My plans for today were relatively unambitious.
- Follow through on my intention to dump out and purge another dresser drawer while the dog was at daycare (check).
- Get a very small, chipping-away-at-it, start on cleaning up the clutter room in the basement (check check).
- Finally finish the tome I’ve been working on since late March (record scratch).
Two out of three ain’t bad. You see, what I didn’t plan on today was watching Beyonce’s Homecoming.
Instead, I thought I’d watch the first few minutes of the documentary/concert film while having lunch. But once I started watching it, that was game over: there was no way I was finishing my day without also finishing this film.
Seriously, y’all. It is that good. Not just the performance quality of the concert(s) itself(themselves), though that is sky-high.(1) It’s the intentionality of the pieces—both the Beychella set and the film itself. Both could readily be encapsulated with the same complimentary phrase Beyonce uses to describe the caliber of performers in her 200-person Coachella troupe: “The swag is limitless.”(2)
This set’s celebration of Black American culture, and the legacy of America’s HBCUs, on such a huge stage as Coachella is legit revolutionary. Even kind of revelatory for a middle-aged white lady like me. And the film makes clear that every detail of this celebration was carefully crafted and rehearsed. “When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,” Beyonce says in one of the behind-the-scenes voiceovers that sounds like she may have been recording herself in private reflection on this experience. And bring it she does.
The stepping, the drumline, the baton twirler, the troupe of women dancers wearing gloves to emphasize the synchronization of their hand movements, the pyramid of bleachers which houses the musicians and backing chorus: all of this evokes the feeling of the halftime performance at a black college. And, as observed by Ronda Racha Penrice for NBCNews,
At other schools, attendees may come to see the game; at black colleges, the halftime performance is the real draw. A good game is just a bonus.
The film helps up the ante on the celebratory message by using quotes on the importance of black culture and community by African-American authors (many of them HBCU grads) as transitional moments between the films onstage and backstage sections.
The concert and the film both also continue the trajectory of feminist and womanist expression that has been ever-more-prevalent in Beyonce’s oeuvre, a trajectory I started pondering way back when here on JALC. Among the artists sampled/referenced in the concert are Nina Simone, Tina Turner, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.(3) During the concert, Beyonce walks slowly on the stage extension into the audience, while a recording of Malcolm X plays:
The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.
In another self-reflective voiceover, Beyonce talks about the tensions she’s felt in her own life around being boxed in by her identity as a black woman, and her explicit desire that Beychella be an opportunity for all the women in her troupe to get out of that confinement.
Black women often feel underestimated. I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process. . . . I wanted everyone to feel thankful for their curves, their sass, their honesty — thankful for their freedom.
Watching the concert footage, I was struck by some of the ways this womanist perspective became so seamlessly woven into the ways Beyonce conceived this performance. To my eyes, she hired a majority black woman to be her musicians, and there were numerous instrumental solos that are stereotypically male-dominated—the opening snare drum cadence, a classic mid-song rock guitar solo, a funky bass groove building the foundation for a new number—that, here, were performed by black woman.
I can’t recommend Homecoming highly enough. And I have a feeling I’ll be adding the album to my collection, if it’s ever released beyond streaming platforms.
(1) Seriously. Damn.
(2) This phraseology is also borrowed by Candice Carty-Williams in her kick-ass think-piece on Homecoming in The Guardian. I totally y expected to quote her in my post, but since that didn’t quite happen, I have to shoehorn her into a footnote here.
(3) And that’s just the few I was able to spot.