How Nicki Minaj + Dee Barnes Reflect Current WOC Issues
The release of Straight Outta Compton, the gritty biopic following Dr. Dre and the rest of N. W. A. as they hustle to make it on the harsh streets of the notorious L.A. neighborhood, has already brought in over $60 million and perhaps even an Oscar nomination. However, along with all of the positive press buzz surrounding the retelling of one of the most controversial rap groups in hip hop history, there’s one essential part of the narrative the film skims over: Dr. Dre and Ice Cube’s notorious bouts of violence against women.
In 1991, Dre attacked Dee Barnes, ex Pump It Up! host and part of the L.A. crew in the 90s, after Ice Cube dissed him in an interview with her. She watched the film and spoke out about the historical revision the film portrays. While surprised that her history with the group was completely omitted, Barnes was glad it did not show up, writing, “… I don’t think it should have been, either. The truth is too ugly for a general audience.” While Barnes’ voice in the matter should be respected, the omission does bring up a huge issue surrounding women – specifically women of color. Black women are often props to a larger story, and never the story themselves.
They have been sensationalized and objectified by white eyes since as far back as the 1700s when Saartjie Baartman, commonly referred to as Sarah Baartman, was bought from her Khoisan tribe and sold to British showmen as a part of a ‘human zoo’ (an equivalent to the modern day freak show). Baartman, like many Khoisan women, was born with a large buttocks – known today as steatopygia. It was a huge attraction to the show she was a part of. The modern day media has yet to ease up on the exploitation of Baartman. Remember when Kim K broke the internet with her Paper cover? It’s a recreation of an old Jean-Paul Goude photo, which was inspired by Baartman and sensationalized black bodies in the same manner.
More recently, we’ve seen women of color literally being used as props. In honor of Nicki Minaj’s iconic Anaconda video, Madame Tussauds created a wax figure of the pop rapper for their Las Vegas museum. The figure shows Nicki posed on all fours, an ode to the posture she took in the video, which she used to reclaim her sexual agency. Unfortunately the wax figure has been the subject of many sexually inappropriate photos and forced the museum to beef up their security surrounding the figure who have since announced that they will redesign her exhibit.
Before the images were even posted, Twitter queen and apparent fortune teller Azealia Banks tweeted, “All ppl are gonna do is go up to that statue and take pictures shoving their crotch in her face and putting their crotch on her butt [sic].” She also asked the important question, why was Minaj even in that position to begin with? Other notable musicans like Beyonce, Rihanna, and Katy Perry are all posed standing upright. While we understand the reference to the viral video, there’s a difference between a woman of color taking control of her sexuality, and displaying her body as a literal prop for the world to use.
This kind of mentality towards women of color is especially prevalent in Straight Outta Compton, which erased the stories of Barnes and the other women beaten by the crew. Along with the disturbing ‘Bye Felicia’ reference made to degrade one of the women in the movie for being too sexually active, the casting call for the girls in the movie has some incredibly racist implications. Selma director Ava DuVernay tweeted about the harsh relationship women of color have with hip hop saying, “To be a woman who loves hip hop at times is to be in love with your abuser. Because the music was and is that. And yet the culture is ours.”
The love of black bodies, but not black people, is an unfortunate and common narrative in history. It becomes even more harmful to women of color who are faced with both the oppression of skin tone and the oppression of the patriarchy, a double edged sword of exploitation that leaves all women of color stuck between a rock and a hard place.