As one of the wokest celebrities around, it's rare that Rihanna misses the mark. But fans say her latest magazine cover comes a little too close to cultural appropriation, thanks to one accessory.
Rihanna's November Vogue Arabia cover features the star styled as Egyptian queen Nefertiti — even though Rihanna is from Barbados.
Queen Nefertiti, the ancient Egyptian ruler, has been known for her beauty and leadership throughout history. To be compared to her in any regard is a high compliment.
However, Rihanna is from Barbados, and by substituting her for an Egyptian icon, it erases the validity of Rihanna's heritage in favor of a more widely known and recognized Black culture. Many see this cover as problematic, because it assumes that Black nationalities are interchangeable.
This issue of Vogue Arabia is dedicated to "dynamic" women — and Rihanna certainly fits that bill.
“We are dedicating the issue to strong and dynamic women who are changing the world,” Vogue Arabia editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut said according to Vogue Arabia. “Rihanna, our cover star, is one of them. Not only is she one of the most successful pop icons ever, shaping the entertainment industry with her powerful tunes and unique sense of style, she is also an advocate for diversity.”
Rihanna IS a timeless beauty and phenomenal leader, but that could've been achieved without the crown! It could've also acknowledged Rihanna's looks by, you know, having Rihanna channel a cultural icon from Barbados, rather than simply replacing one Black woman's identity for another.
Many on social media were also frustrated that an actual Egyptian woman wasn't chosen to portray Queen Nefertiti.
"Really not happy at all with that cover! It's way too far from QUEEN NEFERTITI and thanks for trying but pleas[e] pick someone [E]gyptian next time," a user commented on the magazine's Instagram.
Another user compared Rihanna wearing an Egyptian crown to non-Native Americans wearing a traditional headdress. "This is beautiful, but why not a well known Arab woman? This is cultural [a]ppropriation. Simply put into comparison...the [N]ative [American] headdress issue..." a follower said.
It's great that the magazine was trying to celebrate Black beauty, but the message fell flat.
Rihanna is beloved for her versatility and fearless style, but that doesn't mean she's a stand-in for all other Black identities. Vogue Arabia could've used Rihanna's cover as an opportunity to highlight an often overlooked beauty ideal by focusing on Barbados' culture, or given an Egyptian public figure their chance to channel Queen Nefertiti. That this didn't happen shows how far Black women still have to come in terms of visibility and representation in fashion.
As fans point out, yes, Black women should be celebrated regardless of their background. This is a lovely cover, and Rihanna is amazing. But it's useless if cultures aren't put into context.
Visit Vogue Arabia to see more photos shot by Greg Kadel.