated video for her single “Man Down”. The video, shot in Portland Jamaica, has been the subject of some amount of criticism. Individuals have complained that it is a negative portrayal of Jamaican life and the culture. I’m compelled to lend my humble opinion to the debate.
There comes a time when those of us who lead comfortable lives in our gated communities, and who seldom venture beyond Half Way Tree or Liguanea must come to the realisation that there is so much more to the Jamaican society. There are garrisons, ghettos and slums. There are rapists, murderers and dons. There are people what are deading befront dem fambily, befront dem madder and dem bredder. There are pit latrines and areas with no electricity or piped water. There are shacks, board houses and rampant poverty. In fact, 20% of the population live below the poverty line; that’s some 540,000 people. This is the Jamaican reality for so many. And according to STATIN and the PIOJ, the vast majority of this country is rural. Not urban. Not “UPT”. Rural.
Now Rihanna’s video.
The lyrics of the song are subject to interpretation, as it could have been understood to mean she “shot” a man down who was ‘looking’ her. That is, she turned him down. Or it could mean she was some bad gyal who shot a bwoy for offending her. The video chose to depict the latter. Considering the retro reggae and dancehall vybe to it, Jamaica was a fitting setting for the video shoot.
I’m dismayed that people are saying it casts Jamaica in a bad light. My limited powers of interpretation detected an effort to depict Jamaica in the 1970’s – 80’s. From the retro dancehall scenes and merinos to the zinc fences, I saw the garrisons of West Kingston in the 80’s. A time when rival political entities battled for the streets of Kingston. A time when, by all accounts, women were raped and subjected to the will of men who “ran” those streets, if you will.
And I’d go further to suggest that this still happens in 2011. I remember doing outreach in some of these communities and I was shocked out of my wits at the living conditions there. I couldn’t imagine living like that, but there are people who live like that. That’s their reality.
The National Integrity Forum, chaired by Professor Trevor Munro, airs an advertisement on local television every night during Prime Time News and this ad calls for the dismantling of garrison politics. There are three scenes in the ad:
- The first depicts a woman pulling her daughter to be “given” to the don with the stamp : Sexual Abuse and Intimidation. Did we see this in Rihanna’s video? Think about it.
- The second scene shows a woman being turned back by “thugs” with the stamp : No Freedom of Movement. Again, did we see depiction of Rihanna being held against her will? Think about it.
- In the final scene, shots ring out and a little boy, doing his homework, takes cover. Is that little boy the man down? I wonder.
I hope you’re seeing the links I’m seeking to create.
The National Integrity Forum depicts this reality in 2011 and Rihanna’s video conversely does the same. How is it a problem? Our own see and acknowledge these realities, where is Rihanna’s fault? I see none.
I’ve also considered if the fact that Rihanna is Bajan born factors into the criticisms. Now, hear me out before you dismiss it. Bajans are alleged to believe their society and culture is superior. I’m not saying this allegation against our friends down south is true, I’m just saying it exists. So could it be that because a Bajan dares depict Jamaica in that “negative” light we take offence? I mean, look at Junior Gong’s “Welcome to Jamrock”, I didn’t hear this kind of criticism and I struggle to recall something good being said about Jamaica in that song.
I can’t recall.
Movado has some video when he’s on a gully side, clearly in the middle of a garrison, and no one said anything.
Etana has videos depicting the harsh reality of August Town, and no one said anything. Why not? Is it that only Jamaicans can criticise Jamaican culture? Have we forgotten the movies ‘Better Must Come’, ‘Dancehall Queen’ and ‘Shottaz’? Have we forgotten “walk and live, talk and b2mbo%laat dead”? How quickly we forget. There is a certain and steady hypocrisy in this and I reject it.
Finally, Rihanna’s video, in my opinion, portrays nothing that didn’t or doesn’t exist in the Jamaican reality. For those of us who live “uptown” and take offence to the depiction, travel below Cross Roads, spend a night in a garrison community and read Professor Brian Meeks’ works on Jamaican politics and society in the 1970’s and 80’s. I’m sorry to report that Rihanna’s Man Down is simply the Jamaican reality… for many… far too many.