I am Dora is a curatorial initiative exploring how women interact and identify with one another through film. As a part of London Short Film Festival, Jemma Desai, founder of I am Dora held a panel discussion with Aimee Cliff (freelance music and culture journalist), Emma Dabri (writer and PhD researcher, exploring how mixedness has come to be gendered) and Grace Ladoja (photographer and filmmaker, including work with FKA Twigs) on how women portray themselves through music videos.
The discussion raised important questions about women and the current wave of feminism. With stars such as Beyonce promoting feminism, are young people being introduced to a watered down version of the issues women are fighting against or is the promotion a helpful push to reveal the problem? The complexity of modern feminism makes it harder to define, with some believing anything a woman does as a feminist act. However, any woman having to change herself to please someone or any woman attacking another, for expressing her own identity, is surely anti-feminist.
A large debate throughout was the sexual representation of women and if the sexuality a woman shows is powerful or submissive. An audience member noted that you can sell music and still be remembered without sexualising it. Legendary artists such as Annie Lennox are still remembered and applauded without having to conform to the music industry image expectations. However, nudity and sex can be used as a representation of their art, enhancing their work.
Nudity should be optional but not used as a selling point. Many young artists are being sexualised for record sales, with many people putting their image before their art. Sia’s recent decision, to not show her face and let dancers such as Maddie Ziegler express her identity, is a radical choice within the music industry, taking the focus away from image and truly showing her artistic ability. Her personal choice is bold and powerful and this anonymity being a popular choice for many wanting to avoid fame and be appreciated for their work. FKA Twigs was originally rarely pictured, with her first video Hide showing nude hips with a ‘boy flower’ covering her. Many people originally thought this was a male body and the nudity is used artistically, the image, as expressed by Ladoja, is not sexy, despite being sexual. Her confidence has grown across her career and she represents herself as being in control, always the focus of her own videos, such as Papi Pacify, the sexuality isn’t as highlighted as Twigs herself. There is a feeling of confidence and ownership when artists choose themselves as the focus. Aimee Cliff chose to show Nicki Minaj’s Lookin Ass music video, which she stated shows her ‘shooting an AK-47 at the male gaze’. Minaj’s general distaste towards the camera and self-love is emancipating , and women acting proudly showing off for themselves is empowering for any self-conscious woman to see.
The panel discussion took many turns and through watching the videos many issues of gender, race and feminism came up. I feel it would have been interesting to include male music videos and explore the comparison to see if it’s the industry sexualisation or the treatment of women encouraging this conversation. The discussion will be an ongoing one and will sprout many more topics and issues, however, it’s hard to judge a woman through her music videos. Self-expression is personal but how much control do you have when becoming successful?
Check out I am Dora for information on future film screenings