Taylor Swift attends the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Aug. 30, 2015.
Jason Merritt—Getty Images
By Nolan Feeney
September 2, 2015

Grammy-winning director Joseph Kahn has defended his latest music video, Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams,” from accusations of whitewashing over its depiction of Africa.

In the video, which is set in mid-20th century Africa, Swift plays an actress who has a relationship with her co-star on set. But critics have said the video features hardly any black people and glamorizes African colonialism with stereotypical images of wild animals and savanna landscapes.

“She packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline, and she sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanized and traumatized millions of Africans,” write Viviane Rutabingwa and James Kassaga Arinaitwe for NPR.

In a statement, Kahn said the focus on white characters was both a matter of historical accuracy and an homage to movies such as The African Queen and Out of Africa. He also says that key input on the music video came from people of color, including his longtime producer, Jil Hardin, and the video’s editor, Chancler Haynes, both of whom are black. Kahn, who is Asian-American, also emphasizes that Swift is donating the video’s proceeds to the African Parks Foundation.

“There is no political agenda in the video,” he says. “Our only goal was to tell a tragic love story in classic Hollywood iconography.”

Here’s his full statement, via Entertainment Weekly:

Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com.

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