South African rave-rap duo Die Antwoord is known for their berzerk visuals and aggressive productions. Each song lifted from their forthcoming album, Mount Ninja & Da Nice Time Kid, is thus reliably excessive in its excitement and debauchery. “Banana Brain,” the album’s most recent preview, sounds like something ripped from the “Dance Dance Revolution” game’s soundtrack at a windowless basement rave. Sonically, Die Antwoord is challenging their audience with more brash melodies and sinister, hedonistic themes. Visually, though, the duo may have taken a step back.
“Banana Brain” is the first from Die Antwoord’s Mount Ninja era, and it revels in its recklessness and violence, as most Die Antwoord videos are wont to do. In it, Yo-Landi Vi$$er (Anri du Toit) plays a rebellious youth who drugs her parents with sleeping pills in order to sneak out of her home and go to an acid-laced house party with her bad boy boyfriend, played by Ninja (Waddy Jones).
One of the potentially controversial parts of the visual is a clear reference to fellow South African, Oscar Pistorius, who shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in their home, claiming he thought she was an intruder hiding in the bathroom. Pistorius was later convicted for her murder. In “Banana Brain,” Ninja is seen wearing leg blades (Pistorius is a double amputee) and shooting down a bathroom door to save his girlfriend.
At another point in the video, Yo-Landi’s acid trip takes a turn for the worse (around the 4:03 mark) and she imagines Ninja as some sort of monster with a long, spiked phallus. The black-lit environment plays tricks on the eye, but it would appear that Ninja’s skin is painted darker. (His tattoos are, indeed, covered up.) Ninja appears to have darkened skin only when he plays the role of a predator of Yo-Landi’s acid trip, one whom Yo-Landi’s character believes has intentions to harm her. Once he transforms back into a quasi-Pistorius character, the darker skin disappears.
This isn’t the first time Die Antwoord has faced allegations of exploiting racial stereotypes and using blackface. (Nor are they the only band to have recently dealt with these accusations; Florence + the Machine landed in similar water for its “No Light, No Light” video.) In 2012, Adam Haupt wrote in The Guardian about Die Antwoord’s “Fatty Fatty Boom” video, in which the duo used blackface, and debated the issue of whether or not it was acceptable for two white South Africans to employ race this way. Haupt said: ”[It] depends on whether you believe that the perpetuation of racial stereotypes and rubbing salt in the wound of racialised class inequities in a supposedly democratic South Africa is a problem. Personally, I am troubled by the ways in which these decontextualised, distorted, and racist representations will be taken up globally.”
We’ve reached out to the band for comment on both the Pistorius reference and darkened skin scene but have not received a reply.