Rihanna’s SavagexFenty show: From representation to “Cancel Culture”

Shivani Jeet (_shivanijeet) Tasheal Gill (tashealgill)

Rihanna’s annual SavagexFenty lingerie fashion show proved once again to be like no other, constantly setting the bar with glamour and grandeur, alongside diversity and representation.

Rihanna’s dedication towards body positivity, diversity, and inclusion on a multitude of levels differs from many other dominant lingerie brands, including as Victoria Secret, which recently had it’s show cancelled, and was often criticized for the absence of diversification among not just its models, but its finite sizings.

However,  this year, Rihanna’s fashion show wasn’t only trending for how bold and outstanding it was, and all of the A-list stars who were featured, but instead, for a questionable music choice that left many shocked and upset.

‘Cancel’ culture was a topic once again, with conversations about “cancelling” Rihanna making its way to Twitter by the Muslim community.

Many expressed their dismay over a blunder that appeared in the show, that went generally unnoticed from a non-Muslim audience. 

Rihanna was criticized by the Muslim community for remixing a soundtrack - that of Hadith (recorded words and traditions from the prophet Muhammed, found within the Islamic religious text, the Quran) - for the background music of her show. 

Many indicated how one’s religion, ethnicity, or culture should not be used as an aesthetic, and some went so far as to ask if Rihanna really cared about diversity in the first place. 

While the lingerie that was showcased was stunning, innovative and worthy of applause, along with an extremely diverse set of models for the show, what caused backlash was the song played during the show. 

A Hadith is considered a divine revelation in the Islamic faith, and is incredibly sacred to Muslim people. The importance of this script can be synonymous to prophecies given by Jesus in the Bible. 

The particular Hadith that was played in the song told a prophecy of the end of days — with the reading auto-tuned, sped up, and edited to fit a techy, DJ sort of vibe for the show as models walked the catwalk and dancers in lingerie performed a choreographed routine.

This is a form of cultural appropriation and disrespecting the sanctity of religious script. Much of the backlash comes from the simple fact that a sacred script was taken and used in a mainstream, trendy way. 

In another instance several months ago, we saw the inappropriate and mainstream use of a religious text receiving similar backlash when a Tik Tok influencer was called out for twerking to the reading of a passage from the Quran.

The 17-year-old Tik Tok influencer, Nessa Barrett, was criticized online for being insulting, racist and a bigot for her blatant disrespect and inappropriate sexualiation of a sacred text from a religion she did not practice.

The Fenty Lingerie fashion show taps into this same public outrage. The Hadith scripture was not used in the show to honour the religious text -- it was seemingly used for mainstream shock value, and lent absolutely zero respect to the religion and culture the script belongs to. 

This isn’t the first occasion  Rihanna has been blasted for cultural appropriation - specifically towards the Eastern society. 

In 2013, she was asked to leave a Mosque in Abu Dhabi for an inappropriate photoshoot, with her Instagram caption stating “Bitch stole my look.” It is a universal controversy for the Eastern lifestyle to be used by Western culture by emphasizing inadequacy and oppression.

Her caption undeniably seemed ridiculed towards the hijab and used for fashion instead.

Rihanna promptly addressed the outrage from her Muslim fans and issued an apology instantly. She held herself accountable and expressed:

I’d like to thank the Muslim community for pointing out a huge oversight that was unintentionally offensive in our Savage x Fenty show. I would more importantly like to apologize to you for this honest, yet careless mistake. We understand that we have hurt many of our Muslim brothers and sisters, and I’m incredibly disheartened by this! I do not play with any kind of disrespect toward God or any religion and therefore the use of the song in our project was completely irresponsible! Moving forward we will make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Thank you for your forgiveness and understanding.”

With her apology, many have been left divided between either being lenient with her careless mistake(s) or cancelling her for good. Unlike other celebrities though, she did not defend herself or used any sorts of justifications to her actions. She held herself liable, realized the harm she generated towards the Eastern community and has hopefully learned from her mistakes. 

The question remains, is she cancelled for this?

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