My Anaconda Don’t: A Black Feminist Analysis of Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj is, to put it lightly, a controversial topic. She has been accused of being hypersexualized, fake, and generally, a bad public figure for black women. But could Nicki’s unapologetic display of her sexuality, along with her crazy alter-egos, actually be good for black feminism? Here are the top three Nicki myths, debunked.
- Myth: Nicki is only famous because of her big butt.
“…the public sexually explicit humiliation and fascination of Minaj’s black body reveals a close resemblance to that of Venus Hottentot. The 2011 hip-hop chart topper has been publicly acknowledged more for her large buttocks than her rap talent”
Unlike Venus Hottentot, however, Nicki’s display of her sexuality is under her control, and is not the direct result of colonization. While Hottentot was merely an object for the male gaze, Nicki shows off her body with pride, disrupting the Western idea that thin and blonde means beautiful. As well, White does not to mention her rapping talent, which has made her the biggest female rapper in the hip-hop industry right now. Jennifer Dawn Whitney reports that “when Pink Friday went platinum in 2011, it had been preceded by an eight-year drought for women in the business.” In a sexist, male-dominated hip-hop climate, Nicki emerges as an exceptional force. She constructs her own narrative which centers black womanhood.
2. Myth: Nicki is fake. By pretending to be Barbie, she upholds Western standards of beauty.
Minaj has faced criticism for her alter-egos, specifically her Barbie persona. In an interview with Complex.com, rapper Kreayshawn criticized Minaj’s Barbie persona,
“…when it comes to inspiring young women, her message is to be a Barbie- to be plastic, to be fake, to all have blonde hair.”
Barbie can be seen as an object who is always signified instead of signifier. She exists as an object for little girls to project their fantasies onto. Black women, similarly, have had a history of being signified with stereotypes such as “jezebel” and “mammy.” In “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book," Hortense Spillers defines “hieroglyphics of the flesh,” or, how black women’s flesh can signify for them. Black women, in many ways, are already “marked” by harmful stereotypes.
However, Whitney argues, “Minaj’s brand of Barbie doll-like femininity both imitates and parodies the iconic doll, going beyond straightforward identification.”
By imitating a Western ideal of beauty, Nicki exaggerates and subverts Barbie. Unlike the racially diverse, dip-dyed copies of the “real and true” white Barbie, Nicki does not try to conform to Western standards of beauty. Rather, she deconstructs notions of white supremacy, Western beauty, and womanhood through a parodic imitation of the iconic doll.
3. Myth: The Anaconda video confirms stereotypes of black female sexuality as excessive and destructive.
Unlike some hip-hop videos in which female bodies only exist for the male gaze, Minaj creates a female-dominated world where she both controls and enjoys her sexuality. Throughout the video, Minaj is shown in erotic situations with other women, subversive in an industry with few queer women of color. In the jungle of Anaconda, Minaj explores her sexuality free from the male gaze.
In the kitchen scene, Minaj subverts notions of domesticity, using food for her own pleasure and even crushing a banana/ phallic symbol in her hands. It’s hard to think of a better metaphor for the dismantling of the white patriarchy than this.
When she gives Drake a lap dance, she completely dominates him as he sits powerless to her fierce sexuality. Minaj demonstrates her body as powerful, a source of pride and eroticism- all on her own terms.
Nicki Minaj exemplifies an imperfect feminism as she grapples with her multi-faceted identity as a queer black woman. By refusing to adhere to a single identify, Nicki refuses to be signified.