Kelly Rowland Stood Up For Herself At Cannes — That Shouldn’t Be Controversial

Photo: Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP.
If the saying "standing on business" was a person, Kelly Rowland defending herself at the Cannes Film Festival embodies that description perfectly. In a now-viral video, the actress, singer and former Destiny's Child member arrived at the Marcello Mio premiere elegantly dressed in a gorgeous red Anamika Khanna gown, ready for the red carpet photo call, with a bevy of cameras there to capture her gorgeous festival style. The events that unfolded shortly after her photo op caught both spectators and Rowland off guard as she found herself in an intense exchange with a security guard. The guard appears to rush Rowland off the red carpet steps, physically blocking her from the view of cameras, which doesn't go well with the beloved artist. The interaction is now immortalised into a meme which shows a heated Rowland pointing an accusing finger at the Cannes usher during their argument.
Photo: Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images.
The rare sighting of Rowland's clear frustration — and of a Black woman standing up for herself in a predominately white space — sent Black Twitter (we refuse to call the app “X”) into defence mode as supporters called out the security guard's blatant disrespect towards the singer. Other users accused Rowland of being the disrespectful one and used the word "diva" to describe Rowland's reaction. The video evidence is right there. Rowland and the guard appear to have a normal interaction, with the singer politely moving her dress after it is stepped on — the exchange escalates only after the guard says something to Rowland and puts her arm out blocking Rowlands view and stepping into her personal space. While watching the video, Rowland doesn’t seem to be a “diva” in the derogatory way it’s being applied. Characterising the singer as a diva is a reach that ultimately grasps onto the stereotypes Black women are often prescribed unfairly.

While other women may get a pass on the diva trope, in this case the label deprives Rowland of her humanity and negates her feelings and her right to demand her worth. 

giana levy
Many Black women who navigate primarily white spaces are used to mastering the art of being unthreatening and shrinking ourselves in public so as to not be viewed as "rude” or the “angry Black girl." We’ve perfected our people-pleasing tendencies as a means of survival, god forbid we offend anyone just by our mere presence. I first entered a predominately white space when I attended graduate school. Before that, I was at ease growing up in my all-black neighbourhood and schools, including attending a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Many of my peers I met while pursuing my bachelor’s degree didn’t have the privilege of occupying Black rooms for most of their upbringing. The horrific and disturbing stories they told about their experiences with white people made me more appreciative of not having to endure those blatantly racist encounters myself. It was more proof that when we leave our own communities, we are met with disrespect and vitriol, similar to what we just witnessed play out on those Cannes steps. Out of a means of protection (and survival), I clung to the small group of Black students who were also accepted into the program. Together, we shielded each other from experiences like the one Rowland went through at Cannes. Her response to the incident is a reminder that we can — and should — stand up for ourselves. That shouldn’t be controversial.
Before it was reclaimed by Beyoncé, the word “diva” was used to paint women as attitudinal, difficult and demanding. While other superstars like Queen Bey and Mariah Carey have embraced the diva persona, the negative undertone of "diva" assigned specifically to Black women further perpetuates harmful characterisations. The way the term is used also differs for Black women with darker skin tones like Rowland. For dark-skinned Black women, being called a "diva" does not share the same social acceptance when light or fair-skinned women are referred to as one. While other women may get a pass on the diva trope, in this case the label deprives Rowland of her humanity and negates her feelings and her right to demand her worth. Outsiders automatically and unfairly chastised Rowland without knowing the context of the situation. The "Mea Culpa" actress later addressed the incident in an interview with The Associated Press, explaining that the security guard crossed a boundary. “The woman knows what happened. I know what happened. I have a boundary, and I stand by those boundaries, and that is it,” Rowland says in the 30-second clip, visibly emotional. She also pointed out the difference in treatment on the red carpet for other celebrities who attended. “There were other women who attended that carpet, who did not look quite like me. And they didn’t get scolded or pushed off or told to get off. And I stood my ground, and she felt like she had to stand hers. But I stood my ground.”
While model Heidi Klum got the chance to pose for her pictures unbothered (and without a security guard manhandling her up the famous Cannes steps), Rowland's moment to get her photos and wave to fans was rudely interrupted. Further proving Rowland’s point, the same security guard clashed with other guests of colour, including Korean star Yoona and Dominican actress Massiel Taveras (a Ukrainian model is now suing the same guard). As Taveras attempted to fix the train of her dress (or pull a stunt by unfurling her gown to show a printed image of Jesus Christ, depending on who you ask) and pose for the photographers, the guard relentlessly ushered Taveras up the stairs. Out of frustration, the actress pushed security away from her. Unlike Taveras, Rowland did not become physical with the guard. Yet, it’s Rowland who is the person at the centre of this controversy, bearing the brunt of the criticism and being categorised as a diva.

I have a boundary, and I stand by those boundaries, and that is it.

kelly rowland to the associated press
This isn't the first time social media users have called Rowland a diva derogatorily. She trended back in February for her sudden departure from the TODAY show because of a dressing room mishap. News outlets reported that Rowland was unsatisfied with the room she was given after finding out the room she requested was occupied. While many were surprised at her behaviour, it's clear that the music veteran knows her worth and will not settle for anything less. For that reason alone, her actions should have been praised instead of ridiculed.
The thing about setting boundaries and standing on them is that they teach others how to respect and accept your values. The ancient saying “there is a time and place for everything” is a principle that I, and many others, were conditioned to follow. Rowland, choosing to vocalise her concerns, immediately validated that there is no “right moment” for when to stand up for yourself. As a recovering people-pleaser, setting boundaries is a challenging pattern to release. In my quest to satisfy others (in my case, being overly considerate at the expense of my own happiness), I abandoned the desires that make me happy. Consequently, my values became overshadowed, and I developed an inner conflict that placed my authenticity at risk. It was cathartic to watch Rowland take a public stance at one of the most prestigious festivals in the world. Her actions revealed the power of speaking up and firmly standing in your truth despite the consequences. Her boldness to not accept disrespect is a lesson learned in putting yourself first.
While Rowland did not share the specifics of her boundary that was crossed, we know the line was clearly compromised. So, the musician did what she deemed necessary to honour herself — she should not be labelled a "diva" for it.
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!            

More from News