‘Cinnamon Girl’ Tackles the Post-9/11 Anti-Muslim Movement: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
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To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many Muslim-Americans became targets for discrimination. On “Cinnamon Girl,” the third single from 2004’s Musicology, Prince showed empathy with them and made a comment on the need for a “war on terror.” But the video he made got Prince, no stranger to controversy, in hot water with conservatives.
“Prince asked me to write a story about post 9-11 Muslim racism inspired by the lyrics,” director Phil Harder wrote on his website. “I spent that entire summer working with him on this clip. Perhaps my most rewarding filmmaking experience. He pushed me creatively and as always he pushed the boundaries.”
In the clip, which stars Academy Award-nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes, a schoolgirl and her friends witness something horrible happening in the sky. But while watching the footage on television, her friends start to turn on her. She bikes to her family’s deli to find them replacing the Arabic letters on the sign with English ones, and scrawling “Terrorist Scum” on the window.
She becomes radicalized, making a video of herself praying while wearing a head scarf, then packs a bag, climbs out the window and heads to the airport. After showing her U.S. passport, she reaches into her bag, pulls out a device, presses its button and the windows blow out. But the explosion is soon revealed to be a fantasy, and it ends with her waiting for her plane.
The New York Post’s Page Six column said that it “might be the most tasteless video ever,” and Prince was accused of “causing trouble” by John Gibson of Fox News. But Rana Abbas of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said to CBS News, “It was shocking, but in a good way. Prince is the first major recording artist to address the prejudice and issues that (Arab-Americans) are facing after 9/11, and I think he has done it in a very powerful way.”
Prince did not comment on the contents, with his publicist saying that he wanted people to make up their own minds. But an interview with Harder at the time gave a glimpse into what Prince was trying to accomplish.
“It began with just talking to Prince about the current political situation in our world today,” he told the Hartford Courant. “And this long conversation really sparked this idea with a sentence. He said, ‘As long as people keep labeling other people as terrorists, it seems like we’ll always have terrorists.’”
“That’s what Prince was really interested in … getting people to talk about these issues,” he continued. “I sort of interpret it – and this is just one interpretation – like, how far can the imagination go when your whole world is constant violence when you’re that young? It’s definitely not literal. The whole point is getting people to talk about it.”
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