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  • Post-Apocalyptic Shine in the Afro-Future
  • Brandi Thompson Summers (bio)

In the September 2016 issue of W magazine, singer, songwriter, and actress Rihanna is the cover model and subject of the "Baddest Bitch of the Post-Apocalypse" editorial spread. Styled by Edward Enninful and shot by Steven Klein, the photo-story is described as: "Tomorrow, the last woman on earth and the ruling warrior queen in a dark, dystopian future."1 The post-apocalyptic imagery and fashion foreshadow our presumed societal move toward the extinction of human laborers and the rise of robots over manufacturing and other industries. But Rihanna plays a glimmering, mechanical humanoid and challenges our perception of the future as she embodies luminous surfeit in contrast to geographical scarcity.

In the cover image, Rihanna's "Tomorrow" is a bejeweled goddess. She is situated in the foreground wearing a Cartier diamond-encrusted tiara, matching drop earrings, ear cuff, and an intricate diamond choker. A thin gold chain rests delicately on her neck. In the background a small structure resembling a miniature oil rig sits ablaze. Billowy black smoke hovers and darkens the sky above. The landscape is bare and barren. The earth is flat, with small crater-like surfaces scattered [End Page 317] around. Rihanna adds rich texture and life to the decimated landscape.

A metallic gold accessory adorns Rihanna's left eye. Layered with golden spikes and seashells, it fans upward like a robotic outgrowth of her skin. Small golden jewels are scattered on her forehead, around the piece, toward her hair-line. Her eyelid is lacquered with golden paint. Beneath her eye is shimmery gold glitter, while three gelatinous drops of golden-paint tears drip down her cheek toward her chin. Her lips are a bejeweled blood red. They are covered in red paint and studded with ruby-red jewels. The jewels on her lips reflect light and make them appear full and multidimensional. Held between her lips is a single white diamond, larger than those on her tiara and neckpiece. The final ornamental detail is a layered teardrop diamond piece that hangs from her supple bottom lip. The teardrop appears as if it is suspended in air. Despite the geometric design of the ornament, this diamond piece, like the lacquered teardrops, suggests a depth of human feeling.

She has a confident, regal look. Her face is relaxed. Her long neck holds up her proud chin as she looks defiantly into the camera lens. Despite the muted light, she still shines. Her skin and hair are luminous. This post-apocalyptic shine is an adornment to futuristic, metallic, surviving Black bodies.2 The ubiquitous glow that radiates from the editorial images is a byproduct of the imaginings of Black corporeality—the fleshiness of Blackness as illustrated by the light, gloss, gleam, and tears. The shiny flesh ties Blackness to the past—of antebellum sweating, laboring bodies.

"Tomorrow's" post-apocalyptic world shows us the collapse of civilization; the failure of capitalism to rescue the city—of physical and economic blight, razed landscapes, human displacement and destitution.3

In another other image, Rihanna stands prominently, with her legs slightly agape. She wears a massive golden spiked crown on her head that looks like a calcified starburst. The metallic contraption extends out and beyond her lithe frame. She wears a puffy, gold foil coat, made from emergency heat blankets, that billows and floats. The architecture of the coat projects utilitarian chic. Beneath she wears a sexy strappy black swimsuit. The surface of her black Manolo Blahnik leather boot chaps glistens. Her fingers are taut and stiff. The expression on her face is blank, but strong and mechanical. She's wearing the same eyepiece and diamond teardrop jewelry as in the cover image. But in this image, her green eyes appear translucent, making her look like a cyborg programmed to attack or defend.

In the background, we see a colossal fire, with white and black clouds of smoke polluting the dark skies. Again, Rihanna's skin is shining and luminous. Light reflects from her foil coat and massive crown. She stands beside a small cage that appears to house a captured person. One of her three companions drapes his...


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pp. 317-320
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