Over the weekend, Beyoncé released a surprise video for her new song, Formation. This epic release came just one day before her Super Bowl 50 Halftime performance and is sparking many discussions about the role of entertainment in activism. If you didn’t read yesterday’s post about activism and the halftime show, now would be a good time to do that!
The video itself has racked up over 17 million views in a few short days and has quickly become the topic of conversation for political and entertainment commentators alike. Touching on themes of police violence, Black culture in America, and Hurricane Katrina, it’s no wonder this new video is generating such a heated debate.
Regardless of whether you’re a follower of Queen B or not, this video’s importance is undeniable. As many have pointed out, this is arguably the most socially conscious video that Beyoncé has ever released. She uses powerful imagery from the documentary, “That B.E.A.T.,” interspersed with impressive dance routines, to reflect on the culture of New Orleans and the destruction left behind by Hurricane Katrina.
The controversial rebuilding of the city (or lack thereof) is something that few artists have had the courage to touch on. Beyoncé’s use of these images effectively incorporates the celebration of her Creole identity with the need for discussion of this important issue, even if her lyrics don’t explicitly address the conflict.
Her use of powerful imagery does not stop there. Much of the video features Beyoncé singing atop a New Orleans police cruiser, which eventually submerges while she lies across the top. This theme of domination continues to the end of the video where a Black child in a hoodie is shown dancing in front of a line of police officers. The scene ends with the police officers’ hands in the air, a symbolic sign of surrender. Lastly, the words “Stop Shooting Us” can be seen spray-painted across a brick wall serving as a reminder for the many Black lives unjustly lost at the hands of police brutality.
The timing of this video is incredibly significant. The image of the Black child in the hoodie evokes the memory of Trayvon Martin, whose birthday would have taken place one day prior to the video’s release. Through the creative use of images, Beyoncé is in some ways re-interpreting history, or at least, offering us a brighter narrative of the future. As the New York Times pointed out, this video expertly, “blends the aesthetic with the political.” In a culture that is increasingly obsessed with visual media, this tactic is an incredibly smart and simple way to start a dialogue.
Furthermore, Beyoncé released this video the day before her Super Bowl performance. By doing this, she is using her national and global influence to force people’s attention to critical issues that our country continues to struggle with (racism, poverty, sexism, etc.). While the lyrics aren’t necessarily political, the song includes a great deal of reflection on her own identity and experiences. Perhaps this style will spark introspection in the minds of her fans and other celebrities that could potentially use their influence to inspire positive social change.
This video is an important step in starting conversations about several issues plaguing our culture. It also serves as an important reminder of the significant influence that celebrities can have over the political and social ideals of the greater public (let’s not forget John Lennon’s Anti-War Activism)! Formation demonstrates Beyoncé’s willingness to incorporate activism into her entertainment, just one more reason she deserves the title, “Queen B.”