Rihanna had a simple response Thursday for advocacy groups condemning her latest video: She’s not anyone’s parent.
The singer found herself in the center of controversy this week after the premiere of her latest video, “Man Down,” on BET’s “106 & Park” — a video she promised in a Twitter message would have a “very strong underlying message 4 girls like me.”
It’s that message — which shows her killing a man who has assaulted her — that has drawn the ire of three advocacy groups that work, in part, to combat violent imagery in media.
The Parents Television Council, Industry Ears and the Enough Is Enough Campaign joined to condemn the video and urge Viacom, BET’s parent company, to pull it.
BET said Thursday that it had no intention of doing so.
In a statement, Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears and a former music programmer for BET, described “Man Down” as “an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song. In my 30 years of viewing BET, I have never witnessed such a cold, calculated execution of murder in prime time. Viacom’s standards and practices department has reached another new low.”
“If Chris Brown shot a woman in his new video and BET premiered it, the world would stop,” Porter said, referring to the singer who pleaded guilty to assault in the 2009 beating of Rihanna, his then girlfriend. “Rihanna should not get a pass, and BET should know better.”
The “Man Down” video, which has also been shown on Vevo, the YouTube music site, begins with the singer shooting a man as a crowd of bystanders flee. He is shown dead in a pool of blood. It then flashes back to the previous day, as the singer hangs out with friends, goes clubbing and on the way home is accosted in a dark alley by the same guy. It is implied that he sexually assaults her.
Representatives for Rihanna could not be reached for comment Thursday, but the singer took to Twitter to address the fallout.
“I’m a 23 year old rockstar with NO KIDS! What’s up with everybody wantin me to be a parent? I’m just a girl, I can only be your/our voice! Cuz we all know how difficult/embarrassing it is to communicate touchy subject matters to anyone especially our parents!,” she wrote. “The music industry isn’t exactly Parents R Us! We have the freedom to make art, LET US! Its your job to make sure they dont turn out like US.”
BET has previously rejected Kanye West’s “Monster,” Ciara’s “Ride” and Teairra Mari’s “Sponsor,” but in a statement released Thursday the network said it has no plans to cut “Man Down.”
“BET Networks has a comprehensive set of standards and guidelines that are applied to all of our content. The Rihanna ‘Man Down’ video complied with these guidelines and was approved for air,” the company said.
Rihanna received support from some readers who commented on a story about the controversy on latimes.com, some voicing support for artistic freedom, others arguing that they didn’t see the difference between the violence depicted in the video and that on prime-time crime procedurals.
“The fact of the matter is that men commit violent acts on women at an alarming rate. Women do not return the favor in equal measure. We regulate violence on television because we think violent images inspire violence. But that’s not all they do,” one reader wrote. “Sometimes they inspire people to consider the possibility that someone out there might hurt them, and they should be prepared.”
Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council, said she found the outpouring of support bewildering.
“Where is the female empowerment in the video? It only comes from the point of a gun? I don’t think so,” she said Thursday.
When pressed why the groups chose only to address the video’s murder scene and not mention that the singer was attempting to shed a dramatic light on sexual assault, Henson said she felt Rihanna failed to advance the topic but admitted that editing out the explicit shooting might make the rest of the video acceptable.
"[Rihanna] needs to recognize that she has a substantial fan base. She’s probably one of the most visible victims of domestic abuse,” Henson said. “She could be serving a very responsible position. She’s not sending the right message.”