Rihanna has more than said her piece about how her 2009 assault at the hands of ex-boyfriend Chris Brown has affected her. But in the new video for her single, “Man Down,” the singer is depicted shooting an unarmed man in the head in cold blood at a train station in what viewers later learn is retaliation for a previous sexual assault.
“Mama, I just shot a man dead,” Rihanna sings in the video, which debuted on BET on Tuesday.
The Parents Television Council, the Enough Is Enough campaign and the entertainment think tank Industry Ears released a statement on Wednesday condemning the video for what the group said was an apparent enticement to young women to turn to violence.
” ‘Man Down’ is an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song,” said Industry Ears co-founder Paul Porter, a former programming director at BET.
The lyrics to the song match the narrative of the video, including such lines as, “I didn’t mean to end his life/ I know it wasn’t right … I took his heart when/ I pulled out that gun … Oh mama, mama, mama/ I just shot a man down/ In central station/ In front of a big ol’ crowd.”
The PTC lamented that Rihanna had a “golden opportunity” to use her celebrity status to send an important message to young girls and victims of rape and domestic violence with the clip, but had missed the mark. “Instead of telling victims they should seek help, Rihanna released a music video that gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability,” said the PTC’s Melissa Henson.
Though a spokesperson for Rihanna could not be reached for comment, the singer took to Twitter on Monday to give her fans a preview of the clip’s message. She wrote that it had a “very strong underlying message 4 girls like me.”
MTV News spoke with director Anthony Mandler last month, when he revealed that Rihanna let him take the visual to the extreme. “We shot the video last month in Jamaica, and it’s my favorite song she’s ever recorded, so I was really excited to get involved,” he said. “And it’s just one of those songs that demands a strong narrative and visual, and let’s just say, she let me go all the way. So I think you can expect something that’s dramatic and shocking and intense and emotional and uplifting and enlightening.”
The organizations have called for BET to stop airing the video immediately. A spokesperson for BET could not be reached at press time.
For her part, Rihanna has continued to tout the empowerment message of the clip, tweeting on Wednesday, “Young girls/women all over the world … we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naive! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and #listentoyomama! I love you and I care!”
It’s not the first time Rihanna has been embroiled in a video controversy. Her sexually-suggestive “S&M” clip was banned in a number of countries earlier this year, and some questioned whether she was glorifying domestic violence around the release of the video for her hit Eminem collaboration, “Love the Way You Lie.”