Beyoncé definitely knows how to cause a stir by dropping this amazingly pro-black video in (US) Black History Month argues Jaimeel Fenton in this guest blog. Click here for a contrasting view of “Formation” from Kwame Ibegbuna.
The video and song can be broken down in many ways and be seen from many angles, starting with the title “Formation”. The title pays homage to the Black Panther party and the lines they would assemble when they met. The title also has an underlying essence of appreciating the very foundation that is one’s black skin – which is reinforced by the line “I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils” (we all know Beyoncé loves Michael Jackson and he was and still is such a big part of music for black people) – and the components that make up these features that are, to many, undesirable. This song is all about acknowledging that the formation of black roots, culture and features are things to be celebrated.
The closeness of the words “in formation” also suggests the word information which could be a plea for young women to go out there and educate themselves – whether it be gaining intelligence on black culture or just generally improving their knowledge of the world.
Throughout the video there is a stunning visual focus on US southern culture. Parts of this might seem stereotypical, but it can be considered as capturing some of the finest aspects of those communities. There are images of dancers, church preachers, hair shops and coloured (hair) weaves which, among other things, make up the culture which this video is celebrating. Additionally clips of masquerade, bands, food (notably seafood which the southern states are known for) and parades show all of the amazing things that are famous in New Orleans and across Southern states.
The video also does a lot to show the destruction that happened after Hurricane Katrina, along with a background conversation which sounds like it is actually taken from Hurricane Katrina! This shows Beyoncé’s support for those who lost homes, jobs and family members in this disaster. There is a striking scene with a sinking cop car in the middle of what looks to be the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, where Beyoncé stands on this car and raises the ‘Black Power’ fist, in salute to all of those who fought against oppression before her and all of those still fighting now. In the end the cop car sinks with her on top, which also embodies the conversation that is happening around the world about so many black people dying at the hands of police officers.
In different scenes all of Beyoncé’s dancers are unapologetically black, again promoting self-love in the black community. They are all rocking Afros, including her daughter Blue Ivy, which ties in to the “baby hair and afros” line and reiterates the strong role females played within the Black Panther Party, which are often overlooked.
In other scenes Beyoncé and her cast are wearing all white, in a historic house which symbolises a time of slavery. Although they were well dressed and inside the house, which “house slaves” usually were, it shows features of a time where black people were no longer slaves but they were still owned – nowhere near free. Likewise the men standing outside are in all black, dressed, but with some resembling butlers, showing they are not quite free. Related to this, two of the men are wearing taqiyah caps which honour the Nation of Islam and its part in the fight for equal rights in the United States of America. Although both these scenes display the beginning of the revolution that originally helped black people gain legal equality within the US (along with this newspaper clipping of Martin Luther King), it also shows the divide within the black community, with the women wearing white and the men wearing black. This is something that is important to pick up on and promotes the unity of black people.
The Victorian style artwork and ambiance also strengthen the conceptual link to slavery and this is showing us that, unlike I’ve heard many people say, we should not “just forget about slavery”. As negative as it was, it was the foundation for some of the incredible things created within black culture.
Some have named Beyoncé a female boss, this is emphasised when she says she “might get your song played on the radio station” and “just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”. Here she is not only showing how powerful and wealthy she is within the modern music industry she’s saying she is willing to help those around her and encouraging those within the black community to strive and follow their dreams because they may just be the next black billionaire and changemaker!
Within the video, the only non-black faces are those of the police officers. We are presented with a fearless young boy dancing in front of these officers essentially showing the courage of the black community. The mixture of the graffiti on the wall reading “Stop shooting us” and the police holding their hands up pays homage to Michael Brown and the many other cases in recent years which expose police brutality in the US.
Overall the lyrics used in this song are more ‘vulgar’ than Beyoncé usually produces. As a whole this song is a bold move for her as an artist as it doesn’t appeal to everyone and the concepts behind it are controversial. Writing as a young black woman, the song makes me feel good. Although I’m not personally from the South, or even the States, there is a beauty in this song that sits well with me; the underlying encouragement and appreciation of black culture is something we ALL need! There are too many negatives these days, affecting black people adversely. This track is timely, important, necessary and uplifting.
About the author
Jaimeel Fenton, 21, was born in Montserrat, grew up in south Manchester and was a participant on the RECLAIM Project. Jaimeel is currently an aspiring spoken word artist but is also studying Accounting and Finance at the University of Birmingham.
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