21 important American moments in Rihanna’s ‘American Oxygen’ video

That 1952 baseball game is an incredible find.


Kevin Collier


Posted on Apr 18, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 1:15 am CDT

For a pop offering, Rihanna’s new music video is surprisingly politically pointed.

It’s been interpreted as an ode to Eric Garner, the black man in Staten Island choked to death by a police officer in 2014. The officer, Daniel Panteleo, wasn’t charged in Garner’s death, despite it being caught on video.

But it’s also a remarkably rich trove of historic clips, many—but not all—related to protests and the American civil rights movement. The following list is our admittedly incomplete list of footage we could clearly identify.

:01 Rihanna starts in front of Pasadena City Hall. You may recognize this facade—it’s used in Parks and Recreation—that was the visual joke, that Pawnee would have such an ornate City Hall, though the rest of the video doesn’t indicate Rihanna was going for a joke here. Pasadena told the Daily Dot that Rihanna filmed there Dec. 13, 2014.

:08 First inauguration of President Barack Obama, Jan. 20, 2009

:54 Launch of a Saturn 5 rocket, a program that lasted from 1966-73

:58 John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s famous Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics

1:02 John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. salutes the coffin of his assassinated father, Nov. 25, 1963

1:12 Beatles arrive in U.S., Feb. 7, 1964

1:16 Bob Marley plays at the Manhattan Center, June 21, 1975

1:37 Black and white footage of Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become first humans on the moon, July 20, 1969

2:23 Images juxtaposed with U.S. Army nuclear-bomb testing in Desert Rock, Nev.

2:27 September 11 attacks

2:59 Black and white footage of Marines staging a raising of the American flag in Iwo Jima, Japan, on Feb. 23, 1945

3:02 Game seven of the 1952 World Series. New York Yankee Mickey Mantle hits a home run off of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Joe Black, who earned Rookie of the Year that year. Buoyed by Mantle, the Yankees go on to win. Of note is the fact that Black’s teammate, Jackie Robinson, who had broken the sport’s color barrier five years earlier, had called out the Yankees for not having any black players earlier in 1952

3:18 Iwo Jima again, colorized this time

3:20 A still image of the Marine Corps War Memorial, modeled after Iwo Jima, completed Nov. 10, 1954

3:22 Astronaut John Young of the Apollo 16’s mission drives the Lunar Rover, part of NASA’s final manned moon mission

3:29 “We are together once and for all” was a common slogan in African-American labor movements in the late 1960s

3:48 African-American protesters from the March on Washington in 1963, followed by protests over Eric Garner, the Staten Island, N.Y. man choked to death by a police officer in 2014

3:58 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, part of the March on Washington protests

3:59 Robert F. Kennedy gives his own iconic speech, informing a crowd that King has been assassinated

4:07 The Lorraine Motel, where King died, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum

4:14 University of California-Davis police officer John Pike pepper-sprays seated Occupy protesters on Nov. 18, 2011. The students and Pike later sued the school; Pike settled for $38,000, and the students he sprayed $30,000 each. This is followed by police spraying civil-rights protesters with firehoses, a common tactic in the Birmingham Campaign.

Photos via Rihanna/YouTube | Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

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*First Published: Apr 18, 2015, 11:00 am CDT