Exclusion of M.I.A. from MTV VMA nominations calls attention to refugee crisis

Controversy came with the release of the 2016 MTV Video Music Award nominees, calling for a critical look at the Syrian refugee crisis and its representation in America.

On July 28, artist and rapper M.I.A., most known for her song “Paper Planes,” took to Twitter to express her displeasure.

Her music video for “Borders,” inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, was eligible for nomination, but left off of the 2016 nominees list.
In her series of tweets, M.I.A. said;


The politically charged lyrics of “Borders” calls attention to major international sociopolitical issues, with verses including “police shots, what’s up with that,” “your privilege, what’s up with that” and “boat people, what’s up with that?”

The video, released in February of this year, artistically recreates refugee situations, directed by M.I.A. and citing M.I.A and Tom Manaton as creatives.

While MTV has not released a statement regarding this controversy, there are several potential reasons why “Borders” did not earn a nod.

One reason is because the song was not significantly popular in the U.S. While the video does have over 3 million Youtube views, its highest chart ranking was one week at 24th on the Billboard Twitter Top Tracks chart back in December.

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An image from M.I.A.’s “Borders” depicting refugees fleeing across land. (Image Source)

Competitors for the Video of the Year all ranked on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with Adele’s “Hello” and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” both hitting the number one spot. Drake’s “Hotline Bling” peaked at number two, while Beyonce’s “Formation” placed 10th and Kayne West’s “Famous” peaked at 34.

The VMAs are essentially a popularity contest due to the fact that awards are won based on how many fan votes they earn.

This is perhaps why M.I.A. did not take home the VMA’s Video of the Year Award in 2012 for “Bad Girls,” even though the video won for Best Direction and Best Cinematography, categories not voted on by fans.

Another reason MTV may have left “Borders” out of the mix is because they did not want to touch on international politics.

While Beyonce’s “Formation” calls attention to police brutality and the oppression of black individuals in the U.S., M.I.A.’s “Borders” focuses on the struggles of Syrian refugees and aims to create an understanding that opposes xenophobia.

Beyonce’s “Formation” included imagery calling attention to police brutality against people of color in the U.S. (Image Source)

It would have been powerful to have both videos up for Video of the Year, but MTV may have potentially saw this as a competition for which political issue is more valuable to fans, and may have decided to award just “Formation” with the nomination to avoid this conflict.

But the refugee crisis has become a touchy subject in American politics and should not be dismissed or ignored. The controversial subject matter of the crisis stems from both the 911 terrorist attacks and, more recently, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

This makes M.I.A.’s “Borders” even more important than ever. Many Americans have an inaccurate perception of the Syrian refugee crisis and, in result, have strong feelings of xenophobia and Islamophobia.

These feelings are damaging to Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees in America, who are often profiled as terrorists post-911, and face profiling, violence and discrimination.

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Many refugees fled Syria via boat, something M.I.A. explained through “Borders.” (Image Source)

It’s important for Americans to be informed on the truths of the Syrian refugee crisis. To break down the events that led to this crisis, Syria is experiencing a civil war declared by the Al-Assad family after their quasi-dictatorship was threatened. The country was run by this dictatorial family since Hafiz Al-Assad’s leadership began in 1971, and continued with Bashar Al-Assad’s from 2000 to today.  ISIS joined the Syrian civil war with the goal of creating a Totalitarian Islamic Caliphate, or in other words, a centralized dictatorial government led by a believed religious successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

About 4.3 million Syrians were forced to flee the country as a way to protect themselves and their families from the atrocities created by the regime, rebel groups and ISIS.

Approximately 95 percent of these refugees have fled and found shelter in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. The remaining five percent are experiencing the severe situations M.I.A. portrays in “Borders.”

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Refugees climbing a fence, spelling “life” in the “Borders” music video. (Image Source)

The United States has made an effort to help, declaring it will welcome 10,000 refugees to the country. However, in order to be admitted, refugees must pass an extensive screening that can take up to two years. Therefore, between October 2015 and April 2016, the U.S. has only admitted 1,736 refugees, 50 percent of which are children, according to MSNBC News.

This opposes Donald Trump’s declaration that these refugees are to be feared as terrorists.

It’s important for us to keep this in mind and recognize these Syrian refugees as humans looking to live a safe life. It’s harmful to react in fear and discriminate against these groups based on presumptions and harmful campaign tactics.

“Borders” reveals this message, but won’t reach the VMA stage tomorrow. While M.I.A.’s platform isn’t as great as the MTV outreach, keep her voice, and the voice of other underrepresented artists, in your mind during these times of political campaigning and international struggle.



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