Usually when the subject of cultural appropriation arises the culprit is a white designer or a white fashion magazine that’s suddenly deemed staples of the black community as “en vogue.” But what about when the person who the appropriation finger is being pointed at is a black woman? Are we as quick to call a spade a spade then?

Following the release of Coldplay’s latest music video, Hymm for the Weekend, which features a cameo from Beyonce, many are hurling accusations that could knock Queen Bey off her thrown. Unlike the laughable question of whether Beyonce, with her ever-lightening blonde hair is appropriating white culture, the appropriateness of the singer’s appearance in Hymm wearing traditional Desi adornment is worth pondering.

In the video, which was filmed in India, Beyonce portrays a Bollywood actress whom Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin goes to see in a cinema against a backdrop of city scenes featuring Indian men and women, including a true Bollywood star, actress Sonam Kapoor. Visually striking, it’s hard to deny the beauty of the colorful cinematography, but beyond that observation lies the question of whether Bey and Coldplay were showing appreciation for Indian culture or appropriating it?

The responses to that question have been mixed on Twitter, with reactions ranging from anger to defensiveness to plain boredom with stereotypical Indian representations and the discussion of cultural appropriation alike.

My personal rule of thumb is if the culture being represented is offended then their concerns must be heard and respected, but as @seauxmali pointed out, cultural appropriation is about more than dressing up as someone from another culture. By definition, a key element of cultural appropriation is that the culture being borrowed from is oppressed by the culture doing the borrowing. Perhaps one could argue the lack of inclusion of a true Desi artist in the project satisfies that requirement, but there’s a difference in a video and song being popular versus profiting off of a particular culture. Given the musical players in this specific case, the video could’ve been shot in a plain white room with nothing more than the artists and it still would’ve wowed the masses. A profit of some sort was inevitable, just how much the imagery of this video has to do with that is debatable.

But as black actors and actresses wage war on our right to tell our own stories in movies, a Teen Vogue writer wishes brown people of the east would be afforded that same right. When you consider her observation that “India has always been positioned as a shallow vessel that exists for Westerners to ‘find themselves,’ it makes you wonder if Coldplay and Beyonce were appreciating true Indian culture or Indian culture as they see it from their narrow, privileged, outsider eyes.

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  • Nana Yaa

    Given the context of the video, this does not qualify as cultural appropriation. B was portraying a Bollywood actress, the film was shot in India, and Indians were featured in the video. Not sure what else you could have expected. I think the term cultural appropriation is being thrown around so much and people don’t understand the true meaning. I get people are offended but there’s really nothing to be offended about given the context of the video.

  • Rizzo

    when i watched the video, i couldn’t help but think about michael jackson and i wondered if it was cultural appropriation when he did the video for black or white or they don’t care about us or remember the time.

  • Marmaduke

    The way I see it, if it’s possible for an indian cab driver to be racist (even though culturally and economically they do not have as large and widespread a track record of using their power to suppress black individuals) then it is possible for Beyonce to appropriate indian culture. And yes, I do believe an Indian cab driver is straight up racist if they do something like that.

    Unless one is willing to downgrade an Indian cab driver missing you on his shift to mere “prejudice” (and I’m going strictly by the definition of racism here), I do believe we should be able to see that Beyonce, with all her power and influence and wealth, can indeed commit cultural appropriation towards a group of people, even if historically our group has not suppressed their own. Being able to reach across that bridge and call a spade a spade helps to show that we are not out here defending black rights, per se, but basic human dignity, which unfortunately are usually denied to black people. And yes, there is a difference.

    But I would love to hear a rebuttal to this because these are just my initial thoughts.