On Wednesday, Taylor Swift returned to her Instagram page to proudly announce her involvement in the movie adaptation of Delia Owens’ bestselling 2018 novel, Where the Crawdads Sing.
Taylor admitted that she is a huge fan of the book and had been keen to write music for the upcoming movie’s soundtrack.
Teasing a snippet of her new song, “Carolina,” in a clip of the movie’s trailer, Taylor wrote: “Where The Crawdads Sing is a book I got absolutely lost in when I read it years ago.”
“As soon as I heard there was a film in the works starring the incredible @daisyedgarjones and produced by the brilliant @reesewitherspoon, I knew I wanted to be a part of it from the musical side,” she continued. “I wrote the song 'Carolina' alone and asked my friend @aarondessner to produce it.”
“I wanted to create something haunting and ethereal to match this mesmerizing story,” Taylor concluded. “You’ll hear it fully soon, but for now check out the @crawdadsmovie trailer for a clip!”
Delia was over the moon to have Taylor on board and shared a handwritten note of thanks to her Instagram page on Thursday.
Dated March 24, 2022, the letter reads: “Dear Taylor, thank you for the stirring yet sensitive theme song you wrote and sang for the Crawdads movie. I cannot imagine a more perfect tribute to Kya’s story than your voice drifting forever through the marsh.”
Most Taylor fans were also thrilled to be getting new music from the singer, the first since the rerelease of her albumRed back in November.
However, it didn’t take long for some people to point out that, despite its critical acclaim, Where the Crawdads Sing has been shrouded in controversy after problematic information about Delia came to light.
In 2010, almost a decade before the book’s release, the New Yorker published a lengthy article written by Jeffrey Goldberg called “The Hunted,” which details Delia’s time in Africa alongside her then-husband Mark and his son Christopher.
The piece asks the question “Did American conservationists in Africa go too far?” as it explores the family’s involvement in the death of an unidentified victim, believed to have been a potential poacher.
In fact, both Delia and Mark are wanted in Zambia for questioning over the murder, which was filmed and aired on ABC back in 1995.
The network had contacted the couple to make a Turning Point episode about elephant poaching after seeing them on The Tonight Show, with the episode titled “Deadly Game: The Mark and Delia Owens Story.”
In one haunting scene that some were shocked made it to air, the production company accompanies a patrol at the Owenses’ conservation, and a gun is fired at a returning trespasser.
The scout who fired the shot has his face electronically concealed, and three more shots are heard offscreen as the man dies.
Delia’s husband, Mark, appears to be dismissive of the death in an interview later on in the documentary when he tells journalist Meredith Vieira: “It’s the reality — the messy reality, I’m afraid.”
She responds: “It is. It’s very messy. It almost gives conservation a very ugly name.” Mark argues: “But that’s the reality. It’s ugly why? Is it ugly because of the elephants? They haven’t done anything wrong. It’s people who make it ugly.”
Mark adds: “It’s a very dirty game. It’s a measure of the desperation of the situation.”
The victim’s identity was never revealed nor was it ever confirmed if he was a would-be poacher or a trespasser.
While Delia herself is not a suspect in the crime, several sources who spoke to Jeffrey Goldberg for the New Yorker piece suggested that it was her stepson Christopher who fired at least one of the shots. Mark has also been accused of attempting to cover up the crime as the body has never been recovered, with some reports claiming that he dumped it into a lake. Mark has never responded to these allegations.
Mark faced further accusations of commanding scouts to raid the villages surrounding the wilderness to scare and intimidate residents while searching for poached ivory from the elephants. In a letter that both Mark and Delia firmly deny is real, Mark allegedly tells a safari leader that two poachers have been killed on his command and they “are just getting warmed up.”
After it aired on ABC, Zambian authorities were alerted to the murder and wanted to question the Owenses. However, they had just returned to the United States for a visit and were apparently warned by the American Embassy not to go back to Africa until the case was resolved.
In addition to the Owens family seemingly being radical activists, they have also been accused of having “archaic ideas about Africans” in their extensive conservation work.
In fact, one critic claimed that their mindset was: “Nice continent. Pity about the Africans."
On their Owens Foundation website, they referred to Africa as “the Dark Continent,” and in their book Secrets of the Savanna, Delia and Mark called for human population control across the continent.
Those who are aware of Delia's past in Africa were alarmed by the parallels between her real life and the plot of Where the Crawdads Sing — and be warned, there are spoilers ahead.
Delia was 70 years old when her debut novel was published almost four years ago, and it follows the story of a reclusive girl named Kya living in North Carolina. The protagonist prefers to be with animals instead of people and spends a lot of time alone in the wilderness.
The crux of the book comes when a local football player is murdered and Kya is a suspect. The big twist reveals that she did in fact kill him, but it was only because he tried to assault her — seemingly offering a moral justification for a heinous crime.
It is this apparent belief in moral superiority within the novel that has further unsettled critics of Delia and Mark Owens, with Jeffrey Goldberg — the author behind the New Yorker piece — telling Slate in 2019: “I got a copy of Crawdads and I have to say I found it strange and uncomfortable to be reading the story of a Southern loner, a noble naturalist, who gets away with what is described as a righteously motivated murder in the remote wild.”
In addition to the troubling plot, the Black characters in the book, Jumpin’ and Mabel, are accused of being “racist stereotypes” with one critic noting that they are “the kind that are comforting to white people but may prove disconcerting for African-Americans.”
Throughout Jeffrey Goldberg's research — and the Owenses' own books — it's clear that Delia didn't agree with all of her husband’s practices, and the pair have divorced in recent years. While the exact date of their separation is unknown, Mark is thanked in Where the Crawdads Sing for being one of the novel’s first readers — suggesting that they were still on good terms, if not together, when it was written.
With all of this taken into account, Taylor has faced scrutiny for her decision to take part in the movie adaptation — as have other prominent celebrities attached to the project, including Reese Witherspoon, who is producing it.
However, Taylor’s fans are particularly disappointed because of her problematic history of white feminism. Commenting on a TikTok video breaking down the discourse, one person wrote: “This is not a surprising move for Taylor, this is hallmark TSwift behavior.”
The video’s creator agreed: “Yeah I think the phrase of the day is ‘disappointed but not surprised.’”
Someone else echoed: “Taylor's involvement is no[t] surprising at all when u really think about it. She's the epitome of only caring about politics when and if it benefits her.”
The creator added: “I’m in no way claiming to be the 1st to make a video about this, none of the info on the author, or on Taylor’s white feminism is new.” Another called out Reese as well as they wrote: “Reese Witherspoon and Taylor Swift are the epitome of white feminism.”
By definition, white feminism is “the label given to feminist efforts and actions that uplift white women but that exclude or otherwise fail to address issues faced by minority groups, especially women of color and LGBTQ women.”
This is an accusation that Taylor has faced for several years, with the star having the privilege of being completely apolitical in her career until very recently. In fact, Taylor didn’t speak out on political issues until 2018, when she endorsed Democratic candidates in the midterm elections.
She has also come under criticism for performative feminism that doesn’t acknowledge any of her privileges as somebody who is both white and incredibly wealthy, and she has been accused of fixating on her one oppression of being a woman.
In 2015, Taylor famously became embroiled in a feud with Nicki Minaj when the rapper called out the VMAs for favoring white women with thin bodies. Taylor took it as a personal slight.
At the time, Taylor tweeted that Nicki was wrong to “pit women against each other,” which seemingly prompted Nicki to share a series of articles that highlighted the structural racism in the music industry — and society more broadly — that saw Taylor's video nominated while Nicki's was overlooked.
In the end, Taylor apologized for centering herself when Nicki was actually trying to highlight a much wider issue.
Some people have also drawn parallels between Taylor’s involvement in Where the Crawdads Sing and her highly controversial “Wildest Dreams” music video, which was released in 2015.
The video takes place on a movie set in the 1950s, vaguely suggested to be somewhere in Africa, but there are no people of color in the entire shoot.
But the video does include many wild animals, such as giraffes, zebras, and lions, with the concept being compared to European imperialism and the “romanticization of an era of white domination.”
Writer and activist Zoé Samudzi added that the “Wildest Dreams” music video is “the literal use of black Africanness as a cultural aesthetic sans the employment of black bodies who created and deeply embody them.”
Commenting on Taylor’s involvement with Crawdads, one TikTok user wrote: “That Wildest Dreams video makes sense now 🥲.” Another argued: “Did y'all really expect Taylor to do better than this? When has her feminism ever served someone other than herself? Lol.”
Others just expressed their lingering disappointment that Taylor signed onto the project, arguing that she should have educated herself on its controversy before agreeing to take part.
“So many people aren’t aware of the author’s actions but Taylor’s PR team DEFINITELY should be. I’m so disappointed :/,” one wrote. Another criticized the fans who’d let their excitement for new music distract them from the seriousness of Delia’s history, commenting: “It’s disappointing to see so many fans focus just on getting new music rather than calling out what Taylor is co-signing by doing this.”
Someone else added: “Things like these are why I can't fully get behind Taylor. So many things that she does feel performative.” One more called Taylor out for so rarely speaking out on important issues, writing: “I wish I was surprised, I want to support TS so badly but why is she always so painfully silent?”
Taylor is yet to publicly acknowledge the backlash, and BuzzFeed News has reached out to her rep for comment.