This 11-minute uncut version of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” music video was released six months after the March 1991 Rodney King beating by four Los Angeles police officers, and offers a complicated commentary on contemporary race relations. The video was most often exhibited without the last 4 1/2 minutes on MTV and other television outlets, which resulted in many viewers only seeing the optimistic, poppy, racial and global harmony parts of the video and not being aware of the portion that pointedly juxtaposed scenes of prevalent racist, war-torn, and blighted city streets. In contrast to images of Jackson dancing with people from around the world, black and white babies sitting together on a globe, and diverse, smiling faces morphing into one another as they joyfully sing the pop song, in the latter section, Jackson performs his signature dance moves, but they are deliberately laced with anger, even violence, as he destroys the racism and prejudice emblazoned on graffiti-marred public property, and through his dance, takes ownership of the public space of the street.
How are racial and national identity portrayed differently in the first part of the video in comparison to the last 4.5 minutes? What messages are being communicated by this stark contrast in representation? What is the significance of Michael Jackson’s transformation into a black panther?
What do the song lyrics communicate about racial and human identity? How does this relate to what you see throughout the video?
What different cultures and regions of the world do you see represented? How are they represented? How are architectural and significant landmarks used to signify place and community? What community or communities is he saying we belong to?
This video was released in 1991. How does it still relate to current local or global events?
Michael Jackson was a prolific and celebrated artist until his death in 2009. Accusations of pedophilia, which surfaced as early as 1993 and continued posthumously–especially with the release of the 2019 documentary, Leaving Neverland. Do you think artists, like Jackson, can still be celebrated for their artistry despite criminal activities? Does art stand on its own–separate from the artist’s deeds? Why? Why not?