So I woke up, Sunday morning; and my first instinct (after praying) was to check the news- typically. A lot happens when you sleep you know. Well, I found out a couple of interesting things; amongst which was that the crazy North Korean leader had ordered a rocket launch- thought to be a cover for a long range missile- to the chagrin of most of the world! Hmmm…another day, another provocative action from Pyongyang. At this point, I feel like I’ve seen it all; and heard it all…so I moved on to another story. Still scrolling through my phone; then boom! I saw it! Just a couple of hours before the start of Super Bowl 50, and Beyoncé had pulled a “Beyoncé” on us, with a surprise video release. I wasn’t “surprised by the surprise”, because it’s typical of Beyoncé. But what struck me was the fact that this was not just another sexy Beyoncé video…it was a Beyoncé video laden with political undertones and a social message...excellent! It was a message that was mostly geared towards the black community. Beyoncé is usually criticized for not being too vocal on issues affecting the black community. But in recent times, she and her husband have shown greater support for black causes; especially with the #blacklivesmatter movement. And this video was a feather in the cap of Beyoncé’s rhythmical political activism- if I may call it that! Now before I venture further, I would just say that I am a Beyoncé fan. Mix that with political and social activism; and I knew the video would be a hit. I was not disappointed.
|Beyonce atop a half-submerged police car
The video- Formation- is a work of art filled with political messages…and the scenes bear evidence of this. Shot on location in New Orleans, it opens up with a warning- Parental Advisory, Explicit Content. The faint-hearted had been given notice! We then see Beyoncé bending to squat atop a police car partially submerged in water- this being a tribute to New Orleans as it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and can also be seen as a “f**k you” message to trigger-happy, black-killing cops, when it is fully submerged (drowned) at the end of the video. And with the entire #blacklivesmatter movement gaining traction all across the US in the wake of police brutality towards blacks which have culminated in the loss of several black lives, the particular choice of a police car was a poignant message which was not lost…much like Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”.
As a tribute to her black heritage, Beyoncé pays homage to her Negro+Creole roots; announces that she’s proud of her baby’s (Blue Ivy) curly hair; and defiantly declares that she “loves her Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils”! As black people, the media tries to convince us that we are not good enough…that we should aspire to be “white”…but Beyoncé isn’t here for all that bullsh*t, and strongly urges us to own our blackness! And oh, by the way, watching Blue Ivy playfully affirm her mother’s powerful lyrics; was just the cutest thing ever!
|Blue Ivy in Formation
In the mostly white dominated society that is the USA, black stereotypes abound. I was struck by the fact that rather than shy away from these stereotypes, Beyoncé puts them in full view, casting them in a positive light. From the church scenes (yeah, black people everywhere do have a very vocal, albeit theatrical way of worshipping God), to the black basketball players (we own the game…white men can’t jump! *joking*), to the scenes showing black women (one of them being Beyoncé) sitting while dressed elegantly in a plantation-styled mansion (yeah, blacks were once slaves in America…but I liked the fact that instead of being dressed in “slavery attire”, Beyoncé and her crew were all elegantly clothed), to a black child dancing in front of a line of black cops (I’ll get back to this particular scene in a bit…by the way, y’all know that nobody dances better than a black person!); it was all black excellence!
|Beyonce surrounded by her crew in a plantation-styled mansion
Beyoncé has always been a firm believer in financial empowerment; and her catchy lines in Formation, reaffirms this. From constantly telling us that she “slays”, to letting us know that we might be the new “black Bill Gates”; just as she also just “might be a black Bill Gates in the making”, black people are reminded that the financial realm does not have to be monopolized by a few white men in Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Beyoncé lets us know that we are the new face of blackness…the new elite. And she doesn’t just give us catchy lyrics, but also shows us a process as she sings- “I see it/I want it…I dream it/ I work hard/ I grind till I own it”; and she does this while “slaying all day”. Now who says a black man can’t think up the next Microsoft, Google, or Facebook? And there weren’t just lines to black financial excellence, but also to female empowerment. With X-rated lines like “when he f**k me good, I take his a** to Red Lobster…if he gets it right, I might take him on a ride in my chopper”, Beyoncé reminds women everywhere that we can ALL be bosses! We can change the game…we can be the new generation of bad bi***es!
Beyoncé has never been one to shy away from controversy. Surrounded constantly by a thick cloud of conspiracy theories, she pokes a finger in the eyes of her detractors by telling them that “y’all Corny with that illuminati mess”. Yes, we’ve all heard the rumors…we know what she’s talking about. Haters, take a few seats!
Now, back to the little black kid dancing in front of a line of white police officers. That, for me, was the most potent political message in the video- aside from the drowning of the police car. As the little boy dances, he suddenly stops and puts his hands up in the air (y’all remember the line: “hands up, don’t shoot”?), and then surprisingly, the policemen all raise their hands too. Then the camera closes in on graffiti on the wall- “stop shooting us”! I wept! May we see the day when a white cop also waves the flag of peace and surrender in the face of an un-armed black man! Black lives do matter!
|Little black kid dances and then raises hands in front of a line of white cops (click picture to watch)
Beyoncé reminds us of our power. We are capable, and we are ‘fly’. Yes, black people love Corn Breads and Collard Greens, and got hot sauce in their bags; but it’s a sign of swag. And ain’t nobody got swag like a black folk! The system may be unfair…black people in the USA are usually treated unfairly, just like the rest of the black race is also marginalized in the global community; but like Beyoncé dressed in black garb with a neck full of chains and surrounded by black men, a time comes when we have to put our 2 middle fingers up in the air and say “f**k you”, to the system…we will do things our way…as black folks…with black swag…and black excellence. And just like Beyoncé admonishes in the last line, we will “always stay gracious, because our best revenge is our paper”. So we will keep getting that paper! Can the African continent stop begging for crumbs now; and learn to create its own wealth?
|Beyonce puts her middle fingers up
Beyoncé’s “Formation” is a call to blacks everywhere…an excellent black empowerment anthem. It is a reminder and affirmation of black heritage, and also gives us a window into our glorious future. It is a sexy, groovy political declaration, and one of Beyoncé’s best offerings. It is Kwame Nkrumah in the 40’s and 50’s; Martin Luther King in the 60’s; Barack Obama in 2008. Thank you Mike Will Made-it, for producing such a dope a** masterpiece; thank you Swae-Lee, for being an awesome co-writer; thank you Melina Matsoukas, for being a visionary video director; and thank you Queen Bey, for being such a genius artist and a great representation of the black race. Yes, we are black and proud; we slay…we slay…all day!