The LGBTQ stars of Waiting for B camped for two months to see their idol perform – for them, the release of ‘Formation’ couldn’t come soon enough
What makes a fan obsessive? Is it learning all your favourite musician’s lyrics? Hanging on their every word on social media? How about camping outside a stadium for two months to ensure you get front-row tickets to their show?
That’s the premise of Waiting for B, a fabulously funny and surprisingly touching documentary by husband-and-wife director team Paulo Cesar Toledo and Abigail Spindel. The film follows a group of Beyoncé fans from São Paulo, Brazil, who shack up in tents outside the Morumbi stadium to be first in line when their favourite pop star comes to town. But what starts as a light-hearted story of uber-fandom (Brazil’s insatiable pop-culture appetite is legendary, even spawning its own meme in #cometobrazil) subtly reveals itself as an insightful study in race, class and sexuality. After all, these are kids from some of São Paulo’s poorest districts, struggling to hold down regular jobs while holding on to their dreams of becoming dancers and musicians, and facing discrimination for their sexuality or race.
On the latter subject, one scene finds a group of fans debating their idol’s black role-model status. Beyoncé, one guy argues, often appears in her publicity shots with blonde hair and strangely off-white skin tone: is she letting down her POC fans in doing so? And how does that feed into their own sense of self-worth? It’s a topic that’s especially timely in the wake of the singer’s braids-sporting, pointedly pro-black anthem “Formation”, premiered over the weekend.
Ultimately, though, what shines through in Waiting for B is the irreverent humour and spirit of its subjects (“Beyoncé seems really private,” notes one camp-dwelling fan sagely. “It’s not like Rihanna with all the crazies.”) After a screening at Gothenburg Film Festival, I met with São Paulo native Toledo at a cafe in the Swedish city’s vibrant old town to learn more about the film’s making. Confessing his love for Gothenburg’s public transport system (“I’m a bitch for the trams”), Toledo jokes how Spindel, his Boston-native wife who also edited the film, passed on coming to the festival because she couldn’t bear the thought of the cold.
But what is it that makes Brazilian Beyoncé fans so special? Toledo explains, with some pearls of wisdom from his superfan cast along the way.
“Ay, honey, a straight guy camping to see Beyoncé?”
Paul Cesar Toledo: (These kids) are trying to do something meaningful in their universe. Their relationship to Beyoncé is special – maybe because she’s black, maybe because she’s such an icon of femininity, success and strength. I didn’t know that her fanbase, at least in Brazil, was mostly gay guys. In our movie it’s 90 per cent guys, and all of them were gay. So the relationship they have with Beyoncé as this hyper-feminine, curvy, multi-talented black woman, it’s such an inspiration for them. I mean, I came from being a rock fan, and I never did one per cent of what they do as Beyoncé fans! It’s a lot of dedication.
“Despite the people who think black people can’t achieve the same as white, (Beyoncé) shows that she can get what she wants, and with no scandals, just being herself. She is the image of triumph”
I think the thing that surprised me most was the strength of their love for her. It was way more than just liking what she sings. It’s more like a one-sided friendship – ‘She’s my best friend but she doesn’t know it yet,’ or, ‘She’s my best friend, she’s the only one that was with me when nobody else knew that I was gay.’ It’s like when Bruno talks (in the film) about how he used to put her music on and dance when his family left the house... Her music helps them discover for themselves that they’re gay.
“If you’re absent without a doctor’s note, you go to the back of the queue!”
This guy Charlles was the camp organiser. He was like a CEO – he spied on everyone else to know when they were gonna be there, and he went out the week before just to make sure he’d be first in line, with the first tent. He made badges for everyone with numbers for the order they arrived in, but the thing is he didn’t even go to the concert in that gate! He bought a more expensive ticket for himself – he just did it to be the boss. And that’s why when (the fans from the camp) are coming in, he picks a fight with security, making sure no one would cut in front of them in the line. He was a natural-born leader.
“Brazil suppresses its natural talents, and indeed it does have people who are extremely talented, but the country itself doesn't allow talent to grow inside of it”
I think one underlying message in this movie is that this is kind of a nihilist generation. Beyoncé is like this deity, which for them is the flipside of having no confidence in their own futures. For example, there’s a guy in the movie called Richard who says his heart is not in this country, that he’s American in his heart, and if you check the whole movie you see lots of people wearing American pants, American shirts and so on. And I understand that, because when I was 18, 19, I felt that Brazil was a third-world country, a corrupt country that didn’t deserve me. There are no guarantees when you’re young, it’s not like, ‘I’ll go to college and get a degree and a decent job.’ Nowadays getting a degree is no guarantee of getting a job, let alone a good job. In Brazil we have what we call ‘sub-jobs’, which is a full-time job where you don’t make enough to make a living. There are a lot of jobs that should be regular lower-middle class jobs that don’t pay enough for you to have a dignified quality of life… The biggest issue for Brazil is the concentration of wealth and power. If you grow up in a better-off family you can do things way easier than if you’re poor and more talented.
“It’s not worth being a downer… You have to be as lovable as possible”
The fans were so generous with us, not many people would expose themselves like they did. They trusted us, and trust is something you cannot buy... My main fear about this movie is that it might be seen as silly. Because it is funny, but we had to make it that way, because these people don’t have pity for themselves. They’re always cracking jokes and making fun of each other and dancing, they are happy people. You can say all you want about being poor and black and facing discrimination, but they don’t act like they are victims.
Waiting for B screened as part of Gothenburg Film Festival