What Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ Tells Us About Black History, Identities And Body Image, Film Companion

Homecoming is a gripping self-portrait about stage-heroic diva sweep, gender, race and the limits of the body.

It is the Netflix event of 2019 so far.

“Dragon breathing fire.”

“Beautiful mane, I’m the lion.”

“My daddy Alabama,

Momma Louisiana

You mix that negro with that creole

Make a Texas bamma.”

These words have electric propulsion in (singer-songwriter-actor) Beyoncé’s (Giselle Knowles) two-stage performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (held annually at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, USA), the material for her directorial debut Homecoming. Anger and sensuality have never seemed as real, because unlike the Instagram-addled visual memory we are creating about rockstars and artistes, one of the characters of Homecoming is a sweaty, swooning mass of fans who are actually seeing their idol in concert.

For me, a ’70s child who grew up on MTV, Destiny’s Child (American R&B girl group with Beyoncé in the line-up) was an extension of En Vogue (American pop vocal group). This Netflix film directed by Beyoncé, about the racial and gender identity she inherits, and largely about her own great diva sweep, took me straight back to En Vogue’s Free Your Mind video—Terry Ellis, Dawn Robinson, Cindy Herron, and Maxine Jones slaying (it used to be called sashaying then) a ramp, hollering, “Free Your mind, and the rest will follow/Be colour blind, don’t be so shallow.” These girls were Californians. Destiny’s Child, which was from Houston, Texas, and which Beyoncé Giselle Knowles headlined as a vocalist, reintroduced the “bugaboo” to us in a new way. Beyoncé says in the film that Destiny’s Child was her education. Long after she broke out as a solo artiste, with the 2016 album Lemonade, her personal and her political met. It was a turnaround, and Destiny’s Child was far, far behind.

What Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ Tells Us About Black History, Identities And Body Image, Film Companion
A still from Homecoming.

With the Coachella concert, she goes further. This is not Beyoncé with the perfectly curved and toned body, but a rockstar at her peak, who has mastered stage swagger but is now using it to say something bigger than girls, and her own life. This is her homecoming in two ways: She owns and celebrates the collection of identities she has inherited, and uses them as a conduit to prop herself up as their supreme representative. She uses her body for angry stage pillage, and of course, to shake her ass off like never before, how else would it be a Beyoncé concert—but none of it is ever to be just sexy. The film shows us the arduous process of rehearsals, stage design and editing that have gone into filming the concert and creating Homecoming.

What Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ Tells Us About Black History, Identities And Body Image, Film Companion
Beyoncé during her performance.

In April last year, Beyoncé performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Indio, California, channeling the traditions of dance and music at historically Black colleges. With carefully selected talent—dancers who make torso-crescents and twerks seem equally easy, drummers and other instrumentalists, vocalists—Beyoncé mounted a super-synchronised show which was also historic because a Black woman artiste was performing here for the first time. Those who watched it on live stream found it staggering; only to be blown by what Beyoncé did to the spectacle in post-production. A canny director, she creates a postmodern monument to her own superstardom, cleverly interweaving long hours of the concert with quotes from Black legends such as (novelist) Alice Walker, (entrepreneur) Reginald Lewis, (writer-activist) Audre Lorde, (poet) Maya Angelou, (novelist) Chimamanda  Ngozi Adichie, (novelist) Toni Morrison and (singer) Nina Simone, and snippets from her own post-baby body struggle days preparing for this concert that demanded every muscle of her body to co-operate.

What Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ Tells Us About Black History, Identities And Body Image, Film Companion
An off-stage still from Beyoncé’s Homecoming.

Rarely have you seen a female rockstar so much in love with herself on and off the stage—and it is a glorious thing to watch. The process of fine-tuning the Black university language, and extending the self-portrait to Black history, brief but poetic remembrance of Black history’s “dark ages”, and feminist lyrics make a gripping film, now streaming on Netflix. Despite 200 of those brilliantly synchronised performers on stage, Beyoncé is the ringleader, authoring this spectacle. She reminds us of her amazing ability to hold a crowd. It’s legend-making at its best.

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