Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”

free essayIn 1989, Madonna released the music video for a song Like a Prayer and created a wave of controversial disputes. People, as well as the Catholic Church, negatively reacted to a host of religious images used in the video. Whereas Madonna has a Catholic background, the video directed by Mary Lambert was, first of all, centered around racial inequality and profiling. The visual analysis of Madonna’s Like a Prayer reveals that the religious statements are secondary and aim to promote the singer’s career, whereas the video directs its message of racial equality to the young generation that is able to change its status quo.

First of all, it should be remembered that Madonna is a clever performer who knows how to make an impact on a public. The music video Like a Prayer was made with provocation in mind. It has two narrative lines twisting in the end. One is a young girl’s infatuation with a black saint; the other is a girl being a witness to a murder of a woman in which a black guy is wrongly accused of. Thus, religious fervor and racial discriminations are two main subjects of Madonna’s video.

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An issue of religious fervor that borders on sexual arousal has been around for some time. One can remember the famous sculpture of Saint Teresa by Italian master Bernini Ecstasy where a nun shows delight and pleasure on her upturned face after an angel touched her. Similarly, Madonna plays a girl who kisses the feet of a statue of a black saint in religious reverence. Then the statue comes to life and kisses Madonna on the cheek. Contrary to the popular belief that Madonna acts inappropriately regarding a religious figure or religious symbols, there is no much interaction between her and the black guy. Having come to life, he leaves the church.

However, Madonna feels power after the saint’s kiss as well as support from an African American woman, who appears in her dream. In her vision, Madonna sees herself falling while being in the sky on the clouds. The African American woman catches her and tosses her upwards. Furthermore, Madonna sees stigmata on her hands. They can be interpreted as a token of empowerment and a sign of being the chosen one.

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Meanwhile, the second plot line involves a white woman being stabbed in the street by a gang. When a black man approached to give her some help, the police arrived, and he was falsely accused of murder. Madonna’s protagonist was a witness to this happening but she was afraid to announce what she had seen and ran away to hide in the church. The African American guy was taken to prison and, at the end of the video, he is shown behind the bars. This narrative line is backed up by the visuals such as burning crosses and a gospel choir. However, the burning crosses relate to the Klu Klux Klan rather than serve as a reference to the church.

In this way, Madonna shows that African American males suffer in vain. At that time, American society was reluctant to accept interracial romantic relationships. In the video, the shots of burning crosses are followed in quick succession by the scenes of Madonna and the black guy kissing and the saint crying blood tears. This episode creates an expression of how African American men suffer for having relationships with white women. At one point, Madonna sees the black saint’s statue behind the bars. She opens them, and when she touches the statue’s cheek, it comes alive. It is a visual reference to the fact that African American males were restricted in their actions and activities. At the final episode, all participants come up to the stage, and the curtain falls. Thus, it can be interpreted that people prefer playing their roles like in the theater rather than accepting existing life realities.

The reason why the video made such a shocking impact on many people is, first of all, because of the difference in how the believers see religion in the US and Europe, especially in Catholic countries. Obviously, Protestant and Catholic approaches to faith are very different. Therefore, for Protestant America, the image of busty woman kissing saints’ statue is unsettling, whereas Italian and Spanish Catholics are very emotional and hearty in their religious manifestation. One of the illustrations of this difference is Madonna’s name. It is not only her stage name but one of the real ones. At birth, she was named Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. Whereas Madonna is traditionally Virgin Mary’s name, at the same time, in Catholic countries there is a tradition to name boys with the most important name for a believer – Jesus. Therefore, the impact of the name is not that staggering; it simply connects people to their God and serves as a manifestation of their faith.


Madonna intensifies the combination of two traditions – Protestant and Catholic – in the scenes where the gospel choir sings in the Catholic cathedral. It can hardly be seen in real life but in the video, it serves to show that different people share the same religion – Christianity. Eventually after being inspired by the gospel singing Madonna’s protagonist goes to the police and testifies.

Addressing the young audience, Madonna expects to make an impact in relation to racial policy and the way people treat each other. By relying on the shock value of the music video, Madonna wanted to make an impact and attract attention to the issues of racial inequality as well as to boost her career.