Beyonce Turns Black Womanhood on its Head
On April 23rd, the Bey Hive sat collectively by their television sets and watched as Queen Bey released her visual album, Lemonade. Similar to her self-titled visual album we had no idea what to expect. It could’ve very well been a recipe for some organic lemonade but man oh man did she deliver. Beyoncé meticulously strings together a narrative of a woman scorned by the love of her life. With the introduction of each one of the 11 chapters, Beyoncé reveals another level of grief. British-Somali poet Warsan Shire’s words bring each scene to life connecting both the visual and the song making for a quite harmonious motion picture. There are some rather bold claims about the state of Beyoncé’s marriage, and a call to action for Jay to call Becky with the good hair and naturally mainstream media ate it all up but forgot to wash it all down with a tall glass of lemonade. To allow yourself to get swept up in the infidelity rumors is to completely discredit all of the work put into compiling such visceral images alongside these powerful poems while giving us records to shake our behinds to ( I'm looking at you Sorry). Lemonade put a battery in the backs of black women of all ages and forced them to take a good look at themselves. Beyoncé puts the black woman at the center of the narrative and allows her to tell her own story. Black women know love and they know pain. They know what it means to give all of themselves to someone only to have that thrown back in their face. They know that once scorned they must grieve in solitude. Beyoncé opens up her grieving process to the world and gives black women space to mourn love lost.
There is a video of Bjork being interviewed in 1988 for which she decides to break down the science of how televisions work. First, she takes apart the screen from the body and begins to examine all of its parts. She sees roads where wires are and homes where transmitters sit. She explained to us that an Icelandic poet had told her that while movies being shown in theaters are simply light being thrown from a projector onto a screen, a television screen is made up of several different screens which send “electric light” and because of this your mind is working double time to make sense of it all. If black womanhood were a television it was as if Beyoncé took apart that tv in a similar fashion, exposed its inner workings to the world and attempted to figure out how it operated. Once she figured it out for herself on her own terms, she let it be. She didn’t cast it away she left it so that families all across the globe could sit around that television and take it all in.
To peel back the layers of Lemonade as a black woman is to peel back the layers of oneself. Bey takes us on a trip to the deep south, Louisiana, as if to remind us of what we had overcome. With each chapter unfolding, you see Bey use the words of Warsan Shire as a crutch if you will. It is as if she’s leaning on the strength of her sister, a sister who "uses her words to connect, honor and confront," to help her navigate her own womanhood. Throughout the film, you see this reoccurring theme of conjuring and sisterhood. In the Denial sequence, she is seen in the magnificent yellow Roberto Cavalli number swinging around her good old trusty bat, Mr. Hot Sauce, gleefully smashing all the glass windows insight, grabbing inspiration from visual artist Pipilotti Rist’s 1997 “Ever is Over All.”
Just moments before this scene, you see Beyoncé opening large doors from which floods of water come spooling over the steps and Oshun, the West African goddess emerges. Within the Yoruba tradition, Oshun, or the goddess of love and sweet waters represents women and womanhood. Often depicted in this sort of golden yellow, Bey uses both the water and the golden garb to let us know this was no accident. If she is going to make it through these treacherous roads she is going to need the help of her ancestors. West African influence runs all through the narrative. In the Sorry sequence featuring the twerking Serena Williams, Bey can be found on a bus surrounded by black women in face paint. Enlisting the help of Nigerian visual artist Laolu Senbanjo who uses “Afrometrics, or the mystery of African pattern," to deck these girls out in a quite breathtaking face paint number.
“The past and future merge to meet us here, what a curse.” From the carefree scenes in the Denial chapter to the rage in which Bey sings 'Don’t Hurt Yourself' during the Anger chapter to the introspective moments between her younger self and her father to the rather triumphant moment of hope during the performance of Freedom Bey calls on her ancestors to help make sense of how she has gotten to this present moment and what needs to be done to impart wisdom onto the black women that will precede her. From the b-role of mothers of young men who were victims of police brutality to the powerful Serena Williams. From the beautiful ballet performed by Michaela de Prince to the beautiful chords being played by New Orleans blues legend Little Freddie King. From the introduction to the French-Cuban Yoruba/English singing duo Ibeyi and powerhouse vocalists twins Chloe and Halle to activist/actor Amandla Stenberg. From actor/singer who will always call out media Zendaya to actress Quvenzhané Wallis holding Blue Ivy's hand. Grandma Hattie, the alchemist reminded us that life will consistently give you lemons but with the help of your sisters, those lemons can turn into sweet, sweet lemonade. This is for the black girl who was never given a second to herself. Who felt small. Like her problems didn’t hold a torch to the problems of her people. "Why do you deny yourself heaven? Why do you consider yourself undeserving?” This is required viewing for any black girl who can’t seem to get her lemonade recipe quite right. We gotchu sis.
Some magical black women who wrote pieces far better than I ever could:
- Melissa Harris Perry: A Call and Response with Melissa Harris-Perry: The Pain and Power of 'Lemonade'
What was your fave chapter of Lemonade? After listening to the song sans visuals what are your thoughts of the music itself? Have you ever gone through a trying time where you felt like you could not openly grieve?
Share in the comments below with your Lemonade recipe or tweet us: @wowiwrite using the hashtag #brainwash and let's keep the conversation going :)