Why Miley Cyrus’ ‘Mother’s Daughter’ video pays tribute to feminist protest groups


Miley Cyrus included a slew of cameos and campaigns into her powerful new “Mother’s Daughter” music video, which debuted Tuesday morning.

The video has appearances by women of all shapes and sizes, such as model Aaron Philip, dancer Amazon Ashley, performer Angelina Duplisea, model Casil McArthur, skateboarder Lacey Baker, activist Mari Copeny, singer Melanie Sierra, dancer Paige Fralix, dancer Tydryn Scott and model Vendela, as well as Cyrus’ own mother, Tish. It also features messaging like “virginity is a social construct,” “feminist AF” and “my body my rules.”

Alexandre Moors — who has helmed videos for Kendrick Lamar, Jennifer Lopez, ScHoolboy Q and Miguel, as well as the Jennifer Aniston-Alden Ehrenreich war drama “The Yellow Birds” — directed the NSFW video. He and Cyrus finalized the concept as the anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” gained traction across the country.


“The video is about the woman’s body — the right to own your own body and make it free from the male gaze, in any way shape and form,” Moors told The Times on Tuesday. “It’s a broad message, and we’re not trying to be dogmatic. But we’re living in difficult times in America, and what I get from this video is that it injects a lot of energy and determination and the right fuel for the struggle.”

Moors and Cyrus chose to echo the slogan-centric methods of feminist groups like Femen, Riot Grrrl and Guerrilla Girls, “women who fight for their freedom but put their physical body in harm’s way to achieve the goal,” said the director, who clarified that a French phrase in the video translates to “the flesh heroism.”

“We wanted to make a tribute to the previous women who fought this battle, because you can imagine how hard it was for the women of the ‘90s and ‘80s, when it wasn’t even a subject people were bringing up,” he added. “These women put their bodies on the front lines to fight for what is right, and I have a deep respect and fascination for them.”

Director Alexandre Moors in 2017.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The video, intended to have a “hard” look and a “punk-rock flavor,” is also sprinkled with “images of breastfeeding, C-sections, menstruation pads — everything [about the female body] that’s supposed to carry some taboo, but we should be beyond that.”

Throughout the video, Cyrus is seen in a blood-red latex catsuit, calling back to the memorable outfits worn in Britney Spears’ “Oops!...I Did It Again” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” videos. Her version, however, has a notable embellishment: a bejeweled vagina dentata. She’s also wearing gold armor while atop a horse, holding a sword a la Joan of Arc.


That latex look was not meant to be an explicit callback to the aforementioned musicians, but rather, “it was interesting to subvert some of the codes of the sexual attire, and actually transform beyond it into more of an armor or a fight suit,” Moors said. “They look more like warriors than anything with sexual implications.”

Still, Cyrus does dance suggestively in the clip, triggering some naysayers to speak up. Moors doesn’t mind. “Even the right to be salacious without being judged, if you want to, is encompassed in [a woman’s] struggle,” he said, pointing to Cyrus’ oft-shunned stage antics.

“If a man were in a video grabbing his crotch, nobody would make a second mention of it because it’s expected, and a woman is supposed to be shamed for expressing her sexuality. That’s just another component of the political messages that are in the video.”

The video for what Cyrus has called a “feminist anthem” is, ultimately, directed by a man. While there was discussion that a female director would maybe be more suited for the project, Moors — who has served as Cyrus’ creative director for the last few months — and Cyrus came up with the concept together. Added Moors, “We also don’t want to fall into the trap of the political correctness of having to be obligated to have a female director for this.”

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In coordination with the video drop, Cyrus shared 18 posts on her Instagram account that featured statements from those who make cameos.

“As a black girl in a wheelchair who happens to be trans — I just want to have a good life and do good in whatever my endeavors consist of, regardless of what that might mean in the face of oppression,” says Philip. “I do not identify or label myself as an activist, but that’s just because I care — and I think everyone should, activist or not. I fight for my freedom by being myself.”

“I’m not afraid to be who I am and not who society says I should be as a woman. I don’t conform to the norms,” says Vendela. “Never be afraid to speak with your own voice and form your own opinions. Do whatever YOU feel like doing and whatever makes YOU happy. Empower yourself. Even better, let’s empower each other.”

“I want people to live and love freely,” says McArthur. “My existence shouldn’t be upsetting to people, but if it is, good. People like me and my community aren’t going anywhere. We’re coming into a generation where it’s way more accepted to express ourselves and our identities.”

The group convened in Los Angeles two weeks ago for the shoot. “Honestly, I’ve never experienced such an atmosphere on a set before,” Moors recalled. “People flew in from all over America, and there was a feeling of solidarity and purpose from everyone. It was almost like going to a march. It was incredible.”

While the video includes Cyrus’ gratitude for her mother, Moors made sure to also include a nod to his as well. “Since I’m French, I thought [Tish and Miley] should be wearing Chanel. It reminded me of my mom.”

The song, which Cyrus cowrote with Finnish singer-songwriter Alma, is part of her latest EP, “She Is Coming,” which was released in May. It is the first of three planned six-song releases from Cyrus.

Twitter: @cashleelee