The music video for Taylor Swift’s latest song “Wildest Dreams,” a tragic love story set in Africa in the 1950s, features almost no Africans. The video has been criticized not only for its whitewashing but also for playing into almost every stereotype about the continent. After Quartz wrote about the video, a representative for Swift contacted us to point out that there are black people in the video. Black actors appear fleetingly in the background of scenes.
Swift’s publicist sent Quartz this explanation from the video’s director, Joseph Kahn:
Wildest Dreams is a song about a relationship that was doomed, and the music video concept was that they were having a love affair on location away from their normal lives. This is not a video about colonialism but a love story on the set of a period film crew in Africa, 1950.
There are black Africans in the video in a number of shots, but I rarely cut to crew faces outside of the director as the vast majority of screen time is Taylor and Scott. The video is based on classic Hollywood romances like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as classic movies like The African Queen, Out of Africa and The English Patient, to name a few.
The reality is not only were there people of color in the video, but the key creatives who worked on this video are people of color. I am Asian American, the producer Jil Hardin is an African American woman, and the editor Chancler Haynes is an African American man. We cast and edited this video. We collectively decided it would have been historically inaccurate to load the crew with more black actors as the video would have been accused of rewriting history. This video is set in the past by a crew set in the present and we are all proud of our work.
There is no political agenda in the video. Our only goal was to tell a tragic love story in classic Hollywood iconography. Furthermore, this video has been singled out, yet there have been many music videos depicting Africa. These videos have traditionally not been lessons in African history. Let’s not forget, Taylor has chosen to donate all of her proceeds from this video to the African Parks Foundation to preserve the endangered animals of the continent and support the economies of local African people.
Sign up for the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief — the most important and interesting news from across the continent, in your inbox.