HOMECOMING: A Film By Beyoncé / Netflix
With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining steam (and achieving results) across the globe, Black media is having a moment. Black films (and Black-led films) are trending on Netflix and books by Black authors are topping charts. Whether the trend will hold remains to be seen, but for the moment, it appears white and non-Black people are attempting to educate themselves through media. And that’s a good thing.
The problem is that white people, left to their own devices, can’t always be trusted to find the best Black media (and I say this very much as an imperfect white person – one who grew up in the same racism stew as everyone else). There is an abundance of White Saviour films for folks to gorge upon out there. Most notably, 2011’s The Help, a ‘good white/bad white’ fable that has aged like milk has rapidly risen in the international Netflix trends. So too have The Blind Side (2009) and Green Book (2018), both of which are deeply flawed works that centre their white heroes (who come along and solve racism with their kindness) over their Black characters. Even 2016’s Hidden Figures, which is arguably still worth watching for the lost history it examines, invented a white hero moment for Kevin Costner to play. They literally made it up.
Some excellent projects to watch in the place of these white-feel-gooderies include Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016), Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have it (1986) and Ava DuVernay’s 13th (2016), all of which are available on Netflix New Zealand.
But in my opinion, one of the best starting points is a watch (or, most likely, a re-watch) of Beyoncé’s untouchably excellent Homecoming (2019), also on Netflix.
Dubbed Beychella, it’s no exaggeration to claim that Beyoncé’s Coachella set made history, and not merely in that she was the first Black woman to headline the festival in its 20-year history. The two-hour performance, which pays tribute to the "Black-college experience", has been widely hailed as one of the best performances by an American musician of all time.
The set, which features over 100 Black performers, includes a full orchestra, drumline, majorette dancers, musicians, and ballerinas, forever laying to rest the “we would hire Black people for these roles, they just aren’t out there” argument. Moreover, Homecoming, the event’s corresponding film, tells an essential Black tale: a tale of Black excellence.
Beyoncé is an exacting storyteller, who demands greatness of herself and her collaborators, and who creates with intention. Homecoming, naturally, is awe-inspiring. Despite being, essentially, "the Beyoncé show" the show is not entirely about Beyoncé. Instead, it's about black excellence, female power and the unrelenting possibility of self-belief.
As with anything, there are some troubling aspects – particularly around what’s been dubbed the Beyoncé Coachella Diet. Upon re-watch, I was surprised once again by how extreme it was. Notably, Knowles extensively lists what she isn’t eating (“no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol”), causing me to wonder what was left (“I’m hungry” she adds). Nutritionists have dubbed the diet “dangerous” and don’t recommend following it. Of course, Knowles is not the first woman to strive for her “pre-baby body” after having children – tabloid magazines have monitored such transformations with an excruciatingly close gaze for decades. Kate Middleton, in particular, has auspiciously upheld this expectation – emerging from the hospital looking svelte and chic mere hours after birth (three times!). The difference between Middleton and Knowles is that, with Homecoming, Knowles pulls away the curtain to illuminate the struggle. It’s difficult (and unrealistic) to return to a post-baby body less than a year since giving birth to twins. Homecoming at least acknowledges the strenuous work it takes. Feminists who have lamented this section of the film must also scrutinise the tabloid media who create such a precedent and the Kate Middletons (themselves victims to this expectation) who uphold it.
Basically, Beyoncé’s Coachella set is going to give much better value for your time than any of the half-baked White Saviour films out there, and you’ll likely enjoy yourself a hell of a lot more. So go ahead and watch it again. Or watch it for the first time, if you’ve somehow missed it. And say thank you, Mrs Carter.Support Villainesse