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beyonce homecoming
courtesy of Netflix

The celebration of collective creativity in Beyoncé’s Homecoming

The artist’s docu-film asserts that a large part of who she is is the art she creates, with the team she curates

In her column THE BINGE WATCH, TV writer and critic Bolu Babalola takes a deep dive into what’s streaming, and tells you what should be on your watch list.

Nina Simone’s voice overlays a segment of Beyoncé’s Homecoming. “I think what you’re asking is why am I so insistent upon blackness,” she says, over close up, grainy shots of Beyoncé’s perspiring (glowing) profile during rehearsals, her braids wrapped, amber gaze focused, “Giving out to them that blackness, that black power, that black – pushing them to identify with black culture... to me, we are the most beautiful creatures in the world – black people.”

Before Beyoncé’s voice is heard outside of her performance, we hear from one of the many black female voices that helped hone her own. Prior to the full docu-film experience kicking off, author Toni Morrison’s words usher us in, filling up a black screen. Beyoncé not only pays homage, but commands us to listen to the voices that have played a crucial role in shaping the cultural coherence of blackness, black femininity, and black art. The words that have guided her, given black women, black people the galvanisation to amplify themselves. Beyoncé is part of a tradition and legacy.

Netflix’s Homecoming debuts almost three years after the cultural-epoch heralding Lemonade, and a year after Beychella – a moment, a mood, Lemonade’s progeny in black celebration and artistry. Homecoming not only documents history, but celebrates the joy in creating, within purpose, and the fulfilment in sharing that joy, infusing it within others. Homecoming chronicles the collective movement in artistry.

Homecoming runs at a rich two hours – interspersed between clips of the global superstar are shots of her dancers bantering, riffing. We see technicians joking about the lengths of the rehearsal time. Crew members gradually lose their mind into delirious silliness (as one does after hours of relentless grinding). A microcosm of the HBCUs it pays homage to, there is a collegiate feel of bonding, growing, and learning together. We are given a glimpse of what a team of over 200 looks like during eight months of tireless rehearsals, of striving for perfection towards a project with meaning, that will impact the world positively and – culturally speaking – irrevocably. The alchemy of a joint purpose and diligently sourcing the best of your capacity to produce it forges an electric camaraderie that the audience can feel through the screen.

This love is woven through, not only in the performance of Beychella, but the mechanics behind it, from the band to the dancers. Beyoncé allows their creativity to glow on their own within the tapestry of her artistry.  Each group is seen rehearsing alone. We see a dancer’s smirk as she playfully taunts a Bug-A-Boo (male dancer) in rhyme on stage, the skillful, fluid, hip swerve of a drummer on the now iconic pyramid bleachers. Homecoming reflects the collectiveness in black art, individual parts with their own specific contributions coming together to form something dynamic, world-quaking, culture shaping.

“She makes it clear that Beychella was not centred on her, but rather, black culture, on the traditions and legacies she is among, that have assisted in building her, that have moulded her virtuosity”

The audience never sees Beyoncé speaking directly to them. In fact, we don’t hear her voice until 16 minutes in. First we see the beginning of Beychella, her in performance mode, Beyoncé the global superstar, pop-culture Sirius, then we hear her, Beyoncé the artist who is working assiduously towards the biggest showcase of her life. Her husky, honeyed Southern tone, frankly giving us insight into the world she created, is laid over rehearsal footage of not just her, but the people who have poured themselves into the art alongside her. We see her team, her friends, her family.  We’re gifted a snapshot into relatable intimate moments between her and Jay-Z (particularly, an eye-rolling interaction that any woman who has dated a man has experience). This doesn’t feel like an accident – Beyoncé doesn’t do accidents.

Patricia Hill Collins, leading scholar in black feminist academia has spoken of “externally derived images” – images foisted onto the black woman that were shaped by racist intentions, built to constrain and constrict. In opposition to that stands self-definition, a black woman being cognizant of who they are and asserting control over it.  As one of the world’s most hyper-visible black women, and almost certainly the most hyper-visible black woman in her field, Beyoncé’s choice to protect and control her image is not only a statement of freedom, but a statement of who she is. It is calculated, but calculated doesn’t necessarily mean deception; it can be a presentation of truth, a way to clarify ourselves. We know that she wants us to view her through her work. She wants us to gather that a large part of who she is, is the art she creates with the team she curates.

We don’t need to see her speaking to us because she speaks to us through her artistry. Her voice is in her creativity, but she is also telling us that her art is bigger than her. She is sharing it with us to have and to hold, and despite creating it, she makes it clear that Beychella was not centred on her but rather, black culture, on the traditions and legacies she is among, that have assisted in building her, that have moulded her virtuosity. Whether that be distinctly Southern, African-American, or syncreticised art that draws upon the diaspora (as seen with her brass band’s rendition of Zombie by Nigerian Afrobeat icon, Fela), Beyoncé is “Giving out that blackness”. Homecoming documents the joy in creative collectivity and compels us to see how together we can amplify each other.