YouTube star Nicole Arbour of 'This Is America: Women's Edit': 'It was never my intention to hurt anyone'

Elise Solé
YouTube star Nicole Arbour received backlash over her “Women’s Edit” of Childish Gambino’s hit song “This Is America.” (Photo: YouTube/Nicole Arbour)

YouTube star Nicole Arbour says the backlash over her “Women’s Edit” of Childish Gambino’s hit song “This Is America is “misdirecting focus from real issues.”

The Toronto-based personality went viral over the weekend with a parody of the rapper (whose real name is Donald Glover)’s No. 1  Billboard hit about the black experience in America, with themes like gun violence, race riots, and Jim Crow laws. “This Is America” has been called “a powerful and poignant portrait of 21st century America” and “brilliant.” 

Arbour’s version, which she titled the “Women’s Edit,” drew more than 1.5 million YouTube views and a firestorm of criticism. The footage is shot in a warehouse and opens with a woman sitting on a chair nursing a baby (unlike in Gambino’s, which features a black man who is shot), then pans to Arbour who sings about breastfeeding shame, unrealistic beauty standards, and the wage gap.

At one point, a man in a suit approaches Arbour and her scantily clad backup dancers, and sprinkles a substance in her drink meant to represent a date-rape drug. He catches her as she collapses into his arms and drags her off camera.

Instead of a black choir slaughtered with a rifle in reference to the 2015 Charleston church shooting in South Carolina that killed nine people, as seen in Gambino’s video, Arbor’s version includes a  cheerleading squad handed a check for “less than minimum wage.” In place of Gambino’s 17-second moment of silence, reportedly meant to represent the 17 victims of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, Arbor applies lip gloss, to suggest the pressure women feel to “stay silent and pretty.”

Massive blowback ensued over the video, which was called “cringe-worthy,” “elitist, “racist,” and “white privilege.”

On Tuesday, Arbour Instagrammed what she called “not an apology, but a clarification” in which she explained, “I firmly believe the best thing that can happen in America and North America right now is for everyone to create their own version of this video and show what life is like from their side.”  

Arbour, who says her real age is “Younger than Beyoncé and older than Selena Gomez,” was not expecting heat. “I created a video about an inspirational piece of art with a positive message about creating change,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “So seeing this negative spin was shocking.”

She adds, “[My video] is showing love and admiration for the original song. I’m just adding to it. If only one group of people is allowed to enjoy [the song], that’s not art. It was never my intention to hurt anyone.” 

Explaining that she cast and directed the video only 24 hours after conceiving of the idea, Arbour says the song is a labor of love from a diverse cast and crew who pulled from their personal experiences. “I know I can be brash, but I am trying to bring people together and I want empathy for everyone,” she says. “I’ve received the date-rape drug three different times, as have some women in the video. By expressing our truth, we were honoring the original version of the song.”

Days prior to releasing the song, Arbour wrote in a now-deleted tweet, “I’m so sick of people mad at slavery. It’s the past, we weren’t there. We didn’t do it. But what we CAN do is fix economic slavery. Focus on the now.” Arbor tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her tweet was taken out of context. “It sucks when I see people hurt by that,” she says.

The former NBA cheerleader went viral in 2015 for a rant-style video called “Dear Fat People” in which she proclaimed that “fat shaming is not a thing,” “That’s a race card with no race” and “If we offend you so much that you lose weight, I’m OK with that.”

“I was in a car accident in 2008 and watching people with healthy bodies wake up every day and abuse them, upset me,” Arbour tells Yahoo Lifestyle of her intent behind that video.

Arbour has no regrets about the “Women’s Edit” except how she responded to “certain internet trolls.” But, she says, “That’s my learning curve.”

This coming week, Arbour says she will release a new video about race relations.

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

Follow us on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day.