The video that dropped pre Super Bowl half time frenzy was so allusive- you might think it was a metaphor in itself. As though it was a hidden movement- an agenda, pushing race relations with Beyoncé holding her baton, orchestrating a moment that incited suggestions of a boycott of the singer, and the National Football League.
Many questions plagued my mind; whether those who watched the half time game understood the meaning behind the Black Panther homage, or they were familiar with Malcom X? Were they either too amused by the performance to be moved by the meaning, or did it perhaps create a dialogue that would further the race discussion?
I needed to see the video ‘Formation’.
‘Formation’, is a whole 4 minutes and 52 seconds of enigmatic imagery and thought provoking words. I was surprised and challenged by what I saw.They are so many layers of interpretation to ‘Formation’, artistically, historically and lyrically.
The first scene shows Beyoncé draped on a sinking police car in the wreckage of homes in New Orleans wrought by hurricane Katrina, a devastating event in 2005 that enormously affected; and still does; the black residents of the city. A confused voice asks, “What happened at the New Orleans?” In that instance I could sense another Beyoncé-esque political foray building up.
The video itself could not have been more keenly planned. February being black history month in the US, with Mardi Gras festivities well on their way in New Orleans. Moreover, February also marks Trayvon Martin and Sandra Blands’ birthdays, both deaths linked as race fuelled attacks.
‘Formation’, you could say, reclaims the black narrative. It puts it at the centre with a new focus- not on the demise of the black person but the strength in numbers, their culture, their different faces, to their Southern regional specific outfits, from long Chantilly lace and fans, to denim jackets and Afro hair- to crawfish, high school basketball and braids.She creates a timeline of new and old south- with black cowboys and spurs on Adidas trainers.
A few scenes within this video have caused particular uproar, from the image of the sinking police car as attacking the American police force, to a scene where a young black child in a hoodie dances in front of a row of police personnel dressed up in riot gear- representing the fallen black youth perhaps – from Trayvon Martin to Freddie Gray, in defiance?
The police imagery incited one woman to take to social media and post on Beyoncé’s Facebook page, saying, “As the wife of a police officer, I am offended by this entire video… Rise above and stay above the strife. For a girl who grew up in a privileged, wealthy family, she has no business pandering to those who didn’t.”
And yet, it is not really about the wealth? Is it now? If that were the case then ethnic minorities within Hollywood would not have felt such an outrage being excluded from major events like the Oscars. Surely if it were about money they would simply accept what they have ‘earned’ and ‘pander’ on.
It is about representation (or lack thereof) and it is about having a voice. And Beyoncé definitely has a voice. In her lyrics she exclaims, “You know you that b**** when you cause all this conversation”.
‘Formation’ was cleverly constructed – it’s a discussion- a Q&A, a celebration and a protest. The idea, Formation could account for numerous things, from the amalgamation of black stereotypes to featuring black strong and successful women, “okay ladies, now lets get in formation”, highlighting perhaps the lack of black female performers.
It could also be seen as a unification of the black community, depicted in the video with Beyoncé constantly surrounded by black men and women.
“Some people may not like it, but you are changing the way we see each other and that is a really powerful thing to do just in song lyrics,” says one woman on Bey’s page.
With a nod to key civil rights leaders in her video, such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X, Beyoncé appears to have introduced a new style of political demonstration, using songs and her moves as opposed to speeches and marches.