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A Response to Director Joseph Kahn's Defense Of Taylor Swift's "Wildest Dreams" Video

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Joseph Kahn, the director of Taylor Swift's new Africa-set music video "Wildest Dreams", has responded to claims that the short film has racist connotations, saying that to have included more black people would've been "historically inaccurate." Frankly, his defense is super disappointing.

Because while the overall concept was obviously inspired by Hollywood cinema à la Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa, that doesn't mean a video made in 2015 has to make the same mistakes as its predecessors. You know, the kind of mistakes that blatantly forget to put black people in a film set in, uh, Africa and perpetuate gross romanticization of the kind of white-washed colonial fetishism that revolves around the erasure of colored bodies and voices?


But what makes this especially disheartening is the fact that Kahn, as an Asian-American in the industry, should know that racial representation is essential and that our media landscape has a long way to go before we can ever consider it "equal."

And while Kahn said in his statement that the video's "diverse" creative team (which included him and African-American producer Jil Hardin and editor Chancler Haynes) "collectively decided it would have been historicially inaccurate to load the crew with more black actors," it seems highly unlikely that anyone would have accused them of "rewriting history" in the name of 21st century political correctness and fair representation.

Besides, it's pretty easy to argue that the reason a lot of people become creators is to influence and re-imagine history for themselves. It's sure as hell why I wanted to write, to help change the general perception of Asian-American women as meek, quiet and un-opinionated. 

As a fellow Korean-American, this hits extra-close to home because even though Kahn jokes that we can't be racist because we're a minority, he has to realize that Asian-Americans are in a relatively different position, largely because of the "model minority" stereotype. It's the kind of position that means the way we cause the most harm is by staying silent in the white versus minorities debate -- unwilling to weigh in, rock the boat and stand up for other POC from our ivory towers of semi-successful "assimilation."

Because while we're not actively in danger (at least in the same way our black and brown friends are), we're still oppressed by the same institutionalized racism that allows for the erasure of POC narratives, albeit in a less violent, overt way. These are the same forces that allow people to assume that we're nothing but quiet, hard workers, easily domitable and not leaders and it's our job to show people at every opportunity that we (along with other long-ignored minorities) have a voice and opinions that matter. It's equally important to join in the fight for fellow POC by using our opportunities to give a voice to other minority groups without the same circumstances. That's why it felt like such a missed opportunity to change the narrative and actually produce something inclusive and diverse.

While Kahn is under no obligation to do these things or to use his art as social justice, it would be wonderful if he used his reach and influence to create videos that celebrated minorities and put them front and center. And even if it's only to help out your pop star friend that's been enshrined in a series of tone-deaf PR blunders for the past few months, it's a step in the right direction. We're all a part of the system, man.


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