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Is Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Tiffany diamond ad really about love? | Elizabeth Wellington

I love a fashion throwback but the imagery of a submissive modern woman is problematic.

Beyonce playing Moon River and serenading Jay Z in "About Love." The commercial was released last Monday and it is a part of Tiffany's new ad campaign to reach younger consumers.
Beyonce playing Moon River and serenading Jay Z in "About Love." The commercial was released last Monday and it is a part of Tiffany's new ad campaign to reach younger consumers.Read moreTiffany & Co., Youtube

When I caught a glimpse of Tiffany & Co.’s commercial starring Beyoncé, draped in the brand’s iconic 128.54-carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond, I thought: Oy, this can’t be real.

The 90-second “About Love” commercial features the pop star dressed like Audrey Hepburn in the classic 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Bey is only the fourth woman, and the first Black woman, to wear the Tiffany Diamond and the commercial is at the center of the 184-year-old luxury brand’s strategy to attract younger customers. I’m not sure it’s realistic, though,considering the ad’s aesthetic hearkens back to a time when the parents of its target audience weren’t even born.

I love a fashion throwback. Show me a time when a little black dress and a messy updo isn’t chic. What I find problematic is the place in which “About Love” puts modern women. It opens with Beyoncé playing a rich wood piano and breathlessly singing Moon River to Jay-Z, who, with a head full of springy locs, is cosplaying Jean-Michel Basquiat. He’s rich, and as the private jet sits in the background, Beyoncé is reduced to arm candy.

The vibe is insulting in its suggestion that a happy, content, and loved woman is an ornament, embodying the outdated adage that women are to be seen not heard. How can this messaging be good for the culture?

“This is an aesthetic that we recognize as oppressive,” said Tracey Lewis-Giggetts, an assistant professor of English at the Community College of Philadelphia who teaches the course Beyoncé Renaissance: Exploring the Intersection of Race and Gender through the Lens of Black Art and Pop Culture. “Beyoncé and Jay-Z have consistently promoted their wealth, but this packaging feels very aligned with the white power structure that as a couple, they have been fighting against.”

When you add this demure, quiet, submissive version of Beyoncé to the mix, Lewis-Giggetts said, “It feeds into the engine of patriarchy that silences women — especially Black women.”

I’ve always found Beyoncé to be aloof, but I’ve never confused her reluctance to engage with a lack of intelligence. I think her choice to be silent is intriguing. She sells an image without using any words. That’s smart.

So I assume she’s aware that women are fighting for our lives. Our reproductive rights are under siege. We are struggling to care for our families in the midst of a pandemic. We’re trying to hold on to jobs, health care, and our sanity. And we are holding men accountable who think it’s OK to take liberties with our bodies.

We can’t afford to be quiet.

Diamonds don’t fix these problems.

“One thing is for sure,” Lewis-Giggetts said, “her timing was just bad.”

Tiffany announced this latest campaign in August. The first commercial, directed by Black is King director Emmanuel Adjei, was released last week. Additional films by Dikayl Rimmasch and Derek Milton, both of whom have worked with the celebrity couple before, will be released this year.

Tiffany & Co. pledged $2 million in scholarships and internship programs for Black colleges and universities. And while that should be acknowledged, it doesn’t make up for the centuries of exploitation and abuse of Africans — especially South Africans — at the hands of Europeans who enslaved generations of South Africans and forced them to retrieve rough diamonds. Today, diamonds are an $80 billion business, but most miners live in poverty.

The Tiffany Diamond was unearthed by De Beers South Africa in 1877 when the country was still under British rule. Charles Lewis Tiffany bought the diamond for $18,000 the following year. Today, the diamond is estimated to be worth $30 million. New York socialite Mary Crocker Alexander Whitehouse was the first woman to wear the diamond in public when she wore it to the Tiffany Ball in 1957. Since then, only Hepburn and Lady Gaga have worn it.

Beyoncé is making history as the company is saying, yes, Black people can sell glamour and our lifestyles are what consumers should covet.. But there’s a caveat: You have to be ridiculously wealthy. “About Love” was filmed at the Orum Residence, a nine-bedroom, $56-million Los Angeles mansion that overlooks Bel Air.

The Tiffany Diamond isn’t the only diamond on display. Beyoncé is also wearing a matching 22-carat yellow diamond ring as well as a 15.02-carat emerald-cut diamond ring. An Apollo brooch is pinned to Jay-Z’s tux and his cuff links are a repurposed Bird on a Rock brooch, his ring finger shimmering with one of Tiffany’s new engagement rings for men.

Not only does Jay look like Basquiat, but one of the artist’s rarely seen works, “Equals Pi,” is featured in the background. Jay types love letters to Bey on an old-fashioned typewriter and watches videos of his beloved. It’s sweet to see this couple so in love.

But, Lewis-Giggetts said, it would be so much better to see them in love as equals. “What would it have looked like for them to do the same commercial with a ‘Lemonade’ Beyoncé or ‘Black is King’ Beyoncé? What if she brought all that energy to the brand? That would have said to me they were doing something different with Tiffany’s … presenting a new narrative that speaks to change and true empowerment.”

That certainly would be more impactful. When it comes to Beyoncé, I’m conflicted. As I criticize this commercial for troubling images of a powerful woman being too submissive, isn’t feminism about a woman’s right to choose her destiny?

With Lemonade, Beyoncé made it very clear that she’s not going to let her husband roll over her. Her 2017 performance at Coachella was lauded for its homage to historically Black colleges. Does she not get to explore the facets of her life that allow her to be a little more submissive and enjoy her wealth? Just because we are pampered in one aspect of our lives, doesn’t mean we are a push over in another.

“Women are nuanced,” Lewis-Giggetts said. “We don’t all fit in the same box and we have to make space in our society for women to be complex. Some days she may feel like Audrey Hepburn. Other days she may feel like Megan Thee Stallion.”

Still, she added, it’s jarring to see Beyoncé and Jay-Z as the glamorous faces of a business with roots so deeply steeped in colonialism. These ideals are the foundation of systemic racism and blocked Black and brown people from accruing generational wealth for centuries.

And that’s not about love at all.