Monday, September 21, 2009

Lost In Translation...or wrong dress at the wrong time?

Victoria Rowell

I saw this this dress on the news and it would be remiss of me NOT to post about it. I'm sure many people have seen the controversy over the dress African American soap opera star Victoria Rowell wore to the Emmy Awards Sunday night..

Its the Ghanaian Cloth from Obama's historic visit to Ghana this past July! I blogged about it back then for ( As someone who has been hopping back and forth between Africa and the United States for a while, I'm finding this an opportunity to take a hard look at two VERY different cultural interpretations of one piece of fabric.

In Ghana, as I blogged, the cloth was made to commemorate President Obama's visit to the country back in July. It was the first trip he made to Sub-saharan Africa as President, and obviously, the first African-American President to visit Africa. It was, oh how they say, kinda-a-big-deal. It is an African tradition to make cloth to commemorate special occasions, and if the person is important enough, the face is often included in the design. Like I mentioned in my guest blog post, the cloth says "Akwaaba", which is Akan for "Welcome" and the golden symbols mean "Gye Nyame" (literally means, "no one but God can do it") and the symbol of the stool, which is a political symbol of governance. The cloth was produced by Akosombo Textiles Ltd, a fabric company operating near Accra. One of the other Fulbrighters was an intern at ATL, and we got to meet the designer of this particular fabric, Alfred. When Obama came in July, Ghanaians in Accra could buy this fabric for about 2 dollars a yard, take it their their neighborhood friendly seamstress and have custom made Obama Couture.

So that's the Ghanaian side. But here I am back in the good ol' Yew-Ess of A and obviously, the good intentions behind the cloth didn't really travel overseas well. I don't really watch soaps so I don't know really who Victoria Rowell is, but this morning, she obviously made everyone's Emmy Awards "Worst Dressed List". Or the "Wtf-was-she-thinking?!!- list".
Check out a woman at Obama's Departure ceremony in July rockin Obama Couture by ATL:

So that's the Ghanaian side. But here I am back in the good ol' Yew-Ess of A and obviously, the good intentions behind the cloth didn't really travel overseas well. I don't really watch soaps so I don't know really who Victoria Rowell is, but this morning, she obviously made everyone's Emmy Awards "Worst Dressed List". Or the "Wtf-was-she-thinking?!!- list".

Not that I think the readers who lurk the dark corners of comment sections on celebrity and fashion blogs are the creme de la creme of American social critics. But just check some of the responses to Mizz Roswell's dress:

From, a site that follows black celebrities in Hollywood:

-OH LAWD TAKE ME NOW FOR THAT OBAMA DRESS….when are we going to stop with the madness? I love Obama and Michelle O does too and if she doesnt sport an Obama dress then NO ONE SHOULD!!! LOL

-victoria’s dress is cute but obama face is messing up it.i’ll never wear something with someone face on messes up the outfit all the time.
if the dress was more elaborated with no one face on it, it would fit the event.
plus only african women can wear nicely african fabrics. cos when i see some non-african people wearing african fabrics, it’s always look a mess!!

-Victoria= looks like a thristy groupie. fall back with that Obama bedroom set that you wrapped around yourself.

Im VERY VERY upset that Victoria had the nerve to wear that dress! I mean Im just as happy as the next person that Obama is in office as our Prez but does she have to be so tacky and extreme with it??!! Not at all!

Now I found the debate on YBF's comment section interesting. There were some who supported at least the IDEA of the dress. Looks like we had some fellow Ghanaians throwing their two-cents into the mix:

-The fabric Victoria’s wearing is extremely popular in West Africa. In addition to Obama’s picture, it’s decorated with Ghanian Andinkra symbols.It’s so easy to not be ignorant people… Google it and learn something!

-I can appreciate the African fabric but maybe not for an Emmys dress.

-yeah i actually dig the dress. i thought it was a clever choice and i got it. african style dress with an african on it and adinkra symbols on it. i think what would have elevated the dress more to couture level is if it hand some sort of organza or toule (sp?) fabric underneath and ruffles and more sculpture to it, but i can appreciate the black conscious effort statement nonetheless.

Again, YBF caters to a mostly black readership. But the comments on TMZ took even wilder shades of crazy, many of them descending into debates on Obama's race:

Typical. Hey, i'm black, Obama is black, let me prove a point by being a stupid black attention whore. What's the point? That black people actually did something.
Wow.Posted at 9:26PM on Sep 20th 2009 by stanley roper

If the president was white and she voted for him, i am sure his picture would not be on her dress....The only reason he is on her dress is to promote that he is black
Posted at 9:26PM on Sep 20th 2009 by RACISTS,RACISTS,RACISTS

7. OK We get it, you're a black women who is loving it cause we have a black president,you can quit campaigning now. So Stupid Posted at 1:06PM on Sep 21st 2009 by penny green

I agree that the dress is a) ugly and b) cult-like, but there's no cause to bring her race into this like so many of the posters above. I don't know any conservatives with such ignorant views, it's so offensive I'm inclined to believe they were posted by sock puppets who can they say 'hey, look at all the right-wing racists!'. Sort of like the democrat who vandalized the democratic congressman's office, or the liberal professor who hung a noose on her own office door.

People, people, people! She simply wore a dress, that SHE liked... on HER body. So she supports President Obama, so what alot people do and they aren't all black. I simply will never understand all the hate in this country. Yes he is black and white...but you dont care you just want to bring him down because of the part of him that is black

So, if I were to do a brief analysis of the comment pools of the two different sites, in a nutshell I would say that the debate largely boiled to whether the dress and the print were nice enough to wear to an event such as the Emmys. Africans and those who had traveled to Africa did their best to try to explain the significance of the cloth in Ghana (maybe Mz. Rowell's PR peeps should have done the same). But TMZ, which has a large multicultural looked like an online race war.

I have my own opinions on the dress as fashion itself. I love the cloth, but the sewmanship is terrible. It does hang on her like a political bedsheet. My seamstress should have hooked her up.

I don't expect ordinary Americans to know anything about Ghana and its traditions. I don't really expect Americans to know much about anything going on outside of the U.S. borders, sorry to say. So I won't cry about how ignorant Americans are....I don't have high expectations. Plus what goes in one culture doesn't always go down well in another. Thats fair.

But honestly? Would she have raised so many eyebrows a year ago this time? When everyone from Kim Kardashian to Halle Berry to Spike Lee and Beyonce were wearing Obama's name and face on everything? Is this just a case of bad fashion? Or a young actress trying to get press attention?

Or does the reaction mark a representation of Obama eroding
popularity with the people and the American media? Perhaps this means deep down inside, the race issue is something that is all too easily brought to the surface by seeminingly innocuous gestures....?

I dunno. Its kinda sad. I still have my cloth, and lots of it. Funny how one cloth can represent a historical acheivement on one continent.....and on another, deep seated racial tensions and the end of Obama's honeymoon.



Wildfiyah said...

thanks for this post!

Kyra said...


Thanks for this post - I wasn't aware of the dress. I think its cool!

Best, Kyra

meredithp said...

Thanks for the background on the fabric--that's so interesting! My own opinion on the dress? Just not sure it's "red carpet" ready. I'd love to have some of that fabric in my stash!