Beyoncé’s new visual album teaches us how to use life’s lemons to make lemonade, but not without sitting through a thrilling and fearless lesson in black womanhood along the way.
Earlier this year, Beyoncé’s single “Formation” rocked the internet when it dropped the day before she took the stage at the Super Bowl halftime show. I wrote on “Formation” as a symbol of the next religious Great Awakening. With the April 23 release of LEMONADE, Beyoncé’s full-length visual album, I am convinced more than ever that “Formation” served as voice crying out on the internet, paving the way for even more conversations about the mistreatment, invisibility, and spiritual essence of black women.
LEMONADE does not disappoint. It immediately draws us in with high concept visual images set to the backdrop of Beyoncé’s pensive vocals and recitation of haunting poetry by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire. The film then weaves a compelling narrative of a woman betrayed by a lover. This story of marital infidelity is inseparably tied to the generalized experiences of black women, forming an allegorical tale of the emotional strains of black women in life, love, and femininity in at least four compelling ways:
1. Lifting the Curtains on the Black Family
We all know the phrase about avoiding the airing of dirty laundry. In black families, this axiom is often a way of life. While black family units have suffered ever since they were first broken by slavery, black families have always put great effort into keeping these experiences “in the family” — whether the literal family unit or the cultural family of black folks. Black women have felt that their families must withstand pressures and criticism from the outside world, causing them to shroud their problems in secrecy. As a result, they often pay the price of bearing those burdens alone. In comes Beyoncé to lift the curtains and let the sun shine in on the reality of family struggles.
For me, it does not matter how much of LEMONADE was inspired by real-life events. To turn it into a piece of celebrity gossip diminishes the work — Beyoncé carefully constructed this piece as a source of empathy and liberation for other women.
2. Highlighting Black Female Invisibility
Beyoncé is one of the most rich and famous women in the world, but her status does not erase her experience as a black woman. With a quote from Malcolm X accompanied by images of everyday black women, Beyoncé takes herself off the pedestal of celebrity and places herself amongst the anonymous masses of black women.
Even in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement, the particularity of black female abuses are often lost and forgotten, so much so that the Say Her Name movement emerged as a result to combat this problem of invisibility. While we know names like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, we are less likely to know names like Aiyana Jones or Rekia Boyd.
In a world where black female voices have been consistently limited, LEMONADE shows us the struggles specific to black women and Beyoncé takes the stage to begin to remedy that wrong.
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