Singer-songwriter Maxwell has long been known for making beautiful songs. But his recently released ballad, “Shame,” also brings us a bevy of beautiful people, as the artist recruited some of the world’s most buzzed-about black models for his latest video, directed by writing/directing duo Bush and Renz, with Sissi Johnson as creative director.
With subtle references to George Michael’s “Freedom ’90” (because who doesn’t love a lip-syncing model?) and Prince’s “Kiss” (check the veils), high-fashion heavyweights Maria Borges, Riley Montana, Achok Majak, Jeneil Williams, Sira Kant and Adonis Bosso join Maxwell for a moody meditation on the beauty of melanin.
But the message behind the song and video run even deeper, as Maxwell explained in a statement:
Directors [Gerard] Bush [and Christopher] Renz and I wanted to do more than just make a video; we wanted to celebrate beauty. Specifically the beauty of Black women. Black women - Black people - don’t see themselves heralded as a standard of beauty nearly enough in the media, especially in entertainment, high fashion and art. It’s getting better, but we still have so far to go. People of color have carried shame about our features, our hair, our bodies, our skin tone. ... this song is about removing the cloak of shame and opening up to love... including self-love and love of your culture. So we decided to pay homage to another beautiful video, George Michael’s iconic “Freedom” - but make it Black. The end result is gorgeous, powerful and stunning. This video is a love letter to my women of color. Feel no shame in your skin - you are beyond beautiful.
In a synopsis about the project, Bush and Renz, who have also produced projects for Normani and Khalid, Jesse Williams and Jay-Z (see: 4:44) gave some deeply resonant historical context to their concept and visuals, stating:
European colonizers revered the white swan, while maligning the rare black swan – which as legend would have it symbolized an omen, an ‘ugly beauty.’ This in many ways is metaphor for the Black experience. Historically Africans were made to feel ashamed; a cursed race to be demonized and dehumanized; their beauty unrecognizable to the colonialists and instead scorned or fetishized. We only need look back less than a century to find minstrels in which white actors, covered in charcoal, depicted black characters. This is only one example of the shame placed upon black bodies.
Lyrically, Maxwell may be confronting his own personal shame. The visuals of “Shame” seek to de-stigmatize black beauty by literally unveiling it to the world. The use of some of the world’s more melanin-rich models provides not only a gorgeous visual but a much-needed statement on the pervasive marginalization of black beauty in the fashion industry—which all of these beauties are confronting and dismantling daily.